By Steven R. Fleming

Retirement changes your relationships. This isn’t necessarily bad, but unless you anticipate these changes, you may find your retirement less satisfying than you expected. Let’s explore ways in which you can deal with changing relationships in retirement.

When I led pre-retirement seminars across the country, I used a form illustrated with three large concentric circles to assist participants with this issue. You can simply draw three circles for this exercise. Put your name in the center circle. In the next closest circle, put the names of those persons (family and friends) who you would consider to be very close to you now. In other words, if you had an emergency of some kind, these are the people you might call for help. In the outermost circle, put the names of those who you consider to be friends and acquaintances. Outside of the three circles, put the names of the people who are important to you now in terms of services they offer, like your physician or financial planner.

Look over what you have just done. This is a snapshot of your relationships at the present time. Now, consider this question: How will these relationships change once you retire, which they certainly will? What is your plan to deal with these changes?

One potentially sensitive area is family. Many retirees look forward to spending more time with family, especially children and grandchildren. It is easy to forget that other family members’ lives keep going on as before. They haven’t retired, you did!  Your children or grandchildren may love seeing you more often, but if you are expecting family will help fill your retirement hours, you may be disappointed. Discuss openly with them your thoughts and expectations about being more involved with them when you are retired.  Reaching an understanding of what your family will feel comfortable doing to meet those expectations is very important.

Another example of changing relationships has to do with co-workers.  Consider this fact: Many people spend more time with their co-workers in a typical week than with family members and personal friends. When people retire, some of their most significant relationships change dramatically. Co-workers will say something like “We’ll keep in touch! Come back and visit the office!” But we all know what usually happens. Life in the business world moves on. Retirees find those previously important friends and relationships begin to fade. This is a particular challenge for men, who often develop significant relationships at work. The loss of those co-worker friendships may not be easy to handle.

What if you are planning to move to a new area in retirement? What effects will such a move have on your current relationships? What is your plan to “replace” at least some of those relationships in your new locale? You may be moving far enough away from your doctors and other service providers that you must find replacements. There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Plan ahead and begin researching potential replacements before you actually make the move. In some areas, providers may not be taking new patients or clients. The style and standards of service may be different, as well as what is expected from you. Costs may be higher than you currently pay.

But there is another issue to consider when developing new friendships or professional relationships such as finding a new doctor: their age. My 88-year-old mother put it to me this way a couple of years ago: “Many of my life-long friends are dead. I’ve got to find younger friends!” A corollary to my mother’s observation should be obvious, but often it is not. In retirement, you want your doctors and your other service providers to be younger as well! As we grow older, we usually will want to continue these important professional relationships. If all of our providers are our age or older, trouble lies ahead; they are going to retire, too.

If you want to go a bit deeper in exploring how your relationships will change in retirement, draw three more concentric circles. Now, imagine your first year or two of retirement. Again, put your name in the center circle. Who do you think will be in the next circle of very close family and friends? And what names will be in the outer circle when you are actually retired? Fill in your service providers outside of the circles. You may be surprised at some unexpected changes in relationships.  Better to discover these potential relationships changes now, and begin to deal with the implications of those changes before you retire.

Steve has spent his life working with people in their life journeys.  To learn more, log onto or email your questions to [email protected]


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