What many people call retirement is really only a shift in activity and a release from duty. The release from duty is not guaranteed. Some of us are addicted to feeling guilty and duty bound and so spend our later years in bitterness and sorrow.

Marriage that was built around a schedule dictated by the corporate world will have its own addictions. I’m not talking the usual – alcohol, nicotine and food – but rather the kind of addictions that are more subtle. I’m thinking of the ‘this day is not my own’ addiction and the ‘weekend’ addiction.

I’m thinking of the ways we adapt and adjust, because we think we have to, to someone else’s demands and expectations. Many marriages are built around the idea that to relax is to ‘zone out’ perhaps in front of a television set. Or we say ‘I’ve been dealing with conflict all day. Now that I’m home I just want to relax.’ In that way our partner becomes an extension of the boss, and freedom comes to mean freedom from all relationship.

It’s not surprising that divorce rates are rising among the over 55 group. This is largely the result of a fundamental mistake.

It’s not hard to see that a life built around some huge reality (work) dominating it will look a lot different when certain inevitable events take place. It will look different when one no longer has to show up at that place called work. It will change the way the morning looks. The way I dress, the energy I have for friendships.

It’s also not surprising that the resentment one may have had toward the constraints of a work schedule can easily be projected onto one’s partner. We may even delude ourselves into thinking we’ve sacrificed our lives for them.

At a deeper and possibly more ‘life critical’ level changing the way one defines oneself can remove resentments and open new doors of possibility within relationship. In fact, retirement can be a time of life that I define myself according to my own standards for the first time. Defining myself in a deeper and truer way as well as claiming my own self definition is a gift of immeasurable treasure to the vitality of a marriage.

Here we introduce a word we get from the brilliance of Carl Jung.

Jung talked about individuation. Individuation means that I get to become more fully the person I am than I have allowed myself or been able to claim up to that point. It means there are real, tangible, actualizable potentials within that I get to discover and manifest.

Individuation is what life is about when you take away the duty dances, accommodations, adaptations, learnings, fear of approval, need for applause, and misperceptions about the nature of love. Those of you who like to read could look at James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code. He uses the metaphor of an acorn becoming an oak.

So, don’t be afraid of encouraging your own individuality to shine. If you do it right you’ll find it’s a natural consequence of being a human, loving yourself and of aging.

For many people, the doorstep to a fresh answer to the ‘who am I?’ question is the end of child rearing and child raising, the end of heavy financial demands, and the end of work as we’ve known it. The first step outside may be what the culture erroneously calls ‘retirement.’ I take that word to mean what it says – rest, retire to a place of repose. Perhaps we need a new word. Perhaps we should call retirement ‘the third major transition in life.’

This ‘third stage’ of life is all about new discoveries, new opportunities to serve and mentor, new appreciation for the primary energies of life. And it is right here where marriage can become something far more profound and beautiful than you ever imagined.

You’ll have to claim it to believe it.

In the next article in this series we’ll look at what it takes to individualize within relationship and the w.i.i.f.m (what’s in it for me) question.

Stephen W. Frueh PhD is a coach to executives and business owners helping them define and expand leadership effectiveness. He also coaches couples in a new way to live successfully in marriage. His book With These Rings can be found at Amazon.com and www.WithTheseRings.com

Stephen welcomes questions and comments and can be reached at Stephen@WithTheseRings.com
805 527 2600

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Author's Bio: 

Stephen Frueh coaches "high performance" couples - couples whose lives are full, high demand, high achievement - and whose marriages need new ideas, who desire new ways to imagine the possibilities within marriage and who desire excellence.
Stephen coaches executive teams,CEOs and business owners in a realtime model of effective leadership challenging them to create new leadership paradigms for the 21st century.