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Senior Correspondent

My First Few Years of Retirement: Relationships

Last Friday I wrote about my finances during the first few years after work. What has become a very satisfying retirement didn't begin that way. Early on I had my fair share of worries and struggles that eventually resolved themselves but not without many sleepless nights.

This is the second in a series of four posts that look at some of the major hurdles all of us have to conquer if we hope our retirement will be productive and happy. This time, I will detail some of the early problems Betty and I had to overcome as we made the adjustments to our relationship after I closed my business.

Like many others my career involved a lot of travel. I was gone an average of 150 days a year for fifteen years. That meant 100,000 miles in airplanes every year, countless hotel rooms and cities that all looked the same. It meant Betty did most the "heavy lifting" in raising our daughters and keeping the household functioning.

It meant I would arrive home pretty much burned out and in no mood for any problems or disturbances. Of course, that was impossible. She never used the "wait til your father gets home" line on the girls, but there were still issues to be dealt with, house maintenance and repairs, bills to be paid, and a mountain of office work for me to plow through before the next plane flight. It helped that my office was in our home, so during those rare weeks off at least I was "home-home" to share some of the load. But, again work tended to take over my time.

When we agreed I should let my business close down and start my retirement we had to reestablish a relationship. I had been gone so much Betty used to joke we had been married twenty-five years but had only been together for ten of them. While a bit of an exaggeration, the point was valid. Betty had run the home front almost single-handedly for well over a decade. We had to figure out how I would integrate back into the system. By this time both girls had finished college, left home, and started their own lives. So, it was time for Betty and me to do the same and figure out what we shared besides two fabulous kids.

One of the important changes we made within the first two years was a serious kick-start to our spiritual life. After twenty years in a church that no longer was helping us to grow, we changed to one that almost immediately reignited our shared passion in our religious life. From that also came something that had been seriously lacking in our lives: friends. Betty and I are both rather solitary folks. Within a few months, we had more people who cared about us (and us them) than in all twenty years at the previous church. We became involved in small groups, women's and men's ministries, and Bible studies. Together we had found a deep need and filled it together.

I learned (very slowly … the process continues) to begin to accept Betty as just as capable as me in maintaining the household and handling problems. As the years passed I became even more aware of her amazing gift to stay calm in the face of trouble and find a creative and workable solution to most problems, without my active interference and "help."

Together we began to build a marriage that played to our individual strengths and what we did well together. Through compromise and some occasional loud disagreements we have figured out what it takes to happily coexist and grow as a couple. Our marriage is a blend of two people whose personalities would seem to be at odds with each other. But, because of a shared belief in the commitment we made to each other it is working.

Getting a relationship to work for both spouses or partners is never easy. Retirement adds additional stress and the need for more adjustments. Be prepared for it, discover how the two of you best fit together, and move forward toward that goal.

Last week we celebrated our 37th anniversary. So far, so good.

As a final thought in terms of other relationships, at least for me retirement has meant more friends and closer relationships. Because I worked alone at home, when I wasn't traveling I never had the water-cooler, office friendships. I didn't have many friends overall, and none I would have considered close.

Since retirement that has changed. Now, I have a few dozen people I'd consider friends, and a few, both men and women, who I'd turn to in a pinch. Retirement has given me something I had missed for way too many years: other people I could count on.

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