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Survival Book For Retired Spouses

Even if you're saving a nice fat retirement nest egg, chances are you haven't thought about another part of the equation: the emotional issues that pop up when both spouses leave the working world.

On The Early Show, Maryanne Vandervelde shared some advice from her new book, "Retirement for Two," a survival guide to the changing roles and unexpected strains on relationships.

Vandervelde is a psychologist, human resources expert, and founder of the Institute for Couples in Retirement. She lives in Seattle with her husband of more than 30 years. She's also the author of "The Changing Life of the Corporate Wife" and has contributed to the New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal.

There are all sorts of books about the financial side of retirement planning. But most couples are unprepared for the emotional bombshells waiting to tarnish their "golden years."

Suddenly, two people who have had a solid marriage, a steady routine, and the respect associated with their careers find themselves at loose ends. How will they fill their time? How much of it should they spend together? Should they move to a new home, a new city - or simply stay put? Schedule their time, or just see where the day leads them?

Vandervelde points out that more than 70 million married Americans will be retiring during the next 15 years. Age discrimination, she says, is a fact of life, and many people will be forced into early retirement.

The retirement years used to be well defined: travel, golf, bridge club, and maybe a nursing home as the years marched on. But these days, people are living longer, healthier, more active lives - 60 is the new 50 - so people are redefining the old notions about retirement.

All of this is a good reason to start talking about the emotional side of retirement in your 40s. Sit down with your spouse and spell out your expectations. Don't make assumptions, or you could be in for some unpleasant surprises.

There is one huge misconception about retirement: It's going to be fun and games once we're relieved of the burden of work, and things will fall into place. In fact, Vandervelde says, "Most couples find that their support system is really shaken up. People don't treat you the same as they did when you were in a position of power. Colleagues you thought were your friends don't call anymore. Rules that were useful in the workplace don't serve you well anymore."

All of this, she says, affects both partners in profound ways. So she says, "Be intentional about it. Think realistically about retirement as a time of relationship shake-up where old roles don't fit anymore, and be open to new roles. This can be an exciting time."

Time can become a retiree's worst enemy because the days all seem to run together without structure or goals.

According to Vandervelde, "Retirement can cause people to think that they are on the fringes of society.... And it is easy, when this happens, to fall into depression.... Not only is a new retiree at loose ends, but her family and friends ask the most embarrassing questions: 'What are you doing with your time?' 'Are you bored?'"

Some people loaf around all day; others overload on activities. "Either extreme," says Vandervelde, "is not good. Part of becoming whole is remembering what your passions are. Now that we do have time, what were our passions when we were 15 years old?"

The biggest decision retired couples face is how much time to spend together. Maybe he wants to do everything together; you crave manicures and lunches with the girls. Suddenly, your partner's habits that were tolerable in small doses - yelling at the TV, for example - grate on your nerves now that he's home.

Vandervelde suggests this technique: "It's useful to think of your time together as a continuum from one (very little time together) to 10 (all of your time together). Does one person want three, the other want ten? This may change over time. I like the idea of 'parallel play' - that is, both people need to find freedom and involvement with each other at same time and are probably happiest if they think of things they enjoy separately, but also find other things to do together. Get to a comfortable spot in terms of time spent together, and decide where you're going to focus your energy individually and as a couple."

One common complaint: "My spouse doesn't listen to me." When a spouse is uncommunicative, retirement can make the lack of conversation unbearable. Vandervelde recommends, "Learn to listen to your partner with 'the third ear.' That means listen between the lines for context and meaning; try to frame the issues in a way that makes communication easier."

U.S. Census data shows that, for the first time, divorce is on the rise for couples 55 and over. So Vandervelde says, "Ask those questions about happiness and longevity. Is this the person I really want to be with?" Equally as important, she says, "Learn how to fight fair. Fighting is nothing new, but in retirement, the techniques have to be different. There's a power issue, and couples need more equality than they've had in past. Gender roles are shaken up, which can actually be a positive aspect of retirement. So avoid extreme anger and extreme withdrawal, get to the core of issues. Jealousy and criticism become destructive elements. Don't bring up every transgression from the past; learn the difference between normal fighting versus abuse and revenge, and practice forgiveness."

There are changing expectations on both sides that need to be talked through. Some parents, once they retire, go to extremes; they travel, they feel that they're finished raising children, and they're not available to their kids. Other parents think their kids are most important people in lives now, and they're on their kids' doorsteps or calling them constantly. Some kids think that their parents have money saved up and can give them some of it, or that they have time to baby-sit the grandchildren whenever needed. Vandervelde says, "Honest discussion is best way to figure out what everybody is expecting from each other."

"Be aware that older people are known for rigidity," Vandervelde says. "We get to a certain age, we think we know it all. We tend to get stuck in our religious opinions or political opinions." That's why she recommends changing your outlook on life. "Try to be more open, and think about facing the future with more wonder and adventure. This can be a good time if you're not rigid in your thinking."

Here is an excerpt from "Retirement for Two":

Freud said that work and love are the two major ingredients of life, and it seems logical that the loss of one will have major effects on the other. Retirees whose identity was found largely through work have a lot of soul-searching to do as they look for identity elsewhere. And people whose close relationships have been neglected will have to do a lot of work in order to establish a basis that will be satisfying for the rest of their lives. This has always been true, but there are three major reasons why we need to pay more attention to retirement now than ever.

One is that the first baby boomers turned fifty-five in 2002 and technically became senior citizens. Fifty-nine million people born before 1946 are already retired or soon will be retiring, but they are being joined over the next few years by seventy-seven million boomers-those who were born between 1946 and 1964. Because the boomers are a huge population cohort, they are already starting to redefine retirement, and this stage is attracting as much focus as all of their other stages have. As they have always done, boomers will look for-indeed, they will expect-answers.

Two, age discrimination is a fact of life, and many people are finding themselves out of work earlier than they had planned. Furthermore, we seem to be living longer and longer-seventy-seven is now the life expectancy for men, eighty-four for women. So, many of us will find ourselves coupled-without our usual routines-for many, many years. We'd better find mechanisms and systems to make it a happy time.

Three, retirement is more complicated now than ever because of the many choices we have. Only a few years ago, gender and age roles were strictly defined. Now the options are wide open. With fewer and fewer prescriptions, we all need to figure it out for ourselves. And better late than never! It becomes very clear to most of us at retirement that life is not a dress rehearsal.

Excerpted from Retirement for Two by Maryanne Vandervelde Copyright© 2004 by Maryanne Vandervelde. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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