Retirement: one word, many meanings

Retire to cropped

Photo by Kathryn Severns Avery

Several months before his retirement, my husband and I went to dinner with two other couples. At one point during the evening the conversation turned to the topic of retirement. The three men at the table had three completely different ideas about what they wanted in the next phase of their lives.They were:

  • Retirement without working
  • Retirement with a transition period of working/consulting part-time
  • Retirement with launching a new career/business

Each man’s idea of retirement is what is right for him, yet the three scenarios require different mindsets, resources, and support structures to be successful.

The wives at dinner were also in different phases of retirement. One had retired and was not employed in any capacity. One was planning to continue working for five or more years and was enthusiastic about possibly expanding her business. The other, me, was planning to continue her existing line of work while launching a new business with her husband.

The relationships dynamics of all three couples are affected by their choices. For example, one couple disagreed about when the husband should retire. He wants to leave his work in a year. She prefers him to work for five more years and is uncomfortable with some of the changes his retirement will bring.

“The thought of being the primary bread winner for five years is frightening to me,” she said. “I also realize that I may feel jealous of his free time because I’m working and he’s off doing what he wants to do,” she continued.

The couple at dinner where one spouse has retired but the other is still working seemed to be enjoying their arrangement. Thus far, they have successfully avoided the issue of the working spouse resenting the retired spouse’s free time and the converse of the situation where the retired spouse resents lack of time with the working spouse.

What retirement means is intensely personal. To you it may mean fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing 18 holes of golf every day. But if your partner thinks retirement means working on projects together, conflicts are bound to arise. Discussing the meaning of retirement is a crucial during your countdown to retirement. By striking a balance through a process of give and take, you can ensure you will both have more meaningful retirement experiences.

No matter how much you discuss what retirement means to you and the best ways to create meaningful retirement experiences, your retirement reality may differ significantly from your discussions. Having conversations on a regular basis with family members and friends about the meaning of retirement and how that meaning is evolving will minimize conflicts and hurt feelings.


Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.