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Posts Tagged ‘Relationships’

Give a Caregiver a Hug

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Adult caregiving hijacks your life. None of us agree to do it because it sounds like fun. But when a loved one needs it, we step up.  Ongoing, it’s a daunting job; at times, it’s downright harrowing.  Once you are in the middle of it, reality warps.

An article published by the American Medical Association reported, “One of society’s greatest assets is the many family members who provide care to ill or disabled relatives.”  One study estimated there were over 15 million American adults serving as unpaid caregivers—in 1998.  And yet, the needs of those doing it remain unnoticed.

Last week in a single four-hour stretch, I spoke with three different women friends, each up to their ears in challenges related to caregiving for aging loved ones.  Each had taken on the caregiving role in addition to the ample responsibilities they still held as professionals.

The first was weathering a major health scare with the man in her life. She had taken him in when he got sick and then became his advocate through all the tests and procedures.  She was struggling to find the right boundaries in what she did for him.

The second needed to find a way to convince her parents to let the housekeepers, who were provided as part of their assisted living rent, into the apartment to clean.  Her folks said there was no need.  But she could smell their unit when she got off the elevator.  She’d been cleaning every time she visited and worrying in the interim that they might get evicted.

The third has been spending her own money for a caregiver for her husband, so she can continue to work as a college professor.  He has a non-Alzheimer’s version of dementia.  She has power of attorney and pays his bills.   His funds could easily cover the cost of the caregiver, but she thought she had to pay for it herself because he would have refused to let her spend money for that if he could still think.  Reality tilts in odd ways when you’ve been a caregiver for long enough.

It’s easy to think it would be different if you had to do it.  That you would draw clear boundaries and insist things be done your way.  But that’s the cruelest part of the caregiver role.  When it gets intense, you don’t realize the boundaries are out of whack or that what you’re doing doesn’t make good sense in the broader scheme.

It’s a lot like the classic experiment with frogs.  They did a study where researchers put a frog in hot water.  It jumped out to safety immediately.  But if the water was cool when the frog was put in and was heated gradually, the frog kept swimming until the water was so hot the frog died.

We do the frog-in-slowly-warmed-water thing as caregivers.  As the disease progresses beyond what we can really handle, we just keep going.  Our own lives evaporate.  We think we are doing fine when we’re not.

Three years ago, I became caregiver to my boyfriend when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Every day there was a new problem, and always one with which I had zero experience.  With each new side effect, I had to figure out something new that was needed to keep him safe and, hopefully, comfortable.  The volume of work was massive, and the possibility I might hurt him by not doing the right thing was terrifying.  Yet when friends asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Fine.”  I wasn’t being a stoic angel of mercy.  I was too worn out emotionally to find more honest words.

In an ideal world, unpaid caregivers would have mandatory breaks.  No one’s going to legislate that.  So it’s up to the rest of us to make a difference.  If you know someone who’s caregiving, do what you can to provide support.  A hug is a good start.  But then offer to do something specific.

I am all too guilty of saying “Call if you need anything” and leaving it at that.  For a long-term caregiver, there’s not enough mental juice available to convert those words to something useful.  “Would you like me to clean the kitchen?”  Or “Why don’t I sit with Aunt Irma for the afternoon so you can get away?” works better.

Caregiving is hard duty.  If we all remember this and offer support in all the ways we can, we can keep each other from ending up in need of care ourselves because we carried too big a load alone.

This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and writer and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Bless the Caregivers

Friday, September 6th, 2013

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, say a little prayer for caregivers.  You probably know some personally, but even if you don’t, every one of them needs all the help they can get.  Caregiving is an impossible role.

When children are first born, taking care of them is pretty daunting.  You don’t know what they need–or want.  You don’t know how to do whatever it is that they are wailing for.  You are sleep deprived and shackled to someone else’s needs all day every day.

This is what it’s like to be a caregiver.  Except babies grow up.  When you are caring for someone as they advance into feebleness, usually because of some physical condition, you don’t have a timeline that reassures you things are going to get better.  To the contrary, in typical caregiving situations, things are growing progressively worse.

Babies will cuddle and coo to make you feel all the strain is worthwhile.  That’s not what happens with end-of-life caregiving.  Often, instead of gratitude, a caregiver gets sworn at and cursed out because of the nature of the decline.

