The other day I saw a headline in AARP The Magazine about baby boomers heading for “the big 6-5.” I couldn’t help gasping. Over the last several years I’ve spoken and written a lot about the challenges of aging and retirement, but last year it really hit home when my husband and I began our own retirement process. He gave up university teaching after 45 years, while I reduced my coaching and therapy practice.
Whether or not your clients have reached (or passed) the big 65, retirement issues may loom large in their desires and anxieties. Here are some examples of how you can help them cope.
Q: You’ve heard of “boomerang kids.” How about a “boomerang retiree?” After a couple of years of golf, travel, visiting the kids and so on, my retired client is itching to return to work. His wife, who enjoys their travels together and all their social activities with other retirees, is upset by this idea. They could use the extra income—but given her strong resistance, should I support his yearning to “un-retire?”
A: It would be better for everyone concerned if, rather than taking one side or the other, you can help this couple find common ground. I would advise you to meet individually with each client to get a deeper sense of their longings, concerns, goals, dreams and frustrations.
If the husband’s sense of self-worth derives largely from his work identity, he may be feeling useless. Alternatively, he may be anxious about not having quite enough money for a comfortable retirement. Would he be open to part-time work, consulting or even something completely new?
Once you get clearer about where the husband is coming from, you can then meet with the wife. What has she loved about this phase of life with him? Why does she resist his returning to work? Was he a workaholic, or did his job leave her with too little to do? Ask, too, if her husband’s retirement has had any downside for her.
In both meetings, once you have heard each spouse’s desires and concerns, address the financial realities of their situation.
After these individual conversations, you can invite both clients to meet with you as a couple. Now is the time to discuss a variety of possible ways to meet the husband’s desire for work. With what you have learned about their feelings and desires, see if you can help them meet somewhere in the middle. Perhaps he would be okay with working part-time, while committing certain days or times to couples activities that his wife particularly values.
Q: A woman who cared for her disabled husband until his recent death has consulted me about some stock certificates she found in his desk. His pension ended when he died, and she is living on not much more than Social Security. She is very angry and upset with herself for not saving more when she was younger, but has pinned her hopes on her late husband having “provided for her.” I’m going to have to tell her it’s worthless, but am afraid the news will devastate her. How should I handle it?
A: You’re right about needing to proceed with care and sensitivity. Helping this client may require two or more meetings in which you slowly enable her to explore her situation.
Eventually she will ask you about the stock certificates, and of course you will need to tell her the truth. But first, it would be a good idea to help her take stock of her life. Find out if she has a network of support to lean on during this difficult period. Is she close to family members or friends, or active in a church group or other organization? If not, perhaps there’s a friend or relative she can regularly share a meal with, or a spiritual or community group she can participate in. Reaching out to exchange goods and services with others is a good idea not only to prevent feelings of isolation, but also to stretch a limited budget.
A second way you can help is to brainstorm with her about how to thrive on less. Be sure she understands how common her position is. Many a wife has left financial planning and preparation to her husband during their life together, only to find after he’s gone that she isn’t as well taken care of as she had believed. Consider encouraging her to consider part-time work to supplement her Social Security benefits.
You might offer other suggestions to help her feel more fulfilled and satisfied. For example, I often recommend keeping a “gratitude journal” in which you write three things you feel grateful for every day. This could help keep your client from focusing on what she doesn’t have or has been deprived of.
Q: A retired couple I see regularly are at loggerheads about their spending. After being shell-shocked by the market meltdown, he feels they should hang on to every conservatively invested dollar. She is a mainstay of several big charities in our city and wants to maintain her role as their biggest donor. I’m fairly sure there must be a happy medium here, but how do I lead them toward it?
A: When couples are involved in intense disagreements, it’s often useful to meet with them individually at first. As I’ve mentioned before, this allows you to hear them more deeply, to understand their concerns, needs and desires, and to create stronger personal connections.