Power struggles

Photo by Wavebreakmedia. Used with permission from iStock.com.

Did you experience power struggles in your first years of marriage? Many couples do. Melding two lives into one can be difficult. Leaving the toilet seat up or down, managing money, deciding how to spend leisure time, and blending friends can all be sources of conflict. Hopefully, you were able to manage those disagreements and they became less troublesome during your marriage.

It feels like a cruel joke that in retirement many of those conflicts return. Factors leading to disharmony and disagreement including loss of identity (I don’t know who I am so let me turn my attention to defining you), fear of income loss (Why are you spending money on that?), powerlessness (I feel out of control so I’m going to control you, the dog, our children, the weather), and lack of structure (I don’t know what to do with my time so I will focus my attention and criticism on what you are doing or not doing).

It is hard to admit but I engage in this less than loving behavior. Discipline is required to not react or to not judge behaviors, especially when I experience seemingly righteous indignation. However, rarely do I hold my tongue. My condemnation only adds to my husband’s diminished self-esteem.

When I experience a flash of white-hot anger it is not easy to count to 100 or even 1,000 before I respond. But if I want the situation to change, I am the one who has to change. I have to train myself to realize I have a choice in how I react. Granted, I may not choose wisely every time. But only when I change my reaction and my behavior is there a chance of a different outcome.

If my expectations are not being met, it is up to me to change my expectations, change my response or change the situation. I cannot change my husband and I cannot make him want to change. However, there is a paradox at work. When I accept the situation and my inability to change it, change often inexplicably occurs.

For many boomers losing their work identity is losing their life identity. The transition from working to retirement is as disruptive a force to their lives as a tornado is to a bucolic and verdant landscape. Very few people are aware of or are prepared for the emotional upheaval that can occur. Like rebuilding after a tornado, re-establishing emotional equilibrium may take months or even years to accomplish.

The emotional fragility of this period is often overlooked and is especially difficult when both spouses feel vulnerable and adrift. I often look to my husband to fulfill my needs and he looks to me. That is great when we are both on steady emotional ground. But when you are barely holding it together yourself, it can feel overwhelming when your spouse needs your support and you feel you have nothing to give.

At that point the most empowering thing you can do for yourself and your spouse is to practice self-care. If you have ever traveled on an airplane you know in the safety briefing you are instructed to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting other passengers. When I am stressed I need to tend to my needs and care for myself before I attempt to care for someone else.

Fortunately, my path to serenity and wholeness is an easy one. Spending just 10 minutes outside restores my equilibrium. Finding beauty in whatever I observe and having gratitude for all that I have in my life, including my husband and the lessons he is teaching me about myself, fills me up.

In a conversation yesterday my friend, Robert, reminded me that loving someone is a choice. Today, I choose to love.

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.