Max retired almost three years before I did. I have to admit to a smidgeon of resentment when he retired and I could not. It made no sense, as he is older than I am, was older when he retired than I would be on my planned retirement date, and he basically took over all the work of running the household after he retired. It was pretty irrational. I had no reason in the world to feel annoyed about it. I was 52 years old, bringing in a tidy paycheck, and coming home to a clean, maintained house, freshly laundered clothes, and a fully stocked refrigerator. Still, a part of me was really ticked off when I awoke violently in the middle of yesterday when the alarm clock went off and I knew he was still in bed. Sometimes I’m not a very nice person.
Within two months of my retiring, we moved 3000 miles across the country. We had not even really settled into a new retirement routine. I was still toodling around town, celebrating with one batch of friends or another. There was Thanksgiving and some early, pre-move Christmas preparations. I didn’t have time to figure out what our life was going to be once we were both retired, much less what the impact would be on our relationship. During the time I was still working after Max retired, it felt like “retirement life” was a reality, but “on hold” while we waited for me to reach the magic age of 55. I wasn’t sure the routines and activities Max had in his retirement would continue after I would be around all day. I wasn’t sure what sort of routines and activities I would do. And I really didn’t know how his life and mine would intersect. We were always very good about sharing time and fun while we were forced into a structure by our work lives. How would we accomplish that sharing once the artificial timeframes of our work lives were gone?
Once we moved, it became pretty clear that both of us were experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives. At least, in retrospect, it is clear that we were both experiencing a certain amount of stress related to this major upheaval in our lives. I have to confess that, at the time, I just thought Max was being compulsive and annoying and I am sure that Max thought I had turned into a lazy, irresponsible grasshopper version of the industrious little ant he had known for almost twenty years.
The problem, I think, was that we learned that we both deal with stress in very different ways. I was wrong to think that Max believed that the move and all the changes were no big deal. He most definitely did find all the transition to be a big deal. It is just that Max deals with stress by trying to control the heck out of it. He tries to think of every possible problem, action, or task that could conceivably be an issue in any universe and believes in attacking each one immediately and simultaneously. If you think of everything and do everything to solve/prevent problems as soon as they enter your head, you are unlikely to be unpleasantly surprised by disaster. On the other hand, you might be exhausted, which, to me, was a disaster in itself after 33 years of working for a living and being chronically exhausted. My way of dealing with problems is to let them sit for a little bit, brainstorm some possible options to deal with them, research those options, and then decide on a plan of action. That plan of action will involve dealing with one problem at a time, celebrating the resolution of that problem, and then resting between rounds, as it were. My way means some things may never get done. Max’s way means we are constantly on hyper-alert and busy doing stuff that may never need to get done.
The other issue involved the way we make decisions. Both of us obsess in the decision-making process. We research, weigh every possible factor, and simmer in our own juices for way too long before actually settling on a decision. Often, we settle into paralysis by analysis. However, for me, the obsession does not stop when the decision is finally made. I second guess myself and mourn the road not taken with almost as much intensity as I mustered to make the decision in the first place. On the other hand, Max never looks back. Once he has made and implemented a decision, he tells himself and anyone who will listen that it the unquestionably correct one. This became a problem whenever I voiced any possible downsides of our decision or mentioned that I missed something about our old home. Max would immediately start reciting the litany of all the reasons our decision to move was the only one a rational person could possibly make. To him, I think entertaining any possible regrets felt as if the whole thing was a catastrophe. To me, not acknowledging the difficulties and the disappointments felt dismissive.
For the first six months or so after the move, the difference in our two styles was an irritant to both of us. It was uncomfortable to be at odds with one another, as we have so little practice at it. We had seldom disagreed in our twenty year relationship before this move across country. It made me kind of depressed to know that there were times when Max was not pleased with my approach or decision. I’m sure it also frustrated Max no end when what he perceived as his “rational convincing” to do something (and I perceived as “nagging”) did not move me to his way of thinking and I really could not explain why. I started snapping at him fairly regularly and he started just assuming I agreed with him about things. I guess that is a chicken and egg conundrum. I don’t really know which came first.
Then something happened. I’m not sure when or why. I think Max probably started it. We became gentler and more tender with each other. Instead of being frightened or irritated by the disconnects, we started to be more accepting of each other. We started being more visibly appreciative of what each of us brings to the relationship and what we do for each other. We started reminding each other of how much we loved each other. Our lives became more about each other again and less about the complications around us- the house, the lawn, my mother, finances, etc. There is a new easiness to the relationship- something like the joy we had when we were new to each other, but deeper and warmer and softer.
In a few weeks, Max and I will celebrate twenty years together. During that time, we have shared the death of three of our four parents, the growing up and growing old of our little mutant Welsh corgi dog, many vacations, many wonderful entertainments, health problems, career challenges, home renovation, caregiving of my mother, two retirements, and many, many other experiences I can’t even begin to name. With all that, the relationship has truly grown richer. It is sort of like warming up spaghetti sauce. It is good the first day, but it gets better as it simmers when you warm and rewarm it. There may have been times when each of us privately wondered if our “we” was going to withstand whatever was going on at the time. I think maybe our new chapter is about being more secure that, whatever ingredients the future adds to our mix, our relationship will be okay because the base of the recipe is love and respect and admiration. For me, the best place in the world to be is snuggled in his arms. He makes me feel the warmth and wholeness that comes from being truly cherished. For Max, I think being with me makes his spirit a little lighter and more joyful.
So, my darling Max, Happy Anniversary. There is no question that the sweetest days I’ve found I’ve found with you.
How did your relationship change when you retired? Were there challenges you had to overcome? How have you navigated choppy waters? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at email@example.com.
Have a sweet day!