When things aren’t going right in your retirement it is easy to become discouraged, depressed, even despondent. When one spouse is thriving in retirement and the other is languishing, the differences between their experiences makes relating and interacting particularly difficult.
It is painful to watch someone you love struggle to create a new identity, a new routine, and a new way of life. Often they lash out because they are frustrated, uncertain, and afraid. But because our experiences are different, we take it personally rather than stepping back and detaching from their difficulties. This often leads to hurt feelings, angry words, and stony silence.
When my husband, Chris, and I went through the first summer of his retirement, it was dreadful. We argued all the time. We thought we were prepared for this life transition and discovered there was so much we didn’t know about ourselves, our wants and needs, and about how we would react to a lack of structure. It was almost as though the power struggle many couples experience in the early days of marriage had returned in a bigger and more challenging form.
There are still occasions when the disparity between our experiences makes relating to each other challenging. My answer is to practice exponential forgiveness. By this I mean, however much forgiveness it takes to restore balance and harmony in the situation, that is how much forgiveness you give to your partner or to anyone who is struggling in retirement. This does not mean that you accept and/or tolerate abuse or give a free pass to outrageous behavior. It does mean that you for – give. You give to the other by detaching from the negative emotion that is binding you together.
The first time I had this experience was life-altering. Chris was upset about something and I realized “This is his issue to deal with.” I was able to observe what he was experiencing without my feathers getting ruffled and my ego going into attack mode. I must confess I still get sucked in from time to time and we still have disagreements. But when I am able to detach from his emotion and to focus on forgiveness, the situation diffuses and a way forward emerges.