Retirement is Not in My Future

After the financial debacle of 2008 I realized that I could not soon retire. One of the reasons that I stopped writing regularly for this blog is that there were some worrying matters to tend to, and I did not want to transfer all my anxiety into my writing. I am not an extravagant person and I have no debts, but when one's retirement nest egg drops by 33%, no amount of thriftiness will make up for such a huge loss. At present, my investments have crept up to 2008 levels, but I no longer trust the system.

I noticed on the university website that Bob is now retired. When we split, I received the house and he retained his retirement savings. He taught for over 20 years, which means that he left with a hefty severance package. He has started a financial business concern and is realizing his dream of piling on money.

I began working full time at 51. You do the math. If I am lucky and can stay healthy, I can retire in ten years at 71. Even then my pension will be no more than $2,300 per month. Add social security benefits and deduct the cost of health care, and I am staring at a significant drop in my income.

I refuse to allow my worry about my financial future to take over my life; but that constant niggling pressure is starting to affect my sleep. If the economy keeps tanking and if I should lose my job, who would hire a 61 year old woman with preexisting medical conditions and give her full benefits? In this day and age, no one.

For the first time I feel trapped in a job.


It's Those Little Habits You Miss ...

Apart from losing your best friend and life's mate during your divorce, you are also losing your financial security and those daily habits that up to now have made your life predictable and comfortable. One of the first habits I had to overcome was not to shout as I opened the front door, "Bob, I'm home!" For those first few weeks I would rush inside the house to share some news, only to find it empty. I cannot tell you how lonely I felt.

There was no longer a way to divide the household duties. All of a sudden I had to take out the garbage, mow the lawn, and pick up laundry at the dry cleaners, as well as purchase groceries, cook the meals, and clean the house.

I worked three part-time jobs all in different parts of the city; oversaw the maintenance of my 2-story house; went to therapy twice a week; and tried to keep up a social schedule of sorts. One thing I could say for certain - I had very little time to relax and feel sorry for myself.

The changes in my daily routine came as little shocks. I recall that the week after Bob left I had made arrangements to have my car serviced. I asked Bob if he would take me, for ostensibly we were "working at saving our marriage," but he coldly said no. I felt too injured to ask someone to pick me up and take me back to the mechanic's, so I spent that morning in the waiting room at the shop.

One month later we were hit with the worst snow storm in a decade. It was Bob with his strong wrestler's shoulders who would clear the sidewalk and parking area in previous storms; it was Bob's 4-wheel drive vehicle that would get us to the grocery store. I did the best I could, going out every hour to clear my front walk and driveway. That night the snow plows came through and trapped my car behind a wall of ice. My reliable, dependable husband was gone, and I did not have the physical strength to tackle that huge pile of compacted snow. I was trapped in my house, alone, with no one to comfort me. During those moments I despaired and cried the hardest.

But life goes on. My routine changed. I found people who could help me in a pinch. I moved furniture around, changed the side of the bed I slept on, placed a t.v. in my bedroom (a big taboo as far as Bob was concerned), got a dog (another taboo), and generally started to live my life not as a couple but as a single person who no longer needed to accommodate someone else. The small changes felt like self-nurture. I felt emboldened to try new things. And after a while, I recaptured the sense of adventure I felt when I had first moved out of my parents' house.

Oh, I did not take all these steps at once. They were slow and deliberate. I savored each change and felt stronger as I made decisions that used to require compromise. In fact, I am so happy with my new home routine, which suits my personality and bio-rhythm, that I started to wonder if I could ever share my house with someone again.

The answer is yes. Last winter a young female colleague moved temporarily into my house. It was so nice to come home and shout out, "Kate, where are you?" and to cook dinner for two, and to hang around in my jammies on Saturday morning discussing plans for the weekend. When Kate moved out, I felt that familiar sense of loss. But then my new routine, the one that is reserved just for me, kicked in again. That is when I discovered that, no matter what the circumstances, I am fine - with someone or by myself.


