Whose retirement is it anyway?

Isn’t it one of the most romantic dreams of couples everywhere…the chance to grow old together and bask in your retirement years now that the children are grown and you’re finally free of the demands of your career?

In a word, yes. But nonetheless, like every other phase of marriage, preparing for retirement requires work, planning and communicating about each other’s expectations—which can be fun, rewarding and exciting if you approach it with flexibility and a good attitude. On the other hand, failure to talk about your plans for retirement ahead of time can lead to serious disappointment and frustration.

Retirement is a big step whether you’re single or married, so it’s probably a good idea to start by taking inventory of your personal expectations even before talking them through together. There are people who’ve taken great pains to earn, save and invest the money they’ll need to provide for their retirement years without giving much if any thought to what they actually want out of those years. Maybe those decades of nose-to-the-grindstone career dedication left little time to cultivate outside interests, and you need time to create a mental image of what you really want your retirement years to be.

Once you have a grasp on your own expectations, for many couples the harder part may be sharing those hopes and expectations with each other, and finding a way to make them work even if they initially seem to be at odds.

Maybe she wants to start a new business, while he wants to spend as much time as possible traveling to exotic locations. Or he wants to start the amateur jazz band he always dreamed of, but she wants to retire to the beach.

It’s never too soon to start talking about it. Many people begin entertaining retirement fantasies years before the time comes yet never communicate them to their partner. After all, x, y or z sounds like paradise to you; how could he or she not feel the same? But you won’t know until you ask, and if it turns out you harbor different visions, then the sooner you talk about it, the better—not only about the dreams themselves but the practical steps you’ll need to take to make them possible.

And if your dreams seem impossibly different, don’t give up. Now is the time to negotiate and compromise. Be creative. In the first example, maybe the wife who wants to start a business could create one that involves sourcing products from those exotic locations where he wants to travel. In the second, they could buy the beach house but keep a place in the city and negotiate how much time they plan to spend in each. That’s not to say they need to spend every waking moment together—there’s nothing wrong with pursuing separate interests, as well—but everyone should have realistic and well-defined expectations.

The bottom line is that all kinds of new possibilities are going to open up for you, but if you can’t enjoy them together, then instead of growing old together, you could find yourselves growing apart at a time when you least expected it. So when discussions get tough, remember the tremendous advantage you have over the newlyweds you once were, at another time in your life when you had so many great adventures ahead of you: You’ve already faced your share of marital conflicts and challenges and lived to tell the tale. By now, you’re old pros at this.

So remember: When it comes to retirement, dream, plan and compromise, and last but not least, enjoy. You’ve earned it.

The staff at the Relationship Center of Orange County want to help you to get along better and be happier—whether that is with yourself, your partner, at work or with your family.  Schedule your appointment online using our online scheduling tool, call us at (949) 220-3211, or text us.

The “D” Bomb: What if your partner wants a divorce…and you don’t?

When you are surprised by a divorceContemplating a divorce is one of the most painful decisions a couple will ever face, and it only gets harder when the desire to leave is one-sided. In most cases, the partner who wants the divorce has been heading in that direction for some time while the other has been keeping their head in the sand—out of avoidance, refusal to acknowledge one’s own role in the problems, or other reasons.

Still when they finally hear the words “I want a divorce,” they may feel like they’ve been hit by a truck—no matter how long the truck has been headed straight for them.

If your partner wants a divorce and you don’t, the first thing you need to understand is that the time is over for waiting and hoping. It’s time to be proactive and deal with the situation. That means keeping your cool (as much as possible), honestly owning up to mistakes you’ve made while taking serious steps to repair them, and also accepting that you are not in full control. You can do your best, but you can’t coax, guilt-trip or bully your spouse into staying. Again, he or she has not come to this decision lightly and isn’t going to change it lightly, either.

That said, here are some more specific tips for handling this painful challenge in your life:

