Retirement, although possibly longed for, involves huge change. Some of us navigate the transition from working to not working without any major difficulties. For others, the change can bring tension (for ourselves and those close to us) as we struggle to deal with the various losses involved as well as adapting to a new and unfamiliar rhythm of life. How might counselling or psychotherapy help?
The Pros And Cons Of Ending Work
Many people look forward to retirement with glee. We might have more time for family, travel or hobbies and perhaps see an end to commuting, tricky workplace politics and exhaustion. Some of us will be freeing ourselves from a job that brought little reward other than familiarity and bread on the table. For others, our working life may have become inextricably linked to how we see ourselves as a person – our identity – as well as meeting a range of needs beyond the financial. For instance, being employed can provide:
- a sense of purpose, competence and achievement
- routine and structure
- respect from others
- status within the workplace and the local community
- camaraderie and emotional support from a workplace ‘family’
- a sense of feeling needed and valued
- a steady, predictable income
Losing all or some of the above as a consequence of retirement can be difficult and it often takes time and effort to adapt and find new ways of meeting these needs, at least in part.
Impact On Our Relationships With Family Members And Friends
When someone retires, the people around them will also need to make adjustments. For example, a partner who has got used to having the home space to themselves for most of the working week will need to adapt to a new routine that involves having someone else around. Conversations may need to be had as to how to share that space in a way that suits both parties. Also, we may need to re-negotiate who does what around the home now that the balance of time available within a couple or a family has changed. How to adjust to a different, often reduced income may also need to be discussed and new levels of spending agreed upon.
Managing Other People’s Expectations
When family and friends get to know that we are retiring they often make all sorts of assumptions as to how we intend to spend our time! For example, elderly relatives might expect to be visited more often or grown-up children might ask for additional help with childcare, pet-sitting or other tasks. We might be more than willing to take on these extra responsibilities, however new boundaries as to what we are willing to provide and what we are not will need to be negotiated – and this takes energy, persistence and an ability to tolerate the other person’s emotional reaction when we say no to certain requests or pressures.
Loneliness And Lack Of Structure
If we are single or our partner is continuing to work when we have retired, loneliness and lack of structure can become a problem. Perhaps we have grown used to the hubbub of colleagues around us at work and a rhythm to the day which has been imposed on us – e.g. abiding by company rules and expectations or responding to demand from customers if we are self-employed. Upon retirement, we might find ourselves in a position where, maybe for the first time in our lives, we need to create our own structure for the day and make a conscious effort to meet up with other people.
How Can Counselling And Psychotherapy Help?
Any major life change will involve losses as well as gains. Counselling can provide a safe space in which to explore how we might best adjust to a transition such as retirement and all the implications that it brings. Anxieties regarding our health and being that one step closer to death also commonly surface at this important time in our lives. These might be subjects that, at least in the first instance, we would rather discuss with someone outside our circle of family and friends.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
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