Renegotiating Living Together
Editor’s note: First in a three-part series: On Growing Older.
A guy I worked with in the past, award-winning photographer and videographer Jim Bowman, wrote a poignant post while sharing an evocative photo on Facebook the other week. The photo showed his wife’s hand pressing a goodbye onto an Amtrak window as she commuted to a nearby city—an arrangement they had followed weekly during the school year for family reasons. This was their last week of the commuting separation. He noted, “Lin and I will need to negotiate living together again.”
Our true personalities are revealed again in new ways as we enter this retirement phase for my husband.
Ah! That line rang true, as my husband retired at the end of May. We have not lived apart, of course, even on a weekly basis as Jim and Lin have done, but our true personalities are revealed again in new ways as we enter this retirement phase for my husband.
For the past three or four years, my husband has gotten up very early (3:00 or 4:15 a.m. in order to be at work by 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. with a 45-minute car commute). I truly did not mind getting up at that hour—having always been a morning person who was invigorated by writing in complete solitude through the early morning hours after he left for work. (Well, I did mind the early wake-up calls when evening rolled around and I could barely function much past 8:00 p.m.)
Morning was my time for my hobby of blogging, and my side job writing and editing a quarterly paper called Valley Living. Morning was also my space to clean, bake, start supper, start laundry. It was my time to read my Bible or devotional book, pray, exercise, work on church activities or assignments. All without interruption, unless you counted the dog.
I’m still getting up early, but now my quiet spell is broken as my husband gets up, shuffles in for a kiss while I’m at my computer, makes his coffee, and begins his new morning routines. He’ll talk to the dog and occasionally call out to me from the living room. I’m not used to having those interruptions. I’m thrilled that he no longer has to go to work (and yes, perhaps he’ll get a part-time job after a while), but this is a transition that affects each of us and our relationship.
My husband is a people person—who loves nothing better than working around other people whether at work, home, church, or in the community. I’m more of a loner—a writer who works best as I reflect and ponder without someone breaking in to ask where the new breakfast cereal is.
I remember talking to a woman who was trying to adjust to her husband’s retirement. She mentioned how he wanted to help around the house. She didn’t like how he folded the clothes. The underwear and washcloths no longer fit in the spaces she had always used—that kind of thing. I remember another friend who worried about what she and her husband would talk about as they grew older—especially once their children were gone and on their own. (I know, some retirees would love it if their children were out on their own!) And some widows or widowers certainly yearn to enjoy the comfortable companionship of a longtime spouse again.
Some other types of marital adjustments include those who serve in the military and spend six, eight, or ten months on duty in precarious war zones. They have so much to adjust to as they return home to family and spouse. In this case, they not only have the normal marriage and family adjustments, but also may be dealing with trauma and violence they have seen or been a part of—not to mention the tremendously close bond many combatants experience as they go through the adrenaline rush of life-or-death incidents together. This is not to glorify or relish those events—but just to say that it is a natural consequence.
I was just reading about a new book that notes how going through a disaster together—some common ones in North America being a tornado or flood—produces the same kind of community bond as those who’ve served in war zones together. As a result of a disaster, people come together to comfort each other and then all help clean up.
But retirement and aging is an adjustment we all face—at least if we are fortunate to live that long. And that is the truth my husband and I will need to keep in mind as we navigate the sometimes tricky territory of bumping into each other in the kitchen, working together on projects, guarding my quiet time, and figuring out who does what chores in our new scenario.
I feel very blessed, thankful, and overwhelmed to arrive at this new phase (and I’m not planning to retire anytime soon). We’ll work things out like we always have. With a little pluck and a lot of God-given love and grace.
For my complete three-part series, On Growing Older, write and request it by email or postal mail from MelodieD@MennoMedia.org or Another Way, 1251 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.
For a more personal post on my husband’s employment and final days of work, check out my recent blog post on the topic.