Dear Neil: I am 63 and my husband of two and a half years is 65. He lost his job shortly before we married, and he has made very little effort in finding another one. Since we are not that far from retiring, I might have been okay with this. However, during this time he has allowed his interests to wane, he has not volunteered, and he sits most of the day playing games on his computer and spending his time in chatrooms. He has not fostered any other relationships. Many of the things that originally attracted me to him as a person are no longer there, and he says he is “too old to change.” Meanwhile I am enjoying life more than ever: growing in my work, nurturing my relationships, walking and visiting my daughter. Can you advise how to handle it when two people have almost entirely different approaches to growing older?
Still Active in Denver
Dear Still Active: Retirement sounds attractive, until you find yourself spending all day doing nothing. It’s common for people after they retire to fall into a rut and slowly realize that their life has grown stale. Life is interesting and exciting when you have things to look forward to, and when you attempt to grow or expand your skills, interests, relationships and your goals.
No doubt your husband is not doing what he envisioned when he thought about retiring. (And by the way, he did retire. That’s why he isn’t actively looking for work. Either he doesn’t want a job, he doesn’t see himself as employable, or he doesn’t feel it’s worth the effort.) Having lots of free time enables us to pursue our goals and dreams, but it is hard to believe that playing computer games and traversing chatrooms was what he had in mind when he thought about retiring.
The first step in changing this dynamic is to help him find some goals he would be interested in pursuing. Let’s say that the two of you were happy and content with your lives. Together and separately, what would each of you be doing? Where would you be living? Would you be traveling? To where? Would either of you still be working? Doing what? What relationships would you like to foster? How affectionate would your marriage be? How sexy? What kinds of entertainment or recreation would you be pursuing? What would you be doing for exercise, nutrition and staying fit? Are there any new things you would like to experience or try? How about things from the past you’d like to try again? Does learning a new language, playing a musical instrument or taking a dance class interest you? What are you doing that’s fun? Any “bucket list” items that you would want to pursue?
If you do this together, perhaps the two of you can create a whole set of goals you’re shooting for, as a couple and individually. This would be the beginning of changing the dynamic you described, because there are good and bad ways of being retired. When you retire, it’s doubly important to make sure you’re staying active and involved in life, or you’ll find yourself slowly losing your enthusiasm about being alive.