I know that many people are taking different lessons from this pandemic, and they are not all the same. I’m 69 years old and my husband is 71. We’ve both worked hard our entire lives. We’ve always been very generous with our children, and, in general, we are generous people, often at our own expense.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fact that we’re in our final chapter of life. We both come from families with good genes, but, even so, I think a lot about how many “good” years, G-d willing, we have ahead of us, years that we’re healthy enough to still enjoy life. We have done some traveling, but not much. We haven’t lived lives of total deprivation, but putting everyone else first didn’t always leave all that much over for ourselves. We have some savings, though not a ton, I think because we’ve always been so generous to our children and grandchildren. I’m not so obsessed with how much money we leave for them as an inheritance. Frankly, we never received much from our parents and that’s O.K.
Lately, I’ve been talking to my husband about changing up our lives, about retiring in a couple of years and maybe buying a place in Florida, traveling a bit more, and finally thinking about ourselves.
However, my husband and I are on very different pages in this regard. In general, he is not one to think much about the future. He lives each day the best he can, but he never contemplates whether or not there needs to be some kind of shift in our day-to-day. He plods along, doing what he needs to do, but he isn’t the least bit creative about alternatives. He knows what he knows, he’s satisfied with where he’s at, and he has no intentions of rocking the boat.
My new mantra, which I repeat constantly to myself is: “If not now, then when?” With more time on my hands, I’m getting really excited about a change. But my husband shuts down every time I try to broach the subject of maybe selling our home, downsizing, buying a vacation home, traveling a little more, enjoying life, and, frankly, for the first time ever, living a little more for ourselves, for our own enjoyment. I don’t think it’s so bad.
Because I hit a wall every time I bring up the subject of change, I’m getting very frustrated and, frankly, angry. I love my husband and have no intention of ever doing anything without him. But right now he is holding me back from what I believe is a better and well-earned life. He is satisfied with the way things are and thinks I’m having some kind of post-midlife crisis! Of course, I disagree. What does a couple do when each spouse really loves each other but they suddenly find themselves at a crossroads with such opposite opinions regarding how to move ahead in life?
Dear Hands Tied,
The place you’re at, the thoughts you’re having, and the plans you’re dreaming about are not unusual. You and your husband are at that interesting age where thoughts of retirement are not out of line, downsizing is not unrealistic, and thinking more about living your best life is perfectly normal. As you point out, G-d willing, you have many years of life left to enjoy. Thinking about how many of those years will be spent in good health is not a silly conversation to have with your husband; it’s just being realistic.
I’ve noticed that some people live their lives in a way that’s similar to your husband’s outlook. They wake up each day, hopefully without too many surprises, do their due, and call it a day. They are comfortable with their routine — feel very secure with their routine, in fact—and are not looking to change anything. Then there are people like you, who are willing to change things up, break the routine, and figure out a better and new normal. Whether someone might view you as a risk-taker or just someone who isn’t afraid to change the daily script in minor or major ways, there is no right or wrong approach to life. But when you are a creative thinker, like you, who is able to envision a fuller, more interesting life, it is difficult to feel “stuck,” without options for a more satisfying journey, because your husband is on an entirely different page.
My suggestion is to try to find out what exactly might be holding your husband back right now. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be bothered with any new challenges at this stage of life. Maybe the idea of packing, moving, setting up a new home, making new friends, finding a new shul, and on and on and on, is more responsibility than he would like to consider. Maybe just the idea of change is exhausting to him. If that’s the case, you need to hear him out and come up with a specific plan for certain changes you are considering and specific solutions to his resistance or even fears, respecting his needs but attempting to open his eyes to new possibilities.
When we throw out bold new ideas, it can often be perceived as just too much. But when we break down exactly what we have in mind and how it can be achieved, in a rational, systematic way, sometimes it can be viewed as less threatening. Bottom line: listen carefully to your husband so that you can understand more fully why he is resistant to change. Is it a matter of just not wanting to be bothered or is there some underlying concern that deserves attention? Maybe there are certain realities that you may not be considering, some deeper considerations or obligations. But if that’s not the case, and it’s more about your husband’s lack of imaginative thinking, it’s time to find your best voice and communicate, from a place of love and good intentions, your new vision. Your job is to enable him to see life in a broader way through lenses that are open and excited.
If you are successful in opening him up to new possibilities, my guess is that he will eventually thank you for nudging him along — and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone sessions. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.