Break Up or Blow Up?

Melissa Etheridge and Mel Gibson. You have to be a hermit not to know about their messy relationship blow ups! They have made headlines recently, and both couples have come out with their fists swinging.

I recall the first conversation I had with a lawyer days after my ex moved out of the house. He identified two ways in which an unhappy spouse leaves a marriage. "Some spouses feel guilty when they leave," he said, "and they will be quite accommodating. You need to take advantage of this period and get the best deal you can. Then there's the second type of separation, in which the spouse will torpedo the relationship by lying, stealing or cheating and generally behaving like a louse."

What kind of break up characterizes your separation? I was lucky in that my ex felt guilty for several months. This allowed me to gather my thoughts and attend to my future. Then he met his new girlfriend (and future wife) and his attitude changed. Cruel words were spoken that I recall vividly to this day. But I never had to deal with the nightmarish and unreasonable behavior that so many abandoned spouses must go through.

I discovered one important survival trick soon after Bob moved out: while I could not save my marriage, I could control my behavior. I decided to take the high road and have largely stayed there. Research has shown that people who are able to face the future with a positive attitude and move on recover faster from the pain of divorce than those who wallow in self-pity or rehash old wounds. Here are my suggestions for those who are struggling to cope:
  • Live in the moment. Don't blame yourself for past mistakes or live with regret. Don't fear the future unknown. Take each day as it comes. Reward yourself for small successes. Be KIND to YOURSELF and trust that one day you'll find contentment again.
  • Don't react to a quarreling spouse. By not engaging with them, you take away their power to hurt you.
"In some cases the best way to deal with an unreasonable spouse is not to deal with him or her. No amount of discussion, debate or arguing will change the mind and attitude of a person who is bent on thinking and acting unreasonably. If your spouse truly believes you are a "jerk", then there is no amount of energy you can spend that will change that perception." - From the blog A Woman's Divorce
  • Take charge of the things you can handle. Don't wait for your spouse to take all the action.
  • Don't fool yourself into thinking your spouse will come back. If your spouse has left with clothes and some furniture and moved into an apartment, your marriage is over. My lawyer did not beat around the bush. He told me this in no uncertain terms - I just was not ready or willing to listen. I actually believed that Bob was going to therapy with me to mend our marriage. He was actually going to make the best divorce deal for himself.
  • Pick your friends wisely. Surround yourself with people with positive attitudes and who have only your best interests at heart. (Some friends revel in the drama and add fuel to the fire. Stay away from them.) Don't force your friends or family to choose sides, especially when kids are involved. Take the high road.
  • Listen to your instincts. Don't let others talk you into taking action that you know in your gut is wrong. My family tried to talk me into moving out of my house and to take other drastic action. I have since my divorce made changes in my life, but they were all done on MY terms and on my timeline, not someone else's. If a spouse is totally unreasonable, use a professional mediator to speak on your behalf.
  • Forgiveness is a powerful drug. Forgive yourself. Forgive your spouse. Let petty things go. Concentrate on survival issues and on healing and growth. Don't dwell on inconsequential matters. Don't play the blame game. By letting go you will feel instant relief. There are couples who will spend all their assets on lawyers fighting over inconsequential possessions for months, even years. My friend, a great lawyer, advised me: "When you are both slightly unhappy with the division of your assets, then your negotiations are done."
  • Yes, of course you need to vent your frustration, hurt, and anger. But do this in a "safe" environment. Exercise will help to keep your emotions under control. My mom allowed me to sit for 10 minutes on my pity pot before I had to get off. Those ten minutes, during which she listened quietly as I ranted and raved, allowed me to release a lot of steam. After a while, I simply ran out of anything to say.
  • Cliched as it sounds, time does heal wounds. I am still sad that my wonderful marriage did not last, but I am stronger for having survived a time that I truly thought would kill me.
Other sources:


Dealing With the Humiliation of Being Rejected

The day Bob left our marriage, I could not shake the feeling that I had failed. By moving out of the house, he had made our breakup painfully public. I felt like a loser. It took every ounce of my energy to face the world, and I made pains to put on makeup, curl my hair, and wear a cute outfit before leaving the house. I might have felt like a reject on the inside, but I wanted to go out in public looking like a winner. It was a matter of pride. But I wasn't a celebrity, and no photographers or reporters were hanging outside my door waiting to take a snapshot of me or ask awkward questions.

