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Meeting the challenges of retirement

One of the most important moments in your working life is retirement. Whether you retire in full or ease into it with part-time work, retirement can be an exciting time.

Now that you’ve got more time, you’re probably thinking about all the things you’ve always dreamt of doing. You might start to pursue your hobbies and passions or follow a new interest. It might mean travelling and adventure. Or it could mean simply slowing down a little to enjoy life.


Retirement and your mental health

While retirement is something many look forward to, it also has its challenges. That’s because many people base their identity (that is, who they ‘are’) around work and employment. When that life-long routine stops, it can start to affect how you feel about your purpose in life.

It could be that free time previously spent at work is turning into boredom. What should you do with all those extra hours?

If you’re in a relationship, retirement can create or even bring to the surface underlying issues. You’ve probably spent years establishing the ‘balance’ of how you function together — suddenly, it’s no longer what you’re used to.

If you’re separated, divorced, or not in a relationship, retirement can bring home feelings of loneliness or isolation if a large amount of time previously filled by work is freed up.

All these situations can feel stressful or difficult. Left unaddressed, they can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health and even physical health problems.


“Who are you?”

An estimated 427,000+ people living in central, western and northern Melbourne are aged 50 and over — more than a quarter of the area’s population of 1.61 million. That’s a lot of people who have retired or are close to it.

One of the important things to think about for retirement is your identity. Quite often, this is what you answer in response to the question, “so what do you do?”.

Identity isn’t just about income. It can be based around many things, such as:

  • Being a provider.
  • Being useful.
  • Being independent.
  • Being an achiever.


Adjusting mentally to retirement begins with re-examining your identity. For many retiring adults, work has been a constant in life for many decades. Once you no longer have that employment routine, you might start to ask yourself questions like “who am I now?” or “what do I do now?”.

While these thoughts are normal after a major lifestyle change, they can also start to affect your self-esteem and self-worth. This could even lead to feelings of helplessness, sadness or worthlessness, which in turn could lead to depression and anxiety.

A good way to deal with the adjustment is to change how you think about and see yourself. That is, changing your perspective.

Instead of thinking “I no longer am this” or “I don’t do that anymore” think of something positive or important that you do or are day-to-day. This could be something like:

  • “I am a good carer for my partner”.
  • “I am a good community elder”.
  • “I am a good grandparent / parent / uncle / aunt / older sibling”.


Retirement and relationships

Retirement throws up new challenges for people in relationships. Dealing with these challenges involves first identifying what they are and what is causing them, and then communicating openly and effectively.

Here are some of the most common situations faced by new retirees.


You will probably spend a lot more time together

Before retirement, you and your partner probably adjusted over many years to how you spent time together. You’ve probably worked out a routine and you know when to allow for downtime.

With retirement, the amount of time you spend together probably increases dramatically. A lot of extra time on top of the ‘regular’ time together (such as dinner and breakfast) can change the balance of a relationship. New or unresolved tension can come to the surface.

Both men and women can struggle to adjust to the new situation. For example, how do you manage if, before retirement, one of you stayed home (or had already retired)? It’s possible after the change that they may get frustrated or start to resent the other because their routine is no longer the same.


You might have to re-learn how you make decisions together

Another common cause of post-retirement tension is in the way decisions get made between two people. Before retirement, the work routine probably meant you were both clear on who was responsible for what and how decisions were made.

After retirement, you might find that you need to make more decisions together. It may sound strange, but that could be something new for both of you.

It’s actually quite common. The key is for both people to be prepared to listen and be flexible.


The secret is in good communication

As with most relationship issues, good, honest, two-way communication is likely to lead to less conflict. Learning how to communicate as a couple after a major life-change like retirement takes time — even after all this time together.

Effective and open communication includes your ability to compromise and negotiate. Doing so eases the challenges and strain that retirement can place on your relationship.


Loneliness and isolation in retirement

It is a fact of life that the older you get, the more friends and family move way, die, lose contact or lose the mobility needed to keep in touch. For this reason, the risk of loneliness and isolation increases with age.

For example, many people (and men in particular) do not realise how much they rely on work friendships until after retirement. A great way to ward off isolation is to deal with it proactively, so make an effort to stay in contact with family and friends.

If you’re a grandparent, offer to babysit or spend more time with the grandchildren, if you’re not doing so already.

See what’s happening at the local community centre — and if you’re not sure, you might surprise yourself by trying something new.

Many community organisations like Men’s Shed and Women’s Shed provide a space for sharing ideas, skills and participation in practical activities, from woodwork to crafts to restoring antiques.

Volunteering for a local charity or community group, group physical activity (staying in shape isn’t just essential for your physical health — it can thoroughly help your mental health and wellbeing) or even taking a course are other great ways to keep in touch or meet new people.


It’s about perspective

One of the great challenges of retirement is readjusting how you see yourself. Your role to other people and your daily activities may change. However, you are still you. Accept this and simply think of yourself as “I am me”. Being happy with this change is the key to happiness after retirement.


Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.