Friday, October 19, 2018

7 Ways to Find Love and Friendship Later in Life

Remaining open to connecting with new people can be rewarding
By Wendy Sue Knecht for Next Avenue


Credit: Adobe Stock

There’s no question of the importance of personal interactions and connections with friends as an important source of our well-being. This is especially true as we age, and much has been written about the challenge of making friends and finding love in the later years.

Looking for love, or even just hoping to make a new friend, can seem intimidating when you’re older. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Personally, I didn’t find Mr. Right until late in life, and it definitely took some work on my part to be ready for the right person when he came along.

Here are a few insights that may be helpful in finding love and friendship as we get older:

1. Re-frame old mindsets It’s all how we frame things in our minds that affect our vision. With the right mindset, it is easier to find love and friendship.

Although it is often said that as we get older we get more stuck in our ways, this doesn’t have to be true. We learn more about ourselves as the years go by, and our tastes become more distinct; but that doesn’t necessarily imply that we have to become more rigid. As I’ve experienced, it is possible to become more open-minded as we age.

When I got married for the first (and only) time at age 47, I can’t tell you how many comments I received from well-meaning friends and acquaintances: “Really, wasn’t that difficult?” “Weren’t you used to living alone?” and “Weren’t you set in your ways?”

“No!” I would emphatically answer. Being single for so long made me ready to welcome change. Having more self-knowledge made it easier to feel open to new experiences. I realized that being set in my ways was a choice and served no purpose. I made a conscious decision not to be “stuck” in a rigid mindset.

2. Don’t expect others to be perfect With age comes confidence, and hopefully, the acceptance of our own imperfections. Personally, in my younger days, I had strict standards that everyone had to live up to. My friends used to tell me that I was “too picky” regarding men, which was a nice way of saying “too critical.” Once you come to accept your own faults and imperfections, it is much easier to accept other people for who they are. Not only do I not expect anyone to be perfect, I would hate for anyone to expect that of me.

3. Don’t let others define you
When we were younger, many of us chose friends a lot like ourselves. Hence the “cliques” in high school, where everyone was pretty much alike. Back then, we needed to be alike to be accepted.

Once we have the self-assurance of age, it is no longer necessary to find a partner or a friend to define ourselves. You can appreciate others more fully when you realize they are not a reflection of you. Differing opinions and tastes can make things more interesting if you are open to listening without judgment. For example, the famous friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Anthony Scalia comes to mind.

4. Embrace quirkiness Perfect is boring and quirkiness can be a lot of fun if you have a sense of humor. My husband’s “Obsessive Cleaning Disorder” would have driven me crazy in my 30s, but now I can work around it and even appreciate it. As long I keep my own modicum of neatness, I can reap the benefits of his obsession. I am perfectly happy for him to clean up the dinner dishes and organize the drawers (he does a much better job than I do).

Quirkiness in ourselves and in others can make life more interesting. Don’t fight it, embrace it.

5. Celebrate differences An appreciation and tolerance of differences is a big bonus of getting older.

A recent vacation was a big eye-opener. In my newly acquired travel agent role, I booked a small French river barge and filled it to capacity with 21 people. I recruited half of the passengers, whom I knew, and one of my friends brought along the others. Although mostly everyone knew at least one or two of the others on the trip, it was a fusion of childhood, college and work friends from all walks of life, white to blue collar. Everyone took a leap of faith and I held my breath, feeling responsible for the whole lot.

Our group was smart to ignore the topic of politics — one that is way too divisive these days. But everyone took the time to learn from each other. We shared our love of travel, food and wine, and embraced each other’s differing backgrounds. By the time the seven-day trip ended, we all had made a few new friends.

6. Visualize
Remember the self-fulfilling prophecy is just that. If you really can feel in your heart that you are ready to meet a new friend or love interest, you are much more likely to be open to it when the opportunity presents itself. Visualize it happening. I found there is a lot of value in putting good thoughts out to the universe.

7. Keep an Open Mind
Keeping an open mind is key to finding new friends and love as you get older. Never say never; love and friendship could be just around the corner.

By Wendy Sue Knecht
Travel expert Wendy Knecht is a former flight attendant, a designer of travel bags and author of Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir. She blogs at WendySueKnecht.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Are You a "Solo Ager"?