Even in the simpler cases, where someone you love has a grave illness and you’ve stepped in to help on a temporary basis, you have no idea how long it’s going to take for that person to get well enough to take care of themselves.  And while you are doing that noble work, your own life is quite literally hijacked.  Plans you made get turned on end.  Projects you had planned to work on gather cobwebs and dust.  You cook what the patient needs not what keeps you healthy.  Even going out for a walk is not feasible.

Instead your focus becomes someone else’s needs.  And that someone, who used to care for you in many cases, is so far into the difficulty that they don’t even know what they are asking of you.  Often, a loved one does this work without relief.  It seems so trivial, this loss of identity–at least if you’re not the one experiencing.  But being sucked into someone else’s illness and decline drains your own energy and joy in life with alarming speed.

Right now I can name five friends currently caught in this kind of caregiving.  Two have husbands with Lewy Body Dementia (a form of decline that puts Alzheimers to shame in terms of the amount of “on call” attention the person demands).  One has a husband with a mystery malady that’s caused him to lose 75 pounds–and this man was not overweight to begin with.  One is caring for her mother as she deals with terminal cancer–and the mother/daughter bond has not been that loving one we all wish we had.  And one is dealing with a stroke-incapacitated alcoholic husband who could just as easily start the house on fire as take a nap.

This kind of caregiving takes an incredible toll.  You don’t know what’s going to happen next but whatever it is will not be fun.  Every new turn in the patient’s health creates a new sense of being inadequate.  So often you have no idea what to do–but you know you have to do something.

You end up on a first name basis with nurses and pharmacists, social workers, and therapists of all sorts.  You’ve memorized what is and isn’t covered under current health care arrangements.  And still you are caught by surprise.  Again.  And again.  And just when you think you are done for the day and are starting to unwind from the tightness of what’s being expected of you, all hell breaks lose and you’re in the emergency room until three in the morning.

Caregiving is hero’s work.  They need more support than they get from the community.  A lot more.  So at a minimum,  if you a lucky enough to be out and about all by yourself, doing what you want and having a lovely day, say a prayer for the caregivers.  Even if you are having a crappy day and are trying to please the boss from hell, put in a good word for those doing the caregiving work.  There is none harder.

They give so much and no one even notices.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more see her website.

Living a Hijacked Life

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Unless you are a complete loner, at some point, your life is going to be hijacked. It may come gradually, like when you learn you are going to be a parent. It may come with great celebration, like when your daughter gets engaged and you become enmeshed in wedding planning. It may come suddenly, like when someone you love has a medical emergency.

I am submerged in the third of the above-mentioned scenarios.  My boyfriend fell playing tennis last week and broke his wrist in “several” places.  He will have surgery later this week, after which he will be in a cast for three months, maybe more.  For the foreseeable future, he will need me to drive him to his appointments, tie his shoes, and yes, cut his meat.

And that means, of course, that the things I was going to do in my own life are going to get at least postponed and more often erased.  It also means that when his needs veer in an unanticipated direction, what  I’ve committed to for myself gets cancelled on short notice.  It really does feel like a hijacking.

I was raised in a family that values helping.  I do like to make a positive difference in others’ lives.  But I will not pretend I’m delighted with this turn of events.  I’ve been riding shotgun on his cancer detour for the last two years.  Before that, there were other situations where he needed my help  because of health challenges.  Just how often am I supposed to let this guy’s problems take over my life?  Am I enabling a “drama queen” with all this helping?

He was not looking for this kind of attention, I am certain of that.  He does all he can on his own and tries to help with chores even with one arm wrapped in fiberglass.  So no, I don’t think this is a situation that demands the tough love of walking away.  It’s life–at it’s most maddening.  My life.  And his life.  Intertwined as they should be when you are blessed to have in your life people you care about and spend a lot of time with.

When things happen to me more than once, I see them as lessons I didn’t learn well the first time.  This is one of those situations.  Maybe you can learn for me.  So what’s to learn (and do/no do) when your life gets hijacked?

