The Importance of Relationships, Especially During Retirement

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Who Gets To Go Into YOUR Refrigerator??

Ginny, one of my retirement coaching clients, was reflecting on the changes that have taken place in her social life over the last several years.  At one time, she and her husband had enjoyed a thriving and active community of friends.  She felt the best and easiest time was when their children where grade-school age and play dates and school activities created tremendous opportunities to meet people and regularly come together.  Acquaintances become friends with a long, shared history of memories that included their children but deepened far beyond that. There were also opportunities at work to meet people regularly and co-workers morphed into life-long friendships. There were not enough days in the week to fit in all the people they wanted to spend time with.  Whether it was a dinner date, impromptu pizza get-together or vacationing together, there was no lacking of friendship and social stimulation.

As time has progressed, the terrain of her social life has changed dramatically.  Her workplace is filled with much younger people who she enjoys but often finds little in common with. Her neighborhood has changed as good neighbors have sold their homes and new, young families are replacing them.  Deaths and divorces have taken their toll.  Dear friends have moved away or life circumstances have made them less available. They’re still valued friendships but distance and the lack of intimacy of not being in each other’s daily lives on a regular basis have altered the texture of the relationships. Ginny also expressed her concern that without other meaningful relationships she might come to rely too much on her husband and children to fill in the gap and actually put a strain on those relationships.

Ginny’s feelings really resonated with me.  Life is constantly changing and certain circumstances are easier or more challenging at different stages in a person’s life.  How we adapt to these changes is critical in our ability to constantly recreate the excellent life worth living.  Some things can go by the wayside, like sitting cross-legged on the floor and getting up without using your hands; social connections cannot.

Create a Happy Retirement by Creating Connections

While reflecting on Ginny’s concerns and how to coach her towards rebuilding a vibrant social network, I re-visited a wonderful book written by a friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Will Miller.  The book, “Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships” contends that all of us NEED the intimacy and comfort of the friend whose house you could walk into and, without preamble, rummage through their refrigerator and vice-versa. A relationship of this quality is prioritized and cultivated over time but it’s yield is enormous.  We live in an age of disconnection and groundlessness; people move frequently, often not near other family. Phone calls, initially replaced by emails, have now been replaced by texting, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  It’s easy access in the short-term but is rather disastrous over time.  How often do we choose to get lost in our gadgets rather than connect personally and meaningfully with someone we hold dear or could possibly become a great buddy?

Having a “Refrigerator Rights” friendship is becoming obsolete.  And, it’s not limited to people of Ginny’s generation: people of all ages are feeling the effects of prolonged disconnection.  As Dr Miller contends, and many psychotherapists agree, social isolation and lack of intimacy are directly correlated to an increase in depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, serious physical illness, and premature death.

How are you feeling about your social connections? What choices are you making on a daily basis that are either moving you towards friendship and closeness with others or actually slowly eroding the ease and comfort of being with other people?  My job, as Ginny’s coach, is to keep her accountable to her expressed desire and need for friendship, intimacy and connection in her life.  Together we are coming up with strategic and realistic actions that over time will rebuild her thriving social life.

Whether life circumstances have created some less-than-welcome shifts in your social life or you’re concerned about how to stay connected when you retire, I am here to help.