How to help your partner recover from the post-retirement blues

This article is by Queensland Health and is originally published by Starts at 60.

The months after they hang up the tools and start life after work can be a particularly tricky time for men.

While some men take to retirement like ducks to water, others find it hard to settle in to a retirement lifestyle – even if it’s something they’ve been looking forward to for many years. And while some 60-pluses are great at making financial plans to fund their retirement, not all plan for the emotional changes retirement can bring.

“Those who are smart enough to do some retirement planning … are told that retirement planning is all about the money,” Paul McKeon, the publisher of a range of guidebooks on retirement, called 50Plus Books, says. “They plan their money and no one tells them about the personal issues and lifestyle issues they’re going to have to handle.”

It’s no surprise that many men – and some women – struggle to find meaning in life after work. The structure of the daily commute and set hours in the workplace are gone, as is the camaraderie of colleagues and the sense of purpose that having a specific role can bring. This can leave them feeling depressed or anxious – emotions that they may try to hide.

It’s hard to fool a spouse or partner of many years, though, so you might have noticed that your loved one is finding it hard to adjust to retirement. Fortunately, this is often a temporary situation and you can be a great support to them at this time. Starts at 60 spoke to the experts to learn how.

Spotting signs of trouble

There are many symptoms of depression so you may notice some but not others in your partner. Some of the common symptoms of depression include:

  • A low or sad mood that lasts longer than two weeks
  • Anxiousness or agitation
  • Tiredness or an uncharacteristic loss of energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Big changes in appetite or weight (eating considerably more or less than usual)
  • Headaches or sleep disturbances (sleeping considerably more or less than usual)
  • Becoming unusually self-critical, expressing feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Avoiding social activities or hobbies that were previously enjoyed.

Wayne Bishop, the founder of Activetics, which helps businesses adapt to an ageing workforce, says the signs a man is having trouble taking to life post-work can be even more subtle.

“There’s that isolation, there’s that restlessness, there’s a sense of boredom, they’re floating, they’re not getting out of bed and pursuing other relationships or other activities and they do become more withdrawn,” he says of the low-key signs that a man’s struggling to adjust to retirement.

If this is the case at your home, it’s important to keep the lines of communication with your partner open and to not appear judgemental, particularly if they’ve come to you for help. Let them know you understand what they’re going through and that they’re not alone – many men find the early stage of retirement difficult to navigate.

Of course, while this kind of supportive relationship at home is vital, it’s also important for your partner to seek professional support if they need it. You could provide them with relevant resources such as mental health information and support offered by Queensland Health.

Your doctor should be your first port of call; they can assess your partner or refer them to a mental health expert. Medicare rebates are available for a range of mental health treatments, which also require a referral from a GP or psychiatrist.

It’s not uncommon for older men to feel a little uncomfortable in showing their feelings, though, so it may take time for them to take that important step. If they do need someone to talk to immediately, however, Queensland’s 13 HEALTH number (13 43 25 84) provides 24-hour health assessments, referrals, advice and contact details for hospitals and community health centres that can assist.

Otherwise, MensLineAustralia is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with professional counsellors available on the phone at 1300 789 978 or online.

When two’s a crowd

Of course, remaining understanding and non-judgemental isn’t always easy when you’re both adjusting to being in the house together seven days a week for what’s probably the first time in a long time. After all, we’re all only human!

“What you tend to find is when people haven’t been living together, all of a sudden when they leave the work environment, that in itself can be a source of angst because all of a sudden, they’re around each other all the time,” Bishop says. “With men, they haven’t developed alternatives the way women have.”

Sitting down to discuss openly how you’ll spend your time together and apart, and how both partners’ interests and desire for space can be accommodated, could help you lead in to a broader conversation about finding meaning in retired life. As Bishop says, this period does require making adjustments to how you both use your time and energy.

If your spouse is having trouble finding ways to occupy their time, you may have to help them find outlets for their energy. Bishop points out that there’s no shortage of opportunities to volunteer at worthwhile organisations or simply to join other groups of retirees to pursue hobbies or attend social events.

“We often find that people need to be held by the hand in some cases initially, but just being aware of what’s available in their community [can help],” he says. “You’ll find by checking with the local community, doing research and asking questions, there’s a range of things available no matter where you are in the country.”

Finding outlets outside the home doesn’t just give your partner something to do, Bishop adds, but the opportunity to make new, non-work friendships. “It’s really significant that we create opportunities for people to reconnect and to develop these longstanding relationships,” he says.

Managing expectations

Retirement is built up in many workers’ minds as a golden period in life so when that time actually arrives, it can be somewhat of a letdown. Again, talking through your expectations of retirement and even making a concrete plan to do the things you dreamt of doing may help your partner feel more in control of and optimistic about their new lifestyle.

But, as Paul McKeon points out, it’s important to remain realistic about what’s possible, to avoid future disappointment.

“It’s no good saying you want to go around the world every year on the Queen Mary if you’ve got fifty grand in your retirement fund,” McKeon says. “Obviously, that conversation has got to bear in mind your financial status.”

It may also help to share the upbeat stories many Starts at 60 readers have of their experiences of life after work, to remind your partner that retirement doesn’t necessarily mean slowing down.

“Our life has been busier since our retirement, both of us are doing our own things, sometimes together, sometimes not,” one reader says.

Another reader says her husband now “finally has a life to enjoy”. “We can now have holidays together, something that was sadly lacking for a few years before his retirement,” she says.

Another points out that retired life may not last as long as you hope, so make sure every second counts.

“I only had just over two years with my husband once he retired,” she says. “We managed to fit a lot into that time before he died, so make the most of it. The wonderful memories are all cushions for later on.”

Caring for yourself

A loved one’s mental health issues can really impact the people closest to them, particularly if you’re acting as their carer. It’s important to ensure your own health and wellbeing isn’t neglected while you support your partner.

Everyone experiences the transition to retirement differently – some long for it, whereas others are worried about what comes next. Whatever your employees are feeling, make their transition an enjoyable one with our range of providers, services, and free tools and resources. Contact us or book a time now to find out more about our Transition to Retirement Programs.

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