  • Forego the martyr routine.  It’s highly over-rated.  Sure, you can’t do what you had wanted to do with your time.  But you still need to take care of yourself along with meeting the other person’s needs.  If you literally have no time for yourself, you can maintain your posture and make an effort to breath deeply.  Maybe a 5-minute meditation or a 20-minute nap is feasible.  I do laps around the hospital when I end up waiting there.  Find the things you can do for yourself and do them.  You are the only person who can totally deny yourself what you need.  Don’t do that.
  • Expect whoever has stolen your life to do as much as he/she can for themselves. That gives them as much dignity and sense of worth as possible and you a breather.  It’s tempting to scurry around trying to make everything right for that person, but that doesn’t serve either of you as well.  Even with children, this is the case.  A newborn is helpless and pretty demanding.  But babies who have alone time (in an infant-safe place, of course) learn faster than those whose parents haul them around and entertain them every waking minute.
  • Find the balance points.  If you are doing all the giving in this context, look for receiving in other contexts.  Maybe you get to watch the TV show you want together instead of letting him have his preference.  Maybe what you have for dinner is your preference instead of his (or hers).  This feels “wrong” because so much of the focus is on the “sick person” but trying to balance things where you can does a lot to forestall resentment and burnout.

When a loved one hijacks your life, respect your own feelings about that.  Yes, you want to give the care that’s needed.  No, it’s not automatically what you want to do at a specific moment.  When it isn’t, feeling frustrated or just plain angry is normal.  Find safe ways to channel that away.  (I yell in the shower but also find moving dirt helps.)

And see it for the gift it is. Yes, your life has been hijacked.  That means someone trusts you enough to ask your help.  You are a good person.  But please, be good to yourself, too.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Let Go of Being Perfect

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Perfect is for amateurs. Happy people don’t worry about perfection–in themselves, in those they love, in what they experience, in what they acquire. I have spent way too much of my life being this kind of beginner though.  And you probably are doing more of it than you realize.

The expectation that things have to be perfect before we can just enjoy them has deep roots in the way a lot of us were raised.  It may have started as an overly critical parent, but more likely, it came from people who clearly telegraphed that they were on your side–and just trying to help you become the best person you could be.  It’s important to strive for improvement.  That’s an essential piece of living a good life.  But using feedback to do even better than what you did the last time is different than deciding you’re inadequate because what you did the first time wasn’t 100% perfect.

A lot of what we learn growing up becomes outdated or was just plain wrong to begin with.  Our ideas about being perfect are in that category.  My entire family (of nine) considered Mom the font of all knowledge when it came to facts.  We would bring the interesting rocks we found in the wild places to her for identification.  In particular, I relied on her for the names of flowers or weeds. All I needed was to remember what she’d said and I’d be right.

Not really.  I’ve had the chance to dig into gardening on my own for decades now and one of the most important lessons I’ve learned was “Mom was not always right.”

I wish I’d learned that before she died though.  Our mutual dance of expecting ourselves–and each other–to be perfect ruined a lot of good times we could have had together.  Instead of savoring the strong women we were, we kept poking at our own and each other’s imperfections.  This particular dance didn’t even involve a lot of words about the situation.  The expectation of perfection was a given.

Being perfect is a bad trip.  It’s like flying to Hawaii and then sitting in the closet of the condo the whole time you’re there, dwelling on how dark it is.  Expecting other people to be perfect is not good for them, to be sure, but it’s even harder on your own good time.  Yes, sometimes a person uses the argument “I can never do anything right in your eyes” to mask controlling behavior of his/her own that sabotages a relationship.  But if you are expecting perfection from that person (and most likely yourself in the bargain), there’s some painful truth in the lament.

Seeking perfection ruins your enjoyment of what’s already there.  Expecting it in others sends a message that they are not good enough unless they improve.  Every time you find them less than what you think they should be, the chance to enjoy each other’s company erodes.  That’s a highway to loneliness over the long haul.

When you do it with your kids, you set them up for the same dissatisfied life.  If you insist that every detail of what they’ve done be perfect, you teach them that as adults, they must take that same “high road.”  And thus, this most negative of all behaviors gets passed on, often with few words and even less scrutiny.

Perfection is not possible.  Many of us can accept this truth rationally.  Some of us embrace it spiritually.  But a lot of us add, “but I’m going to doing everything I can to be perfect anyway.”  That caveat bleeds into how you see other people’s efforts.  It sets everything you experience up as “not good enough.”  Because you’ve decided you’ve been specially annointed to be perfect, everyone you interact must be perfect as well.

You’re telling yourself you don’t do that, right?  You may want to take a deeper look.  Most of the judgements we pass are attempts to make our own world perfect.  When you take issue with what someone said, did you do it because the comment was really that unbearable?  Or did you decide that the person “should” be treating you in a more perfect way?

