Maintaining Connection in Retirement
By Miki Gordon, PhD, NCC, LPC-MHSP
One of the many challenges retirees and even those nearing retirement face, is maintaining meaningful relationships. In his book Aging Well, George Valiant discusses the importance of having social support as we age, concluding that having meaningful connections is a protective factor that helps us to stay happy, healthy, and hopeful.
Too often at any age, we allow relationships to exist without intentionality or awareness of how balanced they may be. We may no longer tend to them at all, letting the bond of friendship wither. Connecting meaningfully with others is more than a matter of collecting likes on Facebook, or counting our number of friends. Our efforts to maintain healthy relationship must be deliberate and purposeful.
Starting new relationships must also be done deliberately. As daunting as it can be to move to a new town or church and seek out new friendships, do it anyway! The rewards far outweigh the initial stress.
Suggestions for making new connections.
As faculty for Provincial Retiree Gatherings, I’ve heard of many wonderful ways that people have cultivated meaningful bonds with others to feel connected and part of their community. Taking classes (academic or exercise), volunteering, joining clubs or civic organizations, or even joining a gym, going to concerts, lectures or similar events that feature a speaker followed by social interaction, are all healthy, proven ways to interact with like-minded people.
Create a list of things you would like to try, places you’d like to go, and activities you enjoy, then go out and do them. Even a casual trip to your local café or coffee shop could result in striking up an interesting conversation — you never know. The important thing is to put yourself out there and stay busy.
A time to reconnect, or simply move on.
In addition to making new connections, retirement can be a time to repair old ones. Have you fallen out of touch or had a past conflict with a friend or family member? If you feel it’s safe and healthy to do so, reach out to someone you miss or with whom you’d like to reconcile; they too may be eager to rekindle the relationship.
Retirement also provides the freedom to let go of relationships that no longer serve you. Many people become far less concerned about social status or what others think of them once they stop working. Consider letting go of unhealthy relationships that have been a source of stress or worry.
Acknowledging loss of connection.
Retirement results in the abrupt loss of regular workplace relationships, daily contact with others, and a familiar routine. Those who move lose their church and neighborhood affiliations as well. It’s easy to “move on” without acknowledging the difficulty of losing friends and having to deal with change.
But our ability to grieve these losses can help us to maintain connection and create new relationships, and help keep hurts and grief from festering into resentment or depression. Writing letters, having special services, or spending time talking about loss and grief can help people to process these difficult emotions.
If you have health coverage through The Episcopal Church Medical Trust, your Cigna Employee Assistance Program benefit entitles you to free counseling sessions, should you wish to speak to a professional. The Church Pension Group also offers transitional services and support to clergy through the diocesan-appointed Chaplains to the Retired.
Develop non-helping relationships.
People in the helping professions (e.g., patient care, community work, or other such support) often have great passion for serving the needs of others. This is a wonderful quality that creates a sense of community and provides meaning and purpose.
However, while connecting with such people can be of great personal value, it is not enough. We must also have people in our lives who are our peers and with whom we can simply play. It is important to have connections that offer the chance for fun!
Taking risks and being open to making, renewing, or sustaining relationships can be scary. But the risks are well worth the rewards to your mental, physical, and emotional health. Be bold and seek the connections you need from others in this life.
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”*
Dr. Miki Gordon is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a National Certified Counselor who earned a Ph.D. Counselor Education and Supervision from Regent University. She currently maintains a private practice in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina where she sees adults, children, and families. She also teaches in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate program at Montreat College and Johnson University.
*Milne, A.A., The House at Pooh Corner, London: Methuen Publishing, 1928