By Richard Eisenberg

With her recent book, Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A retirement and aging roadmap for single and childless adults, Sara Zeff Geber brought the term “solo agers” into the national vocabulary. By Geber’s definition, a solo ager (sometimes called an “elder orphan”) is a boomer without children and/or grandchildren. Geber, a
2018 Influencer in Aging based in Santa Rosa, Calif., is a retirement coach for boomers, a life planning and retirement transition expert, a professional speaker, a workshop leader and a Forbes contributor. She has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior.

Next Avenue: Your bio says: Sara has been among the first professionals in the field to recognize that the baby boom generation would re-invent the whole notion of retirement in a very exciting way. Tell me about that.

Sara Zeff Geber: In 2010, nobody was talking about this. Boomers were primarily in the workforce. I was looking at the trajectory of the boomer generation and what we’ve changed in society and the likely changes we will enact in our later years. Now, we’re starting to see them bigtime.

Why is there so much interest in solo agers now?

For one thing, there are so many of us. Almost 20 percent of boomers don’t have kids and as I keep being told in my talks, solo aging is not limited to people who don’t have kids. Lots of people are aging alone with kids who live a long way away and a lot of them don’t want to rely on their kids.

Some people refer to older adults without children as ‘elder
orphans,’ but you don’t like that term and many others don’t either. Why?

I hate that term. I find it offensive; the word ‘orphans’ has always had a negative connotation. I wanted to use words that are positive or at least neutral. I think I coined the term ‘solo ager’ eight years ago and now I’m pleased others are using it.

What are the challenges and opportunities solo agers face that are different than other people?
Opportunities? You absolutely have a lot more freedom to decide where you’re going to live. You don’t have the tug of kids or grandkids to live in a particular climate you don’t want. And you can go wherever you want.

What do people ask you about solo agers when you give talks about it?

People are very interested in the topic of where they should live. I’m not the biggest fan of aging in place; I like to see people focus on aging in community. It’s so important to build and maintain a social support network. I encourage people to think through to the end of life when we need people around us.

What do solo agers need to do first for their retirement planning?

They should use professionals like financial advisers and estate attorneys and get their paperwork in order — advance directives, wills, trusts, powers of attorney. That forces solo agers to think through: ‘Who will I name on those documents?’ And they have to talk to those people; you can’t just name them and let it go. You need to tell them your values and your vision for your future.

What happens when a solo ager asks someone to be in charge of their end-of-life wishes?

I can’t say people are always very gracious and say: ‘Yes, I’d be happy to do it.’ They’re not always comfortable at first. Help them understand you need people in your corner as a solo ager. If you tell me ‘I asked one person and she declined,’ I say: ‘Move on to the next person.’

I encourage people to start with family: a niece or nephew who lives near them.

What happens is often people go into a crisis after a fall or a medical event and there they are in the hospital and somebody needs to be there as an advocate waving paperwork saying: ‘I am power of attorney.’

What do you want your legacy to be?

I want people to remember me as a person who opened the world’s eyes to the fact that many people in the coming older generation of boomers, and possibly generations to follow, don’t have the safety net of adult children as we get older. And we need to plan in many ways what want to be, who we will be around and how we will avoid isolation and loneliness.
 

Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch.@richeis315

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Fighting Ageism on a Hiking Trail

At Great Basin National Park, a couple discovers possibilities are as important as goals

Credit: Compliments of Donna Trump
By Donna Trump for Next Avenue

This is a story about me, a woman of a certain age, gray-haired and a little thick through the middle who, a few summers ago, asked a much younger, positively lithe national park guide …well, I asked her a question I didn’t really want answered. At least not the way the guide answered it.

The park was Great Basin National Park in far eastern Nevada, just over the Utah line. I was nearly overwhelmed with the remarkably remote beauty of the region. It is located in a huge geographic basin — spanning from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah to the Sierra Nevada in California, which, according to the National Park Service, is a “200,000 square mile area that drains internally. All precipitation in the region evaporates, sinks underground or flows into lakes (mostly saline). Creeks, streams, or rivers find no outlet to either the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean.”