Let go of perfect.  In yourself.  In those you love.  None of us are going to get it all right.  And we certainly aren’t going to get it all right all the time.  Letting go of that expectation can be a massive stress reducer.  It is also one of the best ways you’ll find to get closer to those you love emotionally.

There will be differences that still need to be addressed.  That’s part of living with imperfection.  But your decision about whether to ask for a change in someone else or not needs to be based on whether the current situation is good enough, not on whether it’s “perfect.”

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

 

Find SOMETHING to Celebrate

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

We tend to save our non-holiday celebration efforts for rare occasions–college graduations, golden wedding anniversaries, and the like.  That’s too bad because celebrating is good for all of us—both the person being feted and those doing the hurrah.  It’s not always necessary to make it a big elaborate deal either.

In the last two weeks, I have been to a wedding, a funeral, and two birthday parties. Let’s start with the wedding.

This is one of those official “rare occasions” but these kids were onto something a lot of us miss when planning that event.  This wedding was definitely designed to be a party.  The young couple was happy to be committing to each other and wanted everyone to be happy with them.  Our job as guests for the evening:  Have a good time.

Even the ceremony itself, performed by a funny yet legally authorized friend, was light hearted.  Weddings are supposed to be happy occasions, but frequently, they become high-stress, major productions.  Instead of a fun party, you end up observing an unfolding effort to make everything go perfectly.   Leave the big productions for Bollywood. Whatever you want to celebrate, focus on the fun rather than the fanfare.

The funeral was for a relative who died at the age of 85 after several years of horrible health.  In my younger years, funerals were solemn events full of fervent prayer for the person who’d died.  Now we celebrate life rather than mourning death—a vast improvement for all concerned.  We spent the time together remembering her in her prime and reliving the fun of years past.

The first birthday party was for a dear friend who turned 75 this year.  Turning 75 really means something to me.  It’s the time when the rest of us get to  acknowledge that the birthday girl or boy has earned their Merit Badge as a wise person.  Sounds like a great reason for a party to me!

The one we planned for this friend was designed as a surprise.  And we actually pulled that off!  This was a group of hikers.  We usually dress ready to hit the trail.  It was fun just to see everyone gussied up.

The first gift the birthday girl received was a crown of real flowers.  (A flower crown makes you feel pretty dang special.  I learned this as the recipient at a surprise party when I turned 59.) She ended up fielding questions from strangers at the restaurant about what was going on for the entire evening, but that was also part of the fun.  Our friend was radiant, and we all were happy together.

The other birthday party?  My own.  It was staged by my three-year old granddaughter.  I’d agreed to watch her and her six-month-old sister while her parents went to a class a few days after my birthday.  My son had taken the time to make chocolate cupcakes and luscious chocolate frosting before they left, but how we put them together and what we did with them was up to my older granddaughter and me.  She took the lead.

First, we had to be sure there was going to be dessert.  She announced at the beginning of dinner that she was going to be a member of the Clean Plate Club that night and she followed through on that.  After dinner, we carefully slathered two cupcakes with the frosting.  Then she insisted we needed candles.  Oh great.  How was I going to come up with them?  She confidently went to the “junk” drawer and found one.  Then she coached me until I found another.  (We had to have two so she could blow one out along with me.)  We put the candles in the cupcakes, I lit them, and she proceeded to sing the entire Happy Birthday song to me.  We blew out our candles.  Then we lit them again and sang the whole song to her.  What a perfect party!

No matter what the situation, there is something to celebrate—something to be happy about.  Sometimes it’s a formal event.  Sometimes it’s a cupcake with a three-year-old.  Sometimes, it’s just clicking your orange juice glasses at the breakfast table  to acknowledge that the sun is out after a long soggy stretch.

We need to celebrate our own good fortunes, and we need to celebrate those of our loved ones.

Why?

Celebrating marks that moment as happy.  It reminds us that life is good—whether it’s happy stories about an 85 year-old loved one who’s just passed or a pre-school graduation.  Celebrating is about giving—recognition, laughter, and the shared happiness of seeing someone accomplish a milestone.  It’s the pinnacle of being “connected.”

Let’s not wait for the super special occasions.  Celebrate something.  Today. *****************

Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

How Much Is Enough of Your Partner?

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

One of the big challenges of retirement is figuring out how to be married all day every day–or finding a different alternative that works for both of you.  Getting those decisions right is sort of like a final exam in something many of us have been tested on–more or less–for decades. And that’s finding the right balance between “together” and “apart.”

