Sometimes a mixed marriage isn’t what you think it is. For Wendy Reichental of Montreal, it is a marriage where one spouse is still working and the other isn’t. Wendy tells us she originally wanted to call this piece “Wife in Waiting,” but she doesn’t know how long that wait will be.
It will soon be two years since I took early retirement from my administrative position, which I had held onto for almost thirty years. Yet I still grapple with this new transition.
While I try to fill my less structured days immersed in online learning and a few physical fitness classes, my non-retired husband is stuck in Groundhog Day, although he too has had to make adjustments as he continues to work from home while dealing with our new dynamic. This new phase in our lives has been coined “out-of-sync retirement” to describe the time when one spouse retires before the other. I see our mixed-retirement marriage as a vehicle to glean lessons in patience, empathy, humility, and awareness. The journey has been paved with blunders and wonders.
After my husband is locked away for eight hours in his makeshift office in our subterranean basement, when he finally emerges, we seem to have nothing to say to each other. We have both taken for granted the art of conversation. This neglect to show interest in each other’s lives has ignited unnecessary arguments. Has our marriage always been this difficult, or has my retirement just magnified an underlying problem about our communication skills?
I notice that since being retired, I find myself increasingly sensitive, and easily frustrated with non-retired friends, who constantly are reminding me how fortunate I am that I can live this languid Life of Riley. I worked very hard to get to this point, and I have openly acknowledged that being rather frugal, on top of my careful conservative financial planning, has led me to this blessed opportunity. But in their voices, I can detect a trace of jealousy and rancor that makes me uncomfortable and disappointed.
Though I do not miss the commute or the work dramas or the stress, I do miss being somebody. That had been my identify. Without my title and paycheck, I have been questioning my self-worth and identity and realizing how much of my purpose was directly linked to my job.
I do not let a day go by, no matter how I’m feeling, without saying a silent prayer that I am just so grateful for what I have, which are all the things that truly matter in life. None of us can alter the past, but we can learn and grow, and I know I am learning to accept some situations and become more authentic and compassionate in my actions.
Staying engaged with the world is vital, not just through online skills but by staying connected to friends, family, and discovering new happenings in person where possible. I have had to seek activities that take me out of my comfort zone and make me leave the house. Even going out for breakfast alone is an accomplishment for me.
As my husband continues to work, and as I pursue new projects, I understand more than ever the importance of giving each other space, while equally acknowledging the importance of coming together and sharing each other’s world, with genuine interest and support.
My husband is uncertain when he will be ready to retire, but I tell him he will know when the time is right. As long as we move forward in the same direction with respect, love, and kindness, we’ll be okay, and very much in sync.
Wendy is an essayist in the new book, “Chronicling the Days: Dispatches from a Pandemic (15) (Essential Anthologies Series).”