Anyway, the question I asked was this: “Do you think I can do the Wheeler Peak hike?” And the answer I got was, without hesitation, “No.”

“Is it technical? Is that why? Is it very long?” I asked.

“No, it’s not technical or very long, but there’s the altitude. It’s 3,000 feet of elevation gained in four miles — most of the gain at the end,” she said. “No, I just don’t think you could.”

Wheeler Peak summits at something over 13,000 feet. The only reason I even considered it possible ws that my husband and I would drive up to the trailhead at 10,000 feet.

“Did you tell her you bike 50 to 60 miles a week?” my husband asked, firmly in my camp. But by now I was miffed, feeling subject to ageism and determined to prove the guide wrong.


A Scheme for Summiting Success

The next morning, after picking up lunch and driving up to the start of the hike, my husband and I imagined coming back to the ranger station later in the day with tales of summiting the great Wheeler Peak.

The trail started out in a slight descent, which when you think of it is not a good thing: a “minus” in the “elevation gained” column. Then for two miles, it climbed pretty gradually, through alpine meadows and past pristine lakes.

Because my husband is a wonderful man, we followed a scheme for summiting success: 10 minutes hike, five minutes rest, even when the hiking was easy. What couldn’t be accomplished with 10 minutes of walking and five minutes of resting? Although when we rested, flies buzzed about and their drone reminded me we forgot the EpiPen my husband uses for bee stings.

We also forgot the map.


Negotiating a Rocky Trail

As we approached the tree line, we encountered our first patch of rock trail — pretty big stones making up the whole pathway.

“Scree!” I shouted with glee. (I have a thing for certain words, and this one means loose rocks covering a trail.) By contrast, on the way down, when it seemed we’d never return to a trail that was not pure, continuous rock underfoot, we’d navigated yet another switchback corner when my husband, somewhat uncharacteristically, muttered, “More damn rocks.”

In fact, on several occasions on the way up, I considered how this was all going to go coming down. The last time I descended such a steep, rocky trail I’d made good use of some hiking sticks. Which I hadn’t brought along. But we were still going up, right?

At one point, I swore I heard a rattlesnake.

A few hikers passed us, coming down as we ascended — one before the trees disappeared, telling us we had completed just short of half of the hike, and another when the trail had turned entirely to rock and the summit was intermittently visible.

“All you’ve got left is this bunch of rocks here — oh, and the next one too, but then there’s only one more hump to the top,” said the last hiker.


A Kind of Epiphany

We went a couple more feet — in my case, literally on hands and knees, and now resting every five minutes because, good Lord, it was hard to breathe — before I came to a kind of epiphany.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I said.

It absolutely surprised me: at a certain point in time that day, I really thought I could.

“Last 15 minutes kind of rough?” my husband asked, more than kindly. In truth, he was breathing hard, too.

“Try hour,” I said. An hour in which I more or less constantly imagined precipitous falls, sprained ankles and heart attacks. Emergency rescues. Pain. It was actually a variety of pure terror, overall.

“How about lunch?” said the fine man who is my husband. “Good idea,” I said. So we sat, and stared up for a while. But then, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, we looked down, and around.


Imagining the Possibilities

It’s not always necessary, is it, to reach the imagined goal? Doesn’t failure, in some respects, increase possibility?

After lunch, I patted the rocks in acquiescent defeat and my husband and I started down. It took nearly as long to descend as ascend. When we got back to the ranch and looked over the map, my husband proclaimed we’d made it to within about a half-mile of the summit — only an eighth of the distance of the whole hike — but a distance in which we’d have to have ascended perhaps a quarter of the mountain’s elevation gain.

And, no, we didn’t go back and tell the park guide she’d been correct. Instead, we had dinner and sat in the hot tub, imagining a next time. A next time we were quite certain would never happen. A next time that, even so, was forever and irrefutably possible.



Donna Trump’s work has been published in december magazine (forthcoming in November 2018), Ploughshares and Mid-American Review, among others. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. Honors include a Loft Mentorship, mentorship with Benjamin Percy, a MN Emerging Writer grant and the selection of her story “Portage” by judge Anne Tyler for first prize in a 2018 contest sponsored by December.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I Crashed My Mother’s Red Hat Society Group

Credit: Kevyn Burger
Joy, celebration and camaraderie are always on the agenda

By Kevyn Burger for Next Avenue

As she turned 83, my mother, Jill Burger, declared that every birthday is worth marking in a big way. I jumped on a plane to be with her for her most recent special day when she was the star of a family party featuring cake, presents and three generations of loved ones.

A few days later, Mom invited me to tag along to another birthday observation, this time with a group of friends whom she calls “my Red Hat ladies.”

“No matter how old you are, it’s good to be with women your own age,” Mom told me as I zipped up her purple tunic studded with metallic bangles. “This is such a fun bunch, they’re stylish and peppy. You’ll see.”

She popped a red hat with dyed-to-match ostrich feathers on her head and loaned me her other red hat, the one with a purple veil, and we were off.

Red Hat Society: Looking for Friends and Fun

Credit: Kevyn Burger
For the past decade or so, I’ve been hearing tales from my mother’s Red Hat Society chapter, whose members circulate among the most elegant restaurants in St. Augustine, Fla. (The Red Hat Society is a 20-year-old international social organization for women.) The majority of members in mom’s chapter, in their 80s and 90s, are relative newcomers to Florida, having settled in the historic coastal community after retiring. They arrived looking for friends and fun and found each other.

On the day I accompanied my mother to an Italian restaurant on the beach road, I met Jean, 82, who arrived only slightly winded after her tennis match. Carolyn, 84, was glad she felt well enough to attend after a bout with the flu. And Katie, 92, brought a new joke to share.
“Everything I got is old except my hearing aids!” she chuckled.

Resplendent in red hats festooned with flowers, jewels and veils, the 20 women greeted each other with shrieks of delight and hugs. They “dress to kill,” in Mom’s description, choosing glamorous sequined tops, purple ponchos and lots of jewelry.

“We’re not subtle when we’re all together,” said Jean, who chose a red fedora with a large purple tulle bow from her collection of eight red hats. “We love the camaraderie. We’re all young at heart; I say we’re the oldies but goodies.”

“We lie to each other about how good we look,” added Carolyn, wearing a sparkly red baseball cap. “I don’t know how we got this old, but at least we don’t act it.”

There’s something in the conspicuous donning of their finery for one another that sets the table for them to cut loose.

Red Hat Ladies as Role Models

The youngest club member is Amy Robinson, 51, who began attending the monthly luncheons when she moved south to be near her retired mother several years ago. In accordance with the rules of the Red Hat Society, Robinson wore a pink hat until her 50th birthday, when she was officially welcomed into the club.

“These ladies are role models for where I’m heading,” Robinson said. “I love the way they care for each other. They show their elegance and sophistication; they have beautiful manners and respect for each other. We have such a grand time.”

The Red Hat Society originally started with a tea party among a few California girlfriends and has since expanded to 20,000 chapters in the U.S. and 30 other countries. Initially restricted to women 50 and older, but now open to women of all ages, it takes a playful approach to encouraging female empowerment.

Celebrating Each Other

There’s little formal structure in the monthly get-togethers of my mother’s group, known as the Feisty Femmes. Each gathering honors the women celebrating birthdays that month, so there was a chorus of Happy Birthday as the plates arrived.

According to tradition, each Red Hat brings a greeting card with a $1 bill tucked inside for the birthday girls, and the cards, which ranged from irreverent to mushy, are passed around the table while the women visit. (Only one featured a scantily clad man, which brought on a few snorts of laughter.)

Their chatter included updates about who has met a new great-grandchild, who has taken on a volunteer gig and, this being Florida, who has gotten their roof back after the most recent hurricane.

“We all have our aches and pains, but no one wants to drag down the group talking too much about that stuff,” my mother said.

A Group of Caring Friends to the End

I see the pleasure these women take in the confidences shared in their monthly meetups and in the ways they look out for one another beyond their luncheons. When my mother was at a rehab center after knee surgery, a number of her Red Hats stopped by to visit and others called or sent cheerful get-well cards.

They encourage and keep track of one another, right to the end. Since joining her group, Mom has attended two members’ funerals; she donned her red hat and sat with her similarly attired club sisters as they paid their final respects.

Observing their girlfriend bond gave me a peek into my own future and showed me how important it is to make regular dates to spend time with kindred spirits.

My mother’s Red Hat ladies demonstrated how, when you possess companions who help you keep your sass and sense of humor, life continues to be rich, varied and full of laughter.


Kevyn Burger is a freelance feature writer and radio producer. Her background is in broadcasting. Kevyn worked as a television reporter and investigative journalist and a radio talk show host. A Minneapolis resident, Kevyn is the mother of three and a breast cancer survivor.
 


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How I Found My Joy

by Lisa Kanemoto, resident at Wesley Palms Retirement Community

I used to live in a state of inarticulate mourning. Except for my children, I had little to show. My life felt empty and without further meaning. I was a stranger to myself.


Good fortune led me to discover photography as a medium. Morrie Camhi, a photography instructor, became my mentor. His profound sense of empathy, his training and sensitive guidance, provided the trust by which I could reveal myself in a series of self-portraits. Photography became the way to explore and transform, to give face to memory, to turmoil.

Born in Germany, I grew up inhibited by the shadow of Hitler, Nazi indoctrination, terror, persecution, destruction and death. The father I cherished died in battle while in Russia.

My embittered mother and a hysterical aunt, also a war widow, raised me. A hidden Jewish background was our secret. Living in a small town, our lives enchained by deception and lies, we witnessed with horror the persecution and disappearance of our Jewish friends. To this day, wherever I go, gnawed by introspection and held back by shyness - I remain an outsider, the product of a terrible war. 
A war bride to an American of Japanese ancestry I immigrated to the United States in l 958. The complexity of an East-West marriage, attending to a promising son tragically disabled by mental illness, my struggle with cancer and the acceptance of my own mortality have remained my deepest challenges.

Photography opened a path for unusual and precious friendships and has allowed me to transform the sorrows of history and present.




Lisa Kanemoto has spent her career documenting stigmatized groups such as the mentally ill, drug addicts, ethnic minorities, the gay community and the homeless. Her work has been exhibited and collected internationally www.lisakanemoto.com





 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Creative Art of Quilting

Quilts by Marijke Vroomen Durning
This art form is good for your health, helps you stay connected and provides purpose


By
Marijke Vroomen Durning

If you’re among the 7 to 10 million quilters in the United States, you likely already know how quilting can have a positive impact on your life. Studies have shown crafting can have a healing effect on the mind, but did you know the art of quilting may help restore or maintain your health?

Quilting Offers a Sense of Belonging 

With families and friends spread out across the country, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Unlike many other crafts, quilting can provide the sense of community that has been lost. A few generations ago, women held quilting bees to gather and work on quilts. Today’s equivalent is the quilting guild, where quilters gather to learn about quilting, share creations, work on community projects and reach out to other quilters who need support.

Bonnie Wright, a retired occupational therapy assistant, found this support when quilting helped her adapt to her new home. After moving to Mount Cobb, Pa., following her husband’s death, Wright sought out and joined a guild, so she could meet people. There she met a woman who held smaller meetings in her home. “It’s what I needed,” Wright said. “With this group, I feel like I made the friendships I needed so badly.”

Dana Howell, program director of the occupational therapy department at Eastern Kentucky University, had a similar experience after moving to Seattle and then going through a bad break-up. “I was in a really rough spot, so I started taking a quilting class through a local community college in 1996. To this day, that was one of the most supportive groups of women I have ever been involved with,” she said.

Howell went on to write a paper about the restorative qualities of quilting, which was published in the Journal of Occupational Science in 2000.

Restoring Health

Ricky Tims, a world-renowned quilter, quilt teacher, and designer who lives in La Veta, Colo., underwent quadruple bypass surgery 18 years ago. While he doesn’t credit quilting for his overall recovery, it did play a role. A week after Tims returned home, he was bored, but his activities were limited.


Credit: Compliments of Marijke Vroomen Durning
“I couldn’t lift anything heavier than a 5-pound sack of sugar,” he explained. “I wanted to do what I loved, and that was quilting.” Tims began making a quilt to commemorate his surgery. “I just wanted to get back into the game. It allowed me to stay active and motivated, and that is good mental medicine,” he noted.

Quilting can help patients regain mobility, particularly if they have had a neurological deficit from a stroke or brain injury, said Howell. “There are multiple studies to show that actually performing a task is much better than simulating it,” she added. You can have a patient picking fabric and reaching for it with her or his dominant arm, she explained. “Even if they don’t have the motor control to actually quilt at that moment, we can do lots of things to engage them in the quilting process.”

Tims adds that quilting can help people get through difficult or trying times. For example, when his father was ill, his quilt work helped him get through those days. “Sometimes quilting is a way to manage a crisis situation that may not be one’s own health, but someone close, and this includes the loss of a loved one,” said Tims.

Wright experienced this as well when her husband was undergoing treatment for cancer. “The only way I got through that was with quilting. I would sit with him in the hospital, or when he was having chemotherapy, and I would always have some quilting with me. It would give me something to focus on so I wouldn’t see he was miserable,” she said.

Howell’s paper explains why quilting can have this effect. The personal meaning behind a quilt’s creation, the rituals, the repetitive actions involved in the sewing and the attention the quilt assembly requires all result in a meditative quality, and this can make time pass quickly.

“Each aspect of quilting is unique and novel, and requires efficient attention and other cognitive abilities,” Howell wrote. “This challenge of performing each unique aspect of the project is characterized by focus, intention, and precision, and is praised as restorative by some quilters.”

Improving Mental Health and Decreasing Isolation


Credit: Compliments of Marijke Vroomen
Twelve years ago, Michelle Napoli, an art therapist and mental health counselor in Massachusetts, founded the Survivor Quilt Project. Napoli is a trauma specialist who uses quilting to help incest survivors. Trauma overwhelms the normal processing system, she explained, so survivors may be unable to talk about what happened. However, art therapy can help them identify things when words can’t. “You symbolize how you understand something before you can find the words,” she said.

In projects such as Napoli’s, community quilting projects allow quilters to interact with others while they create. “It’s with the support of other people and when you make the quilt, the conversations can decrease the isolation and confusion you may feel,” she explained.


Wright experienced this in her work, too. “There was one psychiatric facility where the patients and I made several quilts and hung them in the gym,” she said. “It was very satisfying for them to see their work there.” In another program, the women in Wright’s group were tired of the traditional arts and crafts programs, but many wanted to learn how to sew. It was a good problem-solving activity for them as they learned how to pick fabric, decide on the colors, use a sewing machine and work as a group, she said.

“A lot of them had low self-esteem and no hobbies,” Wright said. “Why teach them something in the hospital if they can’t carry it over when they go home?”

Quilting as We Age

Quilting is a physical activity, and as our bodies change, so do our abilities. But crafters are often motivated to stay as healthy as possible so they can continue their art for as long as possible.

“A lot of us have had cataracts removed so we can see and quilt more,” Wright said. “I told my eye doctor, ‘I can’t see the thread and needle, you have to fix this.’ So he said that it was because I had cataracts and I needed new lenses.”

Getting older doesn’t mean quilters can’t learn new tricks. Arthritic fingers can make it hard to hand quilt, but then it’s time to learn how to machine quilt or even to use a long-arm machine, like Wright did.

Learning new skills is a fun way to keep the mind and body sharp. You can take up more complex patterns or different skills as you want or as your body dictates.

“Quilting gives you the opportunity to learn something at your own pace,” Wright said. “It’s not something you have to learn all at once.”


© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.

 

Thursday, August 30, 2018

An Emotional Playbook for Couples in Retirement

Credit: Adobe Stock
6 tips to navigate a time of life that brings so many changes

By
Joan Fischer

We’d only been retired for a few weeks when the questions started coming.

“How’re you doing with so much time together?” we heard from friends, both the still-working and the long-retired alike, their voices knit with concern.

I was a little puzzled. My husband and I had been married for nearly 35 years and got along just fine. What mysteries could possibly await us?

Yet apparently we’d stumbled onto new ground in Elder Country, where each couple must blaze their own trail. We met one pair who can’t get enough of each other, traversing the country in the close quarters of an RV and spending months at a time volunteering at national parks, often living in remote sites with no TV, cell or Wi-Fi.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we met a couple who’d agreed to more or less ignore each other until 5 p.m. on weekdays, mimicking the schedule they’d kept during their working lives. This was not done with any hostility; it was simply a pattern of interaction that worked for them.

Where would we fit in?

As time went on, I realized that our concerned friends had a point: Retired couples do need to hash things out.

The stakes are high. While nearly 80 million boomers are retiring at a rate of some 10,000 per day, according to the
Social Security Administration and other sources — the divorce rate of older Americans is also rising. Among people ages 65 and older, divorces have roughly tripled since 1990. At least some of that discontent is caused by problems that surface in retirement.

Couples in Retirement: Preparing for the Next Stage

“Due to our heightened expectations of marriage and also to our healthier life spans, most people are no longer willing to stay in a boring marriage ‘until death do us part,’” noted sociologist Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Austin, Texas-based Council on Contemporary Families.

But even if divorce is not on the menu, couples need to prepare — beyond finances and health care — for a life stage that brings so many changes. Most of us don’t blithely stumble into marriage or childbirth, perhaps because those transitions carry so many obvious red flags. Retirement, on the other hand, seems like 100 percent ease, a hard-earned gift of time. In spite of that, couples need an “emotional playbook,” said Miriam Goodman, author of
Too Much Togetherness: Surviving Retirement as a Couple.

Navigating the Challenges, Enjoying the Experience

Luckily for all of us, a number of sociologists and other experts have weighed in on marital harmony in retirement. Here are six key pieces of advice:

Communicate clearly “It’s not you, it’s me.” If one of you needs more alone time, make sure your partner understands it’s a part of your nature, rather than a rejection of his or her company. Presumably, your spouse knows a bit about your temperament after so many years together, but a whopping 40 hours a week of newly freed time can be a wake-up call to each partner’s needs and plans. A need for “more space” can be addressed quite literally by designating separate rooms for each partner as mostly his or hers, if possible.

Cultivate separate hobbies and friendships “Couples should focus on building their individual social lives to avoid becoming too dependent on each other or spending too much time together,” advised sociologist Rob Pascale, co-author (with Louis H. Primavera and Rip Roach) of
The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire. “In addition to maintaining and strengthening existing friendships, retirees can consider joining clubs and organizations so they have opportunities for developing new independent relationships.”

Spend time with others as a couple “People report the happiest feelings when they socialize with their partner and other adults, not just with the partner,” said Coontz. “And a whole lot of studies show that having friends beyond your family or spouse as you age is an extremely important contribution to people’s mental and physical well-being. It’s a protective factor on the same order as keeping physically fit and not smoking.”

Understand that retirement brings different challenges for men and women By most accounts, men have the tougher time. Many women have moved in and out of the workforce while raising children, and, culturally, have been encouraged to place a higher value on close friendships. They’ve also been assigned more of the day-to-day domestic activities that await the retiree.

The emphasis of men’s role as providers first and foremost, spending less time cultivating friendships and managing the home, leaves many men more at a loss when the workweek vanishes. That, in turn, can become a problem for women who find their husbands suddenly underfoot.

Couples can kill two birds with one stone by: a) agreeing that each partner will pursue new activities and friendships and b) negotiating an equal division of domestic chores, even if the woman had done the lion’s share while both partners worked.

Partners who both work should retire at the same time, if possible “Researchers have found that when spouses retire together, the marriage is seldom affected by their joint decision; good marriages will stay good and bad marriages bad. But problems can occur when only half of a two-income couple retires,” said Pascale.

By retiring together, partners avoid such issues as changes in the dynamics of the relationship —only one person “bringing home the bacon,” for example, can cause problems — or interference with the retired partner’s ability to participate in certain types of activities or social events. Retiring together also provides each partner with some emotional support as they try to adjust to their new living arrangements, Pascale noted.

Allow yourselves time to adjust “Be patient with each other,” said Goodman. It takes time and experimentation to find a groove. Maybe one partner will decide to take a part-time job or a significant volunteering commitment that feels like a job, while the other is happy with less structure.

It is sobering to recognize that retirement represents our last years of life, our time to finally do whatever we wish — health and resources permitting. That freedom is a tremendous gift; one that, with good communication and understanding, couples can make the most of together.