At first the scales tip one way. The romance of new love makes most of us yearn to be inseparable.  Just parting to get through the workday, school day or other separate demands seems like cruel punishment.   Then, as you stay together for a while, that “time without” becomes a more easily endured aspect of life.  Life goes along smoothly with those two separate grooves because there are good reasons for them–work, kids, ailing parents who need our time, etc.   Eventually, especially when the “being alone” is because of something a partner needs time to do, many of us  begin to savor and look forward to solo time both for the serenity it offers and the self-attention it allows. 

And that’s about the point that you start thinking about retirement

What then?  Are you still going to have those separate grooves or are you expecting a magical return to that heady “I can’t live without you right by my side” fervor of young love?  If you aren’t talking about that with your partner, you might be in for a rude awakening when the time comes to actually step into that new version of life.   It’s not likely you’re in exactly the same place on this.

Waiting until retirement looms to start this discussion isn’t wise either.  To get this part of “a relationship” right, you need to be very clear about three things long before it’s time to retire:

How much solo time do you need?  The first step of having a good relationship with another person is having a good relationship with yourself.  What do you like about doing things on your own?  What needs does  that kind of time meet for you?  We are all different and what works for me won’t necessarily even be in the same ballpark as what works for you.   So know what works for you.

A primary reason for that career -and the related “apart” time–is a paycheck.  Retirement means the funds come from somewhere else.  But your work is usually a source of satisfaction that goes beyond the financial.  If you can’t replicate those satisfiers with things your partner/spouse/signficant other is able or interested in doing, you are probably going to need significant time without him/her after you retire to meet those needs. 

How much “not-together” time is ideal for your partner?  The other half of your duet needs to answer that same question.  One of the most dangerous assumptions a working spouse can make is that the non-working spouse is just waiting for the day when you’ll be home all the time.  According to Miriam Goodman in Too Much Togetherness, this is a major cause of couple trouble once the working spouse retires.    Whether there’s been a paycheck involved or not, each of you has a life.  Much of it is lived separately.  Figuring out how to spend more time together is a worthy goal, but being joined at the hip is probably not (unless you are in a sack race).

Figuring out what you need yourself is hard.  Figuring out what your partner needs is harder.  Both involve soul seaching and personal exploration–which can be really fun.   But then there’s the communication phase and that takes a skill most of us think we have but don’t. 

How do we get what we each need and still enjoy time together?  The vast majority of us are not good communicators, especially in our primary relationships.  We rely on assumptions that we don’t check regularly and expect the other person to “just know.”  When we do talk, it’s about everyday drivel like garbage schedules and what to have for dinner.  This is a different conversation.

To do this well, you need to joint problem solve to figure out the best way for each of you to have the alone time you need.  A big piece of the challenge is to be honest about needs, too.  If your sweetie assumes she/he can come along and you really need the time on your own, you’re either going to have to admit it or waste time and emotion resenting the tag-along later.   

Being part of a couple and yet complete on your own is not unique to retirement.  But when you get that far, you’ve reached the championship game and the stakes are higher.  Once  you give up work, your primary relationship tends to become even more important.  Work on those balance issues all along.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love She also recently released an e-book 39 Bites of Wisdom: Little Lessons in Getting Life Right which is available through Amazon.  For more, see her website.

Dealing with Angry People

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Sometimes people are impossible. That doesn’t mean you have the right to behave the same way–or shoot them. But it’s oh so easy to get involved in the “tit-for-tat” of an angry exchange.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve been caught in two situations where someone was irrationally angry. The first case was in a parking lot. A couple were blocking exit from our parking space with a truck into which they were loading materials from the vehicle parked next to us. I asked if they could move the truck a couple feet forward so we could get on with our day. The woman acted like we’d just asked them personally to pay off  the entire national debt.

This morning I did a gratis presentation for the local office for the state unemployment agency. I always advise people, especially older people who tend to have wonderful experience, to go beyond just filling out applications and sending resumes online. You better your chances of meeting someone who needs to hire a person with the very skill set you have if you talk to people about what you are trying to do.

This is usually not controversial stuff. But this morning, a guy in the audience leveled a lengthy tirade about how what I was saying wouldn’t work for his situation-which involved the high tech industry. He was angry, and it was clear that he had no idea how he was coming across. When I tried to explain that what he thought I said wasn’t what I’d actually suggested, he re-launched.  This was not just a misunderstanding.  This guy had an agenda.

