Healthy Aging: Why Put Family First

This is the second part in a series on the successful transition to retirement.  The first article addressed The Challenge of Leisure and this one will dive a little deeper into the family dynamic, which typically effects everyone in the house, not just the person retiring.

My parents had close friends (whom I will call George and Martha).  My dad and George served in the Navy together.  George went on to have a highly successful (and fascinating) career in the Navy and eventually became an Admiral.  He and Martha had four children, all of whom turned out well.

George was frequently at sea for extended durations, and even when he was not on deployment, his job was demanding.  For decades Martha single handedly ran the household, was used to, and quite good at, taking care of everything.

When he retired problems started.  George was well versed in giving orders and was used to everyone jumping at his command.  Suddenly “everyone” became just Martha.  It did not take very long for Martha to enlighten George about appropriate daytime behavior at home.

What George needed was an activity; and Martha, who already had a daytime set of friends and activities, needed a few hours a day without her husband.  Fortunately, he was able to find a few activities to engage both his mind and body.  In relatively short order retirement was treating George, Martha, and their marriage well.

Unfortunately, not all couples make the transition as easily as George and Martha.

While not an “army”, most highly successful professionals are used to numerous people hanging on their every word and most have individuals that are employed to do whatever the boss needs.  In my experience, spousal relationships work a little different.  In fact, for most spouses it is a big change to get to spend all day every day together.  This change can be harder than it sounds.

Further, for many of us, our close personal relationships define us.  These are often the people that we most connect with and that we share our hopes, our dreams, and our lives with.  So this is an important transition to get right.

Our desire to share is a basic human need; at least that is what psychologists tell us. (Although I suspect these psychologists have never tried to explain “sharing” to a three year old.)  Our family, and in particular, spouse, is the one we share the most with.  And there are benefits to sharing and having a deep, interdependent relationship with someone else.

Researchers have shown that social relationships affect mental health, physical health, and mortality risk.  In effect, adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers.  So, heathy relationships lead to both a healthy life as well as a more enjoyable life.

As we delve more into Healthy Aging, one step that couples can take to make for a successful transition successful is to develop a new set of interests, and, perhaps a few joint interests.  The next article in this series will expand from family to one’s broader social circle.