Rediscovering life and love in retirement: Navigating the ‘golden years’ together
From adjusting to new routines to supporting individual hobbies, retired LE couples can thrive and find joy in this new phase of life
A few years ago, I began as a Police1 columnist with an article titled, 3 keys to keep your marriage Code 4. After a successful 25+ year career and marriage, my husband retired a couple of years ago. As a follow-up to my original article, I would like to share a few lessons learned about keeping your marriage Code 4 in retirement.
Get to know each other again
Shift work also takes a toll on marriages. Being a spouse of a shift worker takes some getting used to and lifestyle adjustments. As a police spouse, I tried to take as much off my husband’s plate as I could. I did nearly all the cooking, housework, chores and finances. I made the effort to send him off fed, with packed meals, clean uniforms and enough sleep. I became accustomed to having a lot of time to myself, to do what I wanted, without the concern of another person. That autonomy, while at times lonely, was what I was used to. But when he retired, our previous life was turned upside-down. We moved 2,000 miles away and started our new lives from scratch. In many ways, it was like being newlyweds again. While we may be older and wiser, we had to get to know, and love, each other all over again.
Routines may need to be adjusted
Be mindful of the fact that you may feel like an intruder in your own home once you are suddenly home all day and all night. You have made it this far together. This is the time you have worked so hard for, but the change will also require some adjustments. Be patient. If your spouse has stuck around this long, odds are they are looking forward to enjoying the extra time you will have together. In my case, I want nothing more than to spend as much time with him as I can. But just like you had your routine at work away from your spouse, they also have their schedules, routines and habits that for so long, you may not have been part of. Together you will find your new normal.
Support each other’s interests
Be prepared to find separate hobbies. Every retired person I have ever known has said, “I have no idea how I got everything done when I was working.” You will be amazed how quickly the hours, days, weeks and months get away from you. There is never enough time. Our “to-do” lists seem to get longer and longer the more we accomplish. Don’t get caught up in “projects.” Prioritize fun. You have worked all your adult life and now it is time for your second childhood, so to speak. But the hobby you choose may not be the one your spouse enjoys and vice versa. Find a way to support your partner’s hobbies while making a special effort to find one you will enjoy together.
Family responsibilities will evolve
Life will get in the way. Just as the nest empties, it is likely that the void may be filled with the needs of aging parents. As they say, what goes around, comes around, and it is now my turn to look after my father. Until one experiences it, it is difficult to understand the awkward situation parenting a parent can be. Maintaining a marital relationship while juggling that unique parental relationship can be a challenge that will create its own kind of problems. Patience, tolerance and forgiveness will go a long way.
While caring for an aging parent will be taxing, doing what needs to be done for in-laws is a whole different kind of pain. No matter how close a relationship you may have with your in-laws, the fact is that relationship will never be the same as an adult child and parent. The strain aging parents can put on their children’s marriage should not be underestimated. If this might apply to you, try to prepare for the time and money you could spend caring for those who raised you. And when it gets particularly bad, and odds are it will remember that together you have weathered worse, and this too shall pass.
Your partner cannot read your mind
It may seem like a cliche, but communication will be key to keeping and building your marriage through such a huge upheaval. If you have fallen into a comfortable routine, this may be easier said than done. It is a common mistake to believe that your partner can read your mind. Breaking news…they can’t. And things have changed for them too. Household responsibilities will shift. Priorities will shift. Expectations will shift. When standing on shifting sand, it is best to learn to stay fluid and go with the flow.
It is OK to surrender control
You have spent your entire career striving to gain and maintain control. You needed control over suspects, scenes, interviews and investigations. You fought to remain aware of your surroundings and circumstances. Over the years, this can create a control freak, and you may find it difficult to surrender that kind of control. But that is exactly what you will need to do to maintain everyone’s happiness. Help your family understand this will take time, but you are more than willing to do the work required.
A working law enforcement officer is a whole different creature than the rest of society. You have a different mindset many outside law enforcement will never understand. And while your spouse may be supportive, they will never truly know what you have experienced. While these experiences will be with you forever, time away will decrease their effect on you. Your personality may undergo a transformation. You may not recognize it, but those around you will. Hopefully, these changes will be for the better and make for a better, stronger, and happier you.
Retirement should be the best time of your life
As school kids we are all told to “enjoy these years, they are the best of your life.” They were wrong. Your retirement from a long and rewarding career of service, spent with the friends and family you adore and who love you, can and should be the best years of your life. Having this time to live your best life is what you have worked and sacrificed for throughout your entire adult life. Now live long, live large and live it up. You’ve earned it.
Doing things together is great, but finding a separate individual hobby isn’t a bad thing. It gives you time away to do new things with new people, but make sure you support each other’s efforts.