  1. Make sure you have someone to talk to who has no agenda other than your happiness. Sometimes relatives and friends want to force you to take drastic measures, maybe out of anger at your spouse or protectiveness towards you. Their intentions are good, but their perspective may not be so helpful. After all, they aren’t living in your marriage. You need to find someone you trust to be both caring but objective. Considering a professional counselor would definitely be a wise option.
  2. Even if you are really really confused and upset, please try to resist groveling, begging or asking more than three times, “Why?” In my experience, when someone wants out of a relationship, it is rarely one specific thing. If they cannot tell you when you originally ask, they may not really understand it themselves. Continuing to ask (even though of course you want the answer!) isn’t going to get you an answer you want or can understand. It’s also possible that you already strongly suspect the answer…but you’re hoping for a different one. This is not a productive exercise.
  3. Be honest about the state of your relationship. Many people in this situation are afraid that by validating their mate’s dire assessment of the marriage, they’ll be putting the final nail in the coffin. But pretending that he or she is overreacting or that you’re just going through a bad spell is not going to help, either. Your mate may or may not be eager to talk it through right now, but the least you can do is acknowledge that you know how serious things have gotten. They need to know that you hear and understand their feelings. Rather than a tacit agreement to divorce, it can be a means to rebuild common ground that’s been dangerously missing for some time.
  4. Take some time and identify how you have been as a partner. This is not a time for self-flagellation but honest reflection. When you and your mate have acted out at your worst, how do you act? How does that measure up to the behavior and communications of the partner you most want to be? Consider this, again, not as a way to beat yourself up but to ground yourself in new behaviors you can be proud of.
  5. Apologize. You’re going through a lot of conflicting emotions right now, and no doubt one of them is anger. That can make it hard to apologize for ways you may have contributed to the marital breakdown. Swallow your pride and do it anyway, because it is a critical step in any attempt at reconciliation.That includes some honest soul-searching to truly own up to ways you have hurt your spouse and finding ways to show them you understand the harm you have caused. One book I highly recommend on this subject is “The Five Languages of Apology” by Gary Chapman.
  6. When we are hurt, it is like there is a bear trap on our foot and we are ready to lash out and do whatever it takes to stop hurting. Resist the temptation to take actions that may feel good for a minute but cause you greater problems in the long run. Whether you and your partner are able to reconcile or end up going your separate ways, this is going to be a long process, and you’re doing yourself as well as your partner a disservice if you make it worse than it has to be.Make sure any actions you take from here on out are ones you will be proud of when you look back years from now.
  7. Even when you do not feel like it, try as hard as you can to take care of yourself and your daily needs. Eat. Take a shower. Get your frustration out with exercise. You cannot make good decisions (or be a good partner) if you are not taking care of yourself first. And though humility may be an important part of attempting to heal the marriage, you also need to feel competent and strong to think and behave clearly. It’s not only in your best interest, but it’s another important element of trying to save your marriage. The last thing you want is for your spouse to think you’re falling to pieces, which is less likely to garner sympathy at this point than give him or her another reason to run.
  8. Ask your mate calmly if he/she would consider counseling. There are different types of counseling for couples that we do at OC Relationship Center. One is discernment counseling: “Where do we go from here?” This is when two people are trying to decide if they want in the relationship or want out. It consists of about five sessions where we look at the issues and come to a decision. The couple will either decide the relationship is over, and we can help them end it with grace and dignity, or the couple will decide that the relationship isn’t bad enough to leave but not very good either. In the latter case, we can enter into couples counseling. This is where we help each person to be happier and get their needs met, resolve underlying conflicts and improve communications skills.

Finally, if your mate doesn’t want to come to counseling, we offer “couples counseling for one” -individual counseling to help you see what you might do to repair the relationship or to deal with all the emotions you’re facing. You want to make sure that you are clear to make decisions that are in your best interest.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at 949-220-3211 or book an appointment online now at www.OCRelationshipCenter.com.

How to respect your mate (even when you don’t want to)

Have you ever felt so angry, frustrated, or hurt by your mate that you feel you don’t even respect them—or want to? It’s a pretty rotten feeling. After all, deep down you know that mutual respect is one of the fundamental building blocks of a relationship.

Fortunately, at times when you might feel you’ve lost respect for your mate, it’s often illusory, temporary or both. But as with so many relationship struggles, it helps to put the situation in perspective by looking at the bigger picture.

Say your husband makes a classic, almost comical (but not) mistake like putting the car in drive instead of reverse when pulling out of a parking space, thereby slamming into a brick building and costing a fortune in repairs. He’s embarrassed and apologetic—while you’re ostensibly understanding and forgiving—but inside, you seethe. How could he do that? Didn’t he notice the car was moving forward before he slammed on the gas? Doesn’t he realize that money was going towards our summer vacation? And on and on. But when you’re honest with yourself, you know it could have been you—and probably has been. What about the time you left your new iPhone on the roof of the car and sped off? Or absentmindedly left the back gate open, so the dog ran out into the street and went missing for a week? We all regret the dumb mistakes we make in life, especially the ones that hurt others as well as ourselves. Now is the time to empathize, not criticize, and assure him it’s not the end of the world—because it’s not.

In other cases, a particularly heated argument may cause a mate to withhold respect as a form of self-defense. Who wants to respect a man or woman who has hurt their feelings, cast doubt on their judgment or otherwise caused offense? But you can reject your mate’s angry remarks without losing respect for your mate. When calmer heads prevail, you may realize that what felt like unfair criticism was intended as constructive advice. On the other hand, your mate may decide he or she was being a jerk and say so. Either way, arguments are temporary, and the best case scenario for no one to lose respect for the other before, during or after.

Meanwhile, whatever it is that causes you to question your respect for your mate, it’s rarely a good idea to share those feelings with anyone other than a trusted family member or friend—if at all. The last thing you want is for your anger about your husband smashing his front bumper or the ugly words exchanged during your latest argument to become grist for the gossip mill. That’s a sign of disrespect, and you can only imagine how you’d feel if the shoe was on the other foot and you learned your mate was discussing you like that with his buddies.

Finally, the most important lesson is that in spite of whatever ugliness has recently transpired between you, you can still remember all the wonderful, kind, smart things your mate has done in the past and will continue to do in the future. It doesn’t change who they are as a person. So unless you’re talking about a pattern of problems—or you find you simply can’t get over a mate’s mistake, in which case it might be time to seek help from a professional relationship counselor—he or she is still worthy of your love and respect, however grudgingly it’s given at the time. Remember: respect is not a short-term gift bestowed when you happen to feel like it. It’s part of a lifelong commitment, just like love itself.

Through marriage counseling at the Relationship Center of Orange County, we will work together to help you improve communication issues, increase trust, reduce arguing and enjoy your relationship again.