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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - December 2015

Retirement Habits

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

Retirement Habits

A few weeks ago I was invited to take part in a late evening radio programme for BBC West Midlands. The question asked was; Did retirement change your lifestyle much? This was a fairly light-hearted approach to this major marker in life, but it has left me thinking about the huge shift we all make on retirement.

Over my career I certainly met plenty of people who were finding those changes hard. I know I found my transition difficult and missed my counselling and training work very much. I missed the brilliant and supportive colleagues in our shared office/sitting room, I missed the routine, and the wonderfully courageous people who trusted me to be alongside them as they struggled to make sense of their problems.

I remember one woman who came alone, saying she feared she must leave her husband. He had retired and was now taking over all of her routine tasks and wanting to join in any social events with her friends. These, hitherto, had been women-only coffee and biscuits/tea and cake events. After a few consultations she was ready to invite her husband to our meetings, clear in her mind that she needed to tell him how his retirement had affected her. This was duly done. The poor chap had no idea he was causing her such misery and wanted to make everything better at once, but, with a little steadying mediation and 'referee-ing' I was able to help them see just how big a life-stage retirement is.

We are raised and taught to expect to work once we leave education, to find employment, or a career. In most of cases that is exactly what we do. Then we get on with adult life not really expecting any major adjustments to that work/leisure pattern. Somewhere in the dim and distant future we know we will age and eventually retire, but we don't dwell on that fact. So when it comes, early or late, we need to prepare for it.

What Graham Torrington had been asking in his programme the other evening was if I had any habits from my working life that I carried over into retirement. My answers had been a little light hearted – I think I said I still looked forward to weekends even though there was no ‘break’ from work - but there are plenty of places where we can seriously sabotage our own - or other people's - enjoyment of the hard earned rewards.

Are there rewards? Greater leisure time?

I for one feel busier now than I have since having two small boys to bring up! I know plenty of others who say the same thing. But of course, for the most part, all of my activities now are ones I have chosen, looked forward to spending more time doing, or happily accepted. Even writing my column for LaterLife feels like a pleasure, not a job I must do.

An end to early mornings and a commute to work?

I suspect the commute to work is willingly relinquished by most people, though I am aware that loss of contact with fellow commuters on train or bus journeys can be a pleasant part of the working week. But the early mornings can be a tricky one to let go of. Some never do, rising at 6.30, making breakfast and finding tasks to busy themselves might just be because they are naturally 'Early Birds'. Getting up early can be reassuring, particularly for those who live alone. They can feel they are still as alert and active as they ever were, and still in tune with those making their way to work. But it can distract from the need to let go of old habits and find out what other options might feel good to try; and certainly this behaviour can lead to friction if there is a spouse, one who is not an early riser, who doesn’t appreciate the sound of the Today Programme downstairs and the clatter of washing up etc before they are fully awake.

There is a great hole in the daytime which has to be filled now. For many this is the best bit of retirement when viewed in anticipation. Sometimes that novelty wears off and loneliness or boredom replaces it. The danger is that a person who has worked hard all their life, possibly not always with enthusiasm, and has looked forward to the day when they no longer have to put on the suit, uniform, overalls or workaday clothes, and cant wait for the chance to have a lie-in, might not have thought ahead and formed plans for a fulfilling retirement. There is a limit to the pleasure empty time can offer.

To stay healthy and mentally alert we need to pursue those interests we wished we had more time for, or find new ways of filling some of that time. I am not advocating filling every moment, it is good to sit and stare, or just watch life going on around you. The bird table is a perfect example, and if grandchildren are part of your life, seeing them play and grow is a joy - although the passive watching will not last long if there is a small child involved!

According to Rudi Westendorp, Professor of Old Age Medicine at the University of Copenhagen, we need to think positively about ageing and accept longer life as a gift. “We make each other old by adjudicating that being old is grim.” Although we all know that much of our lives are behind us, I do feel that many still in good health on retirement really are taking advantage of that good fortune to find new interests, enjoy new and old friendships and use new and old skills.

I asked friends what they felt they had transferred from their working life to their retirement. One felt he had kept his computer, organising and presenting skills active through becoming involved in a Civic Society and through joining fund raising groups. Two more are honing their fine voices in choirs and another has turned his personal interest in playing the concertina to becoming one of the few restorers in the country – a new career! I know others who have taken up dress-making, who spend a day or two each week working in a charity shop, who travel frequently, and one who teaches reading to young adults who never mastered it at school, the list goes on. For many however, spending more time at the allotment, taking longer to read the paper, and doing D.I.Y. is excitement enough.

The important element for all is to find things to do; things that are interesting, that offer exercise of some kind and which please you - and do not exclude or displace your spouse if you have one.

The aim is to enjoy retirement and stay as healthy and active as you can, for as long as you can.

Here's to a well-considered, good later life for you all!

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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