Sometimes, people don’t want to understand.  They are angry and they want to stay angry.  They feel sorry for themselves and want to continue to feel the self-righteousness of being aggrieved. They don’t want to fix whatever it is that’s broken in their lives, they want to be right.  Listening  is not part of their process.

How to do you deal with these people?

When it’s a quick interaction, just let it go.  Shrug your shoulders and get out of there.  But what about the second situation–where you really do a have responsibility to say something?

After spending way more time that I should have trying to get him to see what he was doing, I just said “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.”  I didn’t like admitting that, but it was the truth. He railed on for a few more minutes, but the heat of the exhange stablized immediately.  When he took a breath, the group moved on to more productive use of our time.

Both exchanges were unnerving.  Both left me fighting not to be angry myself.  But there was also that niggling concern:  how could I have made them go better?

Sometimes, you can’t make them go better.  When someone else is behaving irrationally, no amount of logical behavior on your part of going to get them back to sanity.  Today’s world if full of stress and folks who hold onto theirs are going to be this way on occasion.  They are not bad people, they are inept at social interaction when under stress.

You think I’m going to suggest you empathize with them, right?  Nope.  When someone is on a rant, empathy is the last thing they are looking for.

The  best option for dealing with irrational, angry people is to disengage.  Admit  you can’t help and stop trying.  Leave if you can.  When you don’t invest in the conversation–especially to try to prove your point–there is no new fuel for the fire.   No one wins in this kind of situation so forget the idea that if you just get in one more sentence they will see your point.  They won’t.

Anger often stems from fear.  Fear can make you  lash out in unexpected ways.  The less you do to make the person angrier, the safer everyone will be.

Is it “right” that we should have to worry about dealing with this kind of person?  Of course not.  In the ideal world, all of us would behave perfectly in every situation.  But it’s not a matter “who’s right.”  Reality includes a lot of mistakes.  See unearned fury as a mistake and get out of the direct path of the viitriole as fast as you can.

Then forget the whole thing.  Replaying the incident in your head 72 times doesn’t help either.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more, see her website.

Retirement for Couples

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When you’re spending most of your waking hours at work, spending 24/7 with your spouse or partner sounds like heaven. It’s not that simple once it’s time to actually pull it off.

One of the the most unexpected challenges of retirement planning is figuring out how to do it together.  I’m not talking about synchronizing departure dates and retirement party calendars.  I’m talking about how to create a mutually satisfying new lifestyle once work is no longer the central focus of your lives.  And if you are a single-earner couple, this might be even more challenging than if both of you are giving up outside work.

The surprising truth is that while one–or both–of you were enmeshed in getting the job done as a career, the other was doing something else.  And that “something else” is an important part of what you plan together for what comes next.  Assuming all you need to decide is when you stop working is like deciding you are going to have fish for dinner because you got your fishing pole out of the attic.

The key, of course, is honest conversation. That, too, is not as easy is you might want to believe. If you are expecting to resume the carefree fun of when you first fell in love without any effort, please stop and take a look at reality. Neither of you is the person who said “I do” (or even “I would if I could”) so long ago. To get to the good stuff in the future with this person, you need to figure out what’s going on now. With her (or him). With you. With the living situation you’ve been content with for the last umpteen years.

There are a few questions you’ll need to find pretty solid answers to if you want to get this right.

Who am I? A lot of who you really are has gotten buried under what you have had to do to make a living and function as a responsible adult. Getting a solid sense of what the Real You needs to thrive once you retire is going to be a bigger job than going back to the guitar lessons you gave up when you started med school. Find a way to help yourself explore who you are now. ((Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love has an extensive number of fun exercises to help you do that.)

Who is she/he? (your spouse/partner) Unless you have been having long, deep conversations about personal needs and dreams for years, you have a lot to learn about your sweetheart before you step into the next phase of your lives together. This is not the same person you married (or committed to). Your buddy for retirement is that person plus all the experience, insight, and foibles acquired between then and now. Assuming she’s still the same innocent angel when she’s been negotiating deals for the non-profit she volunteers with is naive. Plus, we change as we age and our hormones rearrange themselves. Women tend to become a bit more assertive, and guys are more inclined to nurture than when we were younger. New stuff all around.

