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Renewing relationships post retirement


There's a sweet spot when it comes to spending time with the people in your life

You've put in a lifetime of hard work and dedication as a physician. No wonder you're dreaming of a stress-free retirement spent in the company of family and friends.

But even the best spousal relationships and other long-term bonds can suffer if you don't give retirement some thought. Heading into your golden years without considering in advance how, and with whom, you'll meaningfully fill up the hours in your post-career life, may lead to trouble.

“The big issue is that not enough people think that retirement will impact on their relationships, and it does," says Dr. Amy D'Aprix, a Toronto-based life transition expert who focuses on physicians.

“There are going to be relationship shifts and they are going to happen at all levels," she cautions.

“I try to get people to stop talking about when they are going to retire and what they are retiring from, and shift it to say, 'Here is what I am going to.' That shift is so important because it gets people to think ahead and start to create the life they want."

Relationships, of course, come in all shapes and sizes — both romantic and platonic.

Avoiding the 'grey divorce'

For couples, the retirement of one or both partners is certainly enough to unleash tough times on the homefront. Men and women typically have very different ideas about how much time they want to spend with their significant other. According to studies, men see their spouse as their primary social support system, while women tend to have much broader social circles.

Miscommunication around expectations can often lead to conflict. That's particularly concerning when you look consider the growing wave of what's being called “the grey divorce."

“We know the highest divorce rate in Canada is among couples over the age of 50, and, now, in a lot of cases, people are getting divorced in their 60s, 70s and 80s," says Dr. Amy.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Dr. Amy recommends engaging in what she calls “essential conversations" — that is, talking to the most important people in your life about the most important topics. And she thinks those conversations should happen in the years leading up to retirement — not after.

“It's just not very realistic to go from 'We've both had very separate lives for our whole adult lives' to “Now we are going to spend every waking moment together,'" says Dr. Amy. “For most people, that doesn't work well."

Building a friendship network

Nurturing friendships outside the workplace is no less important to a happy and healthy retirement life. In fact, researchers — including Dr. Amy — have found plenty of evidence to link a strong circle of friends in your senior years with your long-term wellbeing.

“We know that as people age, if they have a good social support network, they live longer, they are healthier, they are less apt to end up in a nursing home, and they heal more quickly from illnesses," says Dr. Amy.

Nurturing healthy friendships can also be a protective factor against Alzheimer's disease, she says.

With so much on the line, it makes sense to shore up those social supports before leaving your job. But that's not always easy for a busy working professional; more so for physicians, whose intense careers often come at the cost of close relationships outside the office or hospital. Without work, those friendships may not transfer into your retirement.

“People may say they are going to stay connected with you, and it's not that they won't, but the relationship does shift. You have to be very proactive about building those important supports," says Dr.Amy.

She recommends meet-up groups as an excellent place to find people who share your interests — whether that's training with other cyclists for the Grand Fondo in Whistler, B.C. or sharing technical tips to capture the quintessential photograph of the resident hummingbird with your digital SLR camera.

If you're looking for a more high-profile activity, you may also consider joining a charitable board or community group.

Ultimately, says Dr. Amy, “It's about thinking about what gives your life purpose and meaning."