My Social Health

Key Concept

Loneliness is a killer in retirement. Where you live, your relationship with your spouse, your connection to friends and the relationships you have with family all play a part in your combating loneliness.

Objective

This module looks at 4 aspects of your Social Health and asks you to identify what action you are going to take in each area.

Where to Live

There are 2 biggies of aging – loneliness and a lack of purpose. Where you decide to live is very important. Many people move to a retirement home, to their “home by the sea” or move to be closer to their kids who are living in Outer Mongolia. If you’ve been living in an area for the past 20 years, that’s where your friends are, and that’s where things are familiar. Moving disrupts that and it may be difficult to make friends in the new area.

If you move to retire, consider that you will be leaving friends and neighbours that you may have known for many years. While you were working, you may have been living in the city and have a holiday home at the coast. At holiday time your holiday home was buzzing and the neighbourhood alive with other people down on holiday. If you intend to move to your holiday home when you retire, consider that in the middle of winter and during school term-time the place could be dead! Neighbours’ houses boarded up, pubs and restaurants closed, golf course empty (ain’t no fun playing a round on your own).

If you move to another country, consider that it can be difficult to take on new ways of being. Habits and values that you take for granted “at home” may be very different in another country.

To move nearer the kids is fine if it doesn’t make you reliant on them for company.

Consider and reconsider moving to a retirement village or home – the company of old people only, can age you rapidly. But if the Village has an active social environment, the company of others will get you out from in-front of the TV.

Do you need such a big house any more? It’s great for when the kids and grandkids come to visit, but you could probably rent a house nearby when they come for far less than the up-keep cost of a big house that you only use for the 2 weeks a year that they visit.

Considering a Move?

If you are considering a move speak to someone who’s been there. What are the things you should be considering – stairs, security, access, internet, neighbourhood ...

Go to My Social Health and complete the section on Where to Live.

Relationship with your Spouse

The pattern of your marriage and your relationship with your spouse have been established over many years. One, or both of you, went off to work every day and each of you had roles and responsibilities around the house and in your relationship.

With retirement that changes. Where a few “niggles” could be overlooked when you were spending 4 or less hours a day together. With retirement you may be spending 16 waking hours a day together and that can put a strain on your marriage.

Where you might have gone along with some activities together and you put up with some of his/her friends, that is going to become more difficult when they constitute a significant part of your day.

A wise course of action is to renegotiate the terms of your relationship. Not the terms of your will or things like that but more along the lines of “my taste in movies is different to yours, so it is not just me being unsociable and difficult when I say you go on your own, or with a friend, and I'll do my own thing.”

How you drive, how you drop your clothes on the floor, how you leave the bathroom, how you burp and fart , how you tell me what to do around things I've been doing myself for years, could all be sources of friction. Renegotiate them.

You may be able to have those re-negotiations fairly comfortably, but consider going to a Counsellor if the going gets a bit rough.

There is another issue. Baby-boomer men are looking forward to working less, relaxing more, and spending more time with their spouse. Baby boomer women view the liberations of an empty nest and retirement as new opportunities for career development, community involvement and continued personal growth – so you are going in opposite directions.

Go to My Social Health and complete the section on Relationship with your Spouse.

Finding Friends

Watching television 5 hours a day not only dumbs us down, but so often it is used to push away loneliness. It feels like we've got Friends, that we are part of the conversation, involved in the action – but we are not. Social Media is the same – lots of Friends but no friends who really care about us.

Keep existing friends, make new friends, re-establish contact with old friends. For many men, our careers take over our lives and we drift away from friends and we don't have time to make new ones. So here is your opportunity.

Build a social network outside of work. Where can you interact with younger people? Their youth and vibrancy will keep you young. Consider volunteering as kit-master (or a similarly interactive role) at a local sport club where you will have meaningful contact with the younger members.

Call up friends whom you haven't seen for years. Get together for a beer or a coffee. In many cases nothing will come of the re-connection – but if 1 or 2 become friends again, what a bonus. There’s always someone who is trying to get a reunion going – the 40th anniversary of University or whatever – GO!  Colleagues from an early part of your career are also worth following up. You probably don’t feel like creating a “blast from the past” but when we were younger making friends came easily. Remember that those you contact are also facing retirement and probably have the same shortage of friends as you.

Finding friends requires that you step out of your comfort zone. The last Module is this section takes you into further education, volunteering, hobbies, clubs and other activities that get you out and about. Initially the thought of getting “out there” may repulse you, but if you don’t do it, the walls you are building around yourself will become a life sentence of solitary confinement. Don’t do that to yourself!

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Go to My Social Health and complete the section on Finding Friends.

Connecting with Family

A shared history is important. In modern Western society families tend to be dispersed across the globe and contact with different branches gets lost. The nuclear family has become the “model” yet people make many choices – to marry, to divorce, to have kids, not to have kids, to have fewer children.

The tightly bound family unit has become unusual. Aunts, Uncles, Cousins go for years without seeing each other. Step families often find it difficult to be together. Gay relationships are still not fully accepted in many families.

Grand-parents are a changing breed – they are “younger” and more active and want to “do their own thing”. Being a ready source of babysitting and child care is not necessarily what they are looking for in their retirement.

These changes have fragmented the supporting family unit, and individual family members are left to “get on with it“ by themselves. Consider if this is the way you want things to be.

Modern international travel, technologies like Skype and Facebook all provide opportunities for families to get together and keep in touch – but like anything else it requires effort.

And there are other challenges

  • Be prepared to look after your own aging parents. As well as being Baby-boomers, we are also the Sandwich Generation – we need to take care of our parents and we need to support our young-adult children.
  • A difficult one! How are you going to manage lending money to your children? Your retirement funds can very quickly get eaten up by the needs of your children – seed capital for a business, deposits on a house or car, bridging finance over a period of unemployment.
  • Conversely, how can you be less of a burden on your kids? How can you actively grand-parent your grand-kids – create an extended family? With both parents out at work what can you do to support their kids (latch-key kids / taxi service)?

Go to My Social Health and complete the section on Connecting with Family.

Discussion Assignment – My Social Health

My plans for combating loneliness in my retirement are ...

Discussion Forum

Next module : My Intellectual Health

Retirement is an opportunity to broaden your horizons – to learn new things, to go to new places and to follow your passion.

Next Module