This is not the case with Sandra Bullock. One moment she was on top of the world both professionally and in her private life, and the next she learned that her marriage was a sham. I was never one of the Jesse James haters. Oh, I wondered what she saw in him at first, and then I watched 'The Apprentice'. I learned to admire the way Jesse held himself back during volatile situations and how he treated the other celebrities with dignity and respect. I began to see what Sandra saw in him. And when she publicly declared how hot he was and how much she loved him during her award speeches, I rejoiced in her happiness. She seemed like a decent person, and she has entertained me in films that I liked, and so I felt kindly towards her. I loved that she kept donating a million here and there after major disasters, most recently the Haiti earthquake, and this told me she had a good heart.

But now she is in hiding and grieving over the loss of her innocence and trust in her husband. We - you and I - can imagine exactly how she felt when she learned the awful truth about her husband: feeling the blood instantly drain from your head, the cold-sinking sensation that you are not dreaming; the tight knot in your chest; the disbelief that your best friend and partner is betraying you; the awful, unbearable pain that seeps through every pore of your body. And then, when you can breathe and think again, the relentless feeling of failure and humiliation.

But in Sandra Bullock's case her heartache is being played out in public. She literally can not hide in a crowd, as I did and as you can. Everywhere she goes, strangers KNOW about Jesse's actions and the news keeps getting worse. We no longer know rumor from fact. The truth is that Jesse put his wife, an intensely private person, in this situation by his willful actions, and the only choice he has given this brave, talented, supremely successful person is that she must go into hiding. Can you imagine how doubly humiliated she must feel - to be forced to hide so she can grieve in private?

During the worst part of my separation from Bob, I could still find some relief by losing myself in crowds, or dinner out, or during long strolls in the park. Sandra has lost everything - the man that she thought she knew, the children that she treated as her own, and the privacy that she fought for so long to keep.

This article by Lisa Firestone from the Huffington Post, The "Poor Sandra" Syndrome - Overcoming the Pain of Breakups, Affairs, and Public Rejection, has good advice for Sandra and for any person going through the humiliation of betrayal or rejection. Here are some excerpts:

"...the climate of any break-up or betrayal becomes a breeding ground for an emotion that, when examined more closely, is a bit surprising: humiliation. When you exacerbate this with the public exposure of a very private matter, one can only imagine the shame and self-criticisms that would ensue.

But why do people who have been hurt or rejected take this on as a reflection on themselves? In my 25 years as a therapist, I have often observed what my father, psychologist and theorist Dr. Robert W. Firestone, refers to as the "critical inner voice" to be the chief culprit in making break ups and affairs a matter of humiliation."
"the betrayed partner is the one who is traumatized and can't imagine how he or she will ever become whole again." This is how most people feel when they are cheated on or walked out on: traumatized. This trauma often throws them back into a defended state that, although painful, also feels familiar. They may experience feelings they felt early in life such as: they are not loveable, they are a failure, they have lost people's respect or they can't survive without being taken care of by the person they once trusted."
The article ends with the words: "No one should be critical of themselves because they took a chance on love."

I will go one step further and state: Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a wounded friend. Write nice notes to yourself, and in a journal list all your good traits and the sweet and special things you have done for others. Treat yourself to something special, like a pedicure, after you have faced another hurdle successfully. Relish the love of your family and friends, and surround yourself only with positive people. Know that you have nothing to be ashamed of for having taken a "chance on love."