What is important (to each of you)? It’s really really important to figure this out. It’s also really really important not to assume you know what’s important to your significant other. Many who have served in support roles are ready to step up to challenges they design for themselves. Some who have been “top dog” are ready to be the support for those who have had their back for decades. But not all. What’s important is unique for each of us. Effectively combining your priorities and your “other’s” for a satisfying new lifestyle depends on each of you knowing what they are for both of you.

How/what do you want to change? What do you like and want to keep or add? What do you want to not have to do anymore? Figure this out.

How/what does she/he want to change? Same deal for your sweetie. You can’t have it all your way all the time. Find the give-and-take and get creative in finding ways to include both sets of dreams.

What are your trade-offs?” Okay, this is something we need to be very candid about. Sometimes, not only do you not get what you want, you don’t get any sympathy for even wanting it. Be authentic in what you decide to do about that. If she (or he) absolutely refuses to do something you want to do, assess where your trade-offs are. Is keeping her (or him) happy more important to you than what you wanted to do? Is doing it on a less grand scale as a solo adventure while she (or he) does something else a good compromise? What are you willing to forego for the sake of keeping the relationship on solid ground? What do you truly have to have to be true to your self?

Where are the log jams? This is the one that no one wants to admit might occur. Either we will agree happily in the first place or we will work in out. But sometimes, that’s not where the conversation goes. In fact sometimes, the conversation goes nowhere simple because the other person doesn’t want to talk about.

What you do in that situation is a function of three things: How much do you want to stay with that person? How hard would it be to go around the objection to do what you want/need to do anyway? How much of an imbalance are you willing to settle for? The situation may change over time, but if the person you love isn’t willing to look at retirement planning issues now, you need to decide what that means for you. (For the record, taking important topics of conversation “off the table” when the other partner wants to discuss them is a form of verbal abuse.)

This is just the tip of the iceberg on living well as a couple as we age. But starting with the tip will at least let you know which way the thing is floating.
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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement: Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love. For more, see her website.

Lonely, Blue, and 50+

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when life sucks and no one even notices.   It’s probably even easier at 50+.  But we’re big kids now and our fun—and a meaningful life—isn’t someone else’s job.  The “good life” is up to each of us individually.  You may think you’re doing all the right things to make friends and attract a special someone into your life.  But if it’s not happening, look at what you’re telling yourself.

“I’m bored…” 

Well, it’s good to notice this.  It’s bad to sit around waiting for someone else to fix it.  “Bored” is a danger signal.  You need to keep your world expanding to thrive.  Boredom means you aren’t doing that.  Figure out what interests you, and pursue it.

Boredom is the first clue to understanding why you can’t make friends, find a sweetheart, or create that good life you’re yearning for, too.  Admitting that you’re bored with what you have going is good.  Continuing down that path is settling for being boring.  Boring is not interesting.  If you want a life, be interested—which makes you interesting.

“I want someone to…” 

Are you putting this in terms of what other people are supposed to do for you?  “I want a man to take care of me” is just plain lazy on many levels.  Same deal for “I want a woman to hang out with me.”  Why should other people want to be around you if you just want to use them?  If you want more in your life, you need to do the work to get it there.  Which means you need to be ready to give as well as receive.

The best way to find friends is to take that scary step of going solo to groups who do the things you want to be part of.  An organization probably already exists for what you want to do—some of them explicitly for singles.  Travel.  Sports.  Hobbies.  You name it.

Do some research online.  Check out the local listings of social groups.  And talk to people.   You might find your all-time favorite venue for rock ‘n roll dancing by talking to a guy at a singles dance.  (I did.)  Once you find the group, get active.  Go to the meetings, get involved in the events, volunteer to do what needs to be done.

As a general rule, the best way to beat a bout of the blues is to do something for someone else.  So think about that, too.  There are many ways to help and most of them will help you as much as whoever you’re assisting.  You never know who you might meet.

“My way or the highway…”

Another big mistake at this point in life is assuming that everyone you spend time with has to agree with your politics and your religious persuasion.  Good character and the party line are not the same thing.  This is another part of keeping your world expanding.  A good discussion with different points of view makes you think—and grow.  Respecting others’ right to their own views is a key piece of your own emotional development, too.

Being right is baloney.  There are so many shades of gray in what goes on in the world these days that insisting that whoever you talk to see it exactly as you is like assuming the entire world should be looking out the same 12” square window.  You’re building a bunker where a bridge belongs–a guaranteed way to feel lonely at the end of the day.

“I want my freedom…” 

One of the pluses of being alone after 50 is the bliss of doing everything the way you want, whether it’s popcorn for dinner, tai chi on the deck at sunrise, or never making the bed.  The hard truth about having other people in your life is you’ll have to let go of some of these “sovereign rights.”   If you want to do things with other people, you’re going have to agree to do it their way sometimes.  One-way streets are for cars not friendships.

Finding people to spend time with and to love is a multifaceted challenge.  It’s also something you have to choose to do and then work at getting good at.  Your mother may have been willing to listen to you go on and on about “you,” but the rest of the world needs more give and take than that.   Get good at both.

To beat “lonely and blue,” get on with what you like to do, connect with others who enjoy those same things, and then get to know them without deciding how they are going to be what you need.  A vibrant life at any age requires that you think beyond yourself and what you “don’t have.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 edition of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker, consultant, and coach and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more please see her website www.mining-silver.com.

Finding Love after 50: Myth or Magic

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Love after 50 is real, whether you’re still with the person who made you starry eyed at 18 or just getting to know a new “One.”  There’s no better time to be “looking for love.”

Why?  Because we’re finally to the point of admitting who we are and not trying to be someone else for the sake of “love.”   When you’re honest about who you are and what you need, it’s a lot simpler to find it.  Speaking your truth is one of the pluses of dating at this stage of the game.

But you don’t need to be a snot about it.  If you want someone special in your life, insisting that person believe exactly what you believe will limit the field considerably.  Identical doesn’t equal interesting.  It’s not necessary to believe the exactly the same thing.  What’s necessary is an honest respect for each other’s opinions.

Love is about unconditional positive regard.  You like that person and believe in him—or her.  Even when he or she doesn’t do the very best in terms of what you need at a specific moment, you hold true to the idea that this person is worth having in your life.

Finding someone who can hold that kind of respect isn’t likely to be a case of hanging out at the right bar.  It’s not even a slam dunk if you hang out at the right church.  Finding Mr.  Right (or Ms. Right) is far more likely to happen if you are not focusing on that at all.  The way to find someone to love is the way to find your own best life—act on what you believe in and then take advantage of what presents itself as a result.

That may mean joining an organization that addresses an issue or cause that’s important to you.  But it can also mean taking a class in something that intrigues you or joining a sports league or club to play a game you’re either already love or want to learn.  There’s another teeny piece to this though.  Do the things that are likely to involve both men and women.  Think photography and hiking rather than quilting and handball.

Get sober about what you’re looking for, too.  By this point in life, we’ve had a lot of experience at this, both good and bad.  Ruling out the guy who has the same first name as your ex or the woman who’s taller than you is silly.  The best relationships are surprises.  Thinking you have the complete list of what you do and don’t need is silly.  Try things you’re interested in and see what happens.

Patience is also essential. It’s not all sunshine and roses once you find “someone with potential.”  Too often, we fall back into all the old “couple” habits that didn’t work before and then wonder when the relationship withers.  Plus, the “biological clock” isn’t part of the project anymore so we’re more aware of what we are “giving up” to get involved with someone.  At this stage of the game, it’s “all about you” for both of you. That is going to be harder to work through.  It’s still worth the effort.

In addition to ditching the ideas about what “happily every after” looks like, we need to ditch the whole Prince Charming thing.  (Cinderella has to go, too.)  Stop assuming your guy has to be a Hollywood hunk.  And guys, June Cleaver has left the building so get used to the idea of carrying your share of the load if you want to live with someone.

Part of the problem with love after 50 is that we give up too easily.  We get turned off because he has bad breath (instead of explaining to him that he has that problem).  We decide that she’s “not the right one” because she has grandkids and loves to spend time with them.  We decide that because it’s not perfect it’s not “the right one.”

The truth of it is the only way to find the perfect match is to be perfect yourself.  If you still think you are, you haven’t learned much in your 50+ years.  So get active living your own life.  That will help you find people to date who like to do the things you like to do, who want to learn the things you’re interested in learning.  From there you can find the one who makes you laugh and lends a hand when you need it.  At any age, the best strategy for finding the right person to spend your life with is to become best friends.  That requires give as well as take—just like it did in kindergarten.

This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Barbara Morris’s online newsletter Put Old on Hold.

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Mary Lloyd is a speaker and consultant and author of Supercharged Retirement:  Ditch the Rocking Chair, Trash the Remote, and Do What You Love.  For more please see her website.