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A Retirement Tale: Don’t Wait Until Retirement to Work on Your NeuroDiverse Marriage!

Author: Greg Reller

I recently retired after a 36-year career as a consulting geologist. About 8 years ago, after 28 years in my career I was diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum (high functioning autistic or Asperger’s Syndrome). How this diagnosis affected the last years of my career is another story, this note is about entering retirement.

I looked forward to retirement and did not really know how it would work out or what it would mean in my life (and I am still figuring it out). I have many interests to pursue (gardening, chores around my 5 acre property, fishing, wine making, hunting, camping, geologic mapping, reading, writing, restoring my vintage mustang to name a few). At a minimum I planned to indulge in some of these activities/interests. The challenge I face is how to pursue (some of) these interests in a way that allows me to remain connected with my wife (Carol) and improve neglected friendships.

My wife retired about 2 years before I did and was a strong advocate for me to take my time and not start any major new endeavors for at least 6-months. She saw this as a time to repair/heal and adjust to no longer having to work. I worked part time for the first 6-months of retirement and have not worked since.

As I began my semi-retirement Carol and I noticed that when I worked my stress level was higher and my bandwidth for personal interaction was reduced compared with those periods when I was not working. This caused me to realize how much energy it took for me to interact as a professional in my work life. The final work event was my participation as a speaker at a conference. As the conference approached, I became very focused on my talk, socially distant from Carol, anxious about the social aspects of the conference, and had nearly no bandwidth for stimulation. My talