Technically, retirement means the end of one’s career. But anyone who’s retired or is close to retiring knows that that’s only the half of it. To some, retirement feels like the end of one lifetime and the beginning of another. To others, it feels like falling off a cliff. This life-altering event doesn’t just affect our bank accounts and daily schedules; it also has a profound effect on our romantic relationships.
Everything we do from the age of 1 day old to the day we retire is like an arrow-straight line on a graph labeled Career. Our careers may have ups and downs or change course, but the idea that one should have a job and that job should take up the majority of one’s time is ingrained in us from the beginning. Parents of infants try to predict what their babbling babies will do for a living based on which episode of Sesame Street they re-watch the most. High school kids are reminded over and over that where they go to college can affect the rest of their lives. Then it’s college or straight from high school to vocation, then onward toward career-building. In the United States, especially, what we do often feels more important than who we are.
If you’re the kind of person whose identity revolves around your career, the end of that career can feel devastating. You no longer have a driving reason to get up every morning, your days can feel unstructured, and your life’s purpose fuzzy. Your self-esteem takes a hit. This isn’t just bad for your well-being, it’s also bad for your relationship; to accept the love of others, we first have to love ourselves.
1. Build a life worth loving
To enhance your love life after retirement, first, you have to enhance your non-love life. You must build a post-work life that’s as rewarding and self-affirming as your career was. This requires rediscovering your purpose. Think back on all the hobbies you’ve enjoyed from childhood to now. Could you pick one of them up again and give it the time and attention you couldn’t before? Or, was there something you always wanted to try but didn’t because you felt it was too impractical. If you had dreams of studying theater but your parents made you major in business, sign up for an acting class. If you spent every vacation touring art museums and cultural sites, consider volunteering at a museum or gallery.
2. Share new experiences with your partner
Your work life has been upended, your daily schedule has lost focus, but your relationship is the same. The same…and maybe even a little boring? Having a lot of free time can put pressure on a relationship. All of the energy, stress, and excitement of work has nowhere to go but toward your partner. It’s a recipe for fights and disappointment. What you need is to share new and exciting experiences together. Think about those heady early days of your relationship. First date, first kiss, first movie, first road trip. Each first was its own little adventure and made you feel invigorated. You need that again now. Make a list with your partner of all the firsts you’d still like to experience and then do them.
3. Spice up your sex life
When our bodies stop producing the sex hormones we relied on to get things going in our youths, our sex lives can seriously suffer. While our bodies may no longer feel the constant drive to get laid, our brains still desire the emotional connection we experience when making love. Sex in our later years becomes more about what’s in our heads than what’s between our legs. Watching steamy movies, reading romance novels, taking bubble baths with your partner: all ways you can get in the mood and get things going. Don’t be ashamed of inviting toys and lubricant into the bedroom along with your partner. Maybe even take a trip to an adult store together. That can count as a new experience — unless you guys shop for fuzzy handcuffs all the time, then more power to you.
For life post-career to feel more like starting anew and less like plummeting to your death, treat your love life like it’s new, too. Treat your partner like you did when you first met — with the newness and sexiness of young love — and you’ll live happily ever after-retirement.