Archive for Retirement

Listening with two ears

Epictetus, a Greek philosopher once said ‘We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’.

In practice of course, for many of us that is easier said than done and we need to train ourselves in the art of listening carefully to what others are saying.  There is nowhere that this is more important than in our relationships, where we need to cultivate the habit of listening to what our partner is really saying, often beyond the words themselves.

This is particularly relevant where a couple are moving into the stage of life where issues of mortality are beginning to be opened up – both for the partner and for the one they love.  I think for instance of a couple who I heard about recently outside of work, who seem to be bickering about her vinyl record collection. She is now in her 80’s and he is much the same age.  Both are fit, having had one or two scares in the past, but both of them must be aware that death is probably not far away for one if not both of them.  I don’t know whether they talk about that.  What I do know is that they tend to argue quite a bit about the size of her record collection.  Time and again he will say that she needs to reduce it, whilst she will be equally insistent that she will do it in her own good time and that actually she doesn’t want to reduce it even if it is very large already.  In fact, far from cutting it down she regularly searches either on the Internet or in second hand shops for more vinyl to add to her collection.

But in hearing about them it has struck me that the records are only the symptom of the much bigger question of their mortality.  On one understanding the husband dreads the thought of being responsible for clearing them up when she is gone and is becoming more anxious about the size of the task.  Whilst she on the other hand is hanging on to the collection as living proof that she is continuing to live her life to the full, and in a way is denying her own anxieties about her mortality.

Both positions are understandable but the problem is that neither of them seems to be talking to the other about their fears and concerns. Rather they are entrenched in a power struggle, bickering constantly about the disposal, or not, of the record collection.  As a therapist I would love to be able to work with them to encourage the ‘real’ conversations that need to happen.

Clearer communication about the deeper feelings would help of course, but also a deeper level of listening would also break this deadlock.  Using both those ears to listen, to the words with one ear, but to listen to what might be the feelings behind them with the other.  Developing curiosity and asking the question… this seems to be really important to you – tell me more about it….

For this couple, one would hope that they could have a greater understanding of each other and a more peaceful and fulfilling time as they approach the final years of their lives together.

One of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology said

‘ For any culture which is primarily concerned with meaning, the study of death – the only certainty that life holds for us – must be central, for an understanding of death is the key to liberation in life’ (Stanislav Grof).

We could also add that it is the key to satisfying, life-enhancing relationships as well.

Sarah Fletcher

Retirement and Couple Life

Watching Andy Murray struggling with the aftermath of his performance this week gave a searing glimpse into the pain of the forced ending to a career in which he has worked tirelessly to gain a place of supremacy.

His current suffering is a sad example of what many of us may have to endure in our own way and hopefully in a less public arena.

Sportsmen and women know that physical fitness is a definition of what they do. The realisation that this will wane has to be an accepted view of a professional life that has a finite time span before hopefully evolving into an area where these skills can still be celebrated in different ways.

For many of us, a career can be a large part of our identity.  ‘What do you do?’ Is often an opening question in social or business interactions. And the need to feel valued and competent is knitted into many of us from childhood.

Somehow we do know that this must end, but it may not always be within our control.

Even the word ‘retirement’ has a negative context – there can be whiff of helpless oncoming frailty around it.

Work gives many of us status and structure.

Its financial benefit can often be the means of gaining a better life than the one we came from.

It is likely to offer companionship, social interaction and identity.

That’s an awful lot to lose. And this change will throw a real grenade into the structure of couple life.

What a huge shift it is for the partner when an outworker becomes a homebody.

Suddenly there’s another voice that needs attention, lunch and companionship where they both used to find this elsewhere.

For some, it can be a gradual and planned retreat into a world they long to enter. Time and space for thought, hobbies or new interests. But for those like Sir Andy, it’s a shock and played out in a very public arena.

Sudden forced redundancy or ‘being let go’ is a massive loss and needs time to settle.

The new pattern of couple life will need big adjustments. Before irritations set in, take time to discuss how each of you sees the next phase.

All change brings loss and for some, who loved who they were in their careers, it can be a kind of bereavement to be stripped of this and have to grow a new identity.

Kindness and patience will be needed. And the partner who has to assimilate An Other into their daily life will also need tolerance.

A lot of sympathy will be extended to Andy around the massive and unwelcome shift in his daily life. Spare a thought for Kim, his wife, who may have a totally different life thrust upon her, too.

It’s important not to rush changes, but to take a while in building fresh contacts and different habits.

Think about how rethinking time together can create an interesting new phase, but couples  also need to allow time and space to stay with their own individual structures and identities.

Be aware that previous time apart may have protected against petty irritations that are now put into sharper focus.

Stay tolerant. This is a process of negotiation for both and will take a while to settle. It can also be a period of renewed ideas when there’s an opportunity to prioritise what is really important to us.

Discovery of new interests, deeper involvement in established hobbies, time for family and friends and less pressured hours for couples to share new experiences can be a boon after years of slog or commuter travel.

So, dust off those freedom passes, check out a new passion or move up a grade on a favoured pursuit.

Stay curious and remember that we all need endings before we can find new beginnings.

Best wishes to Sir Andy for the next stage in his new career options and his family life.

And equally good wishes to Lady Murray for hers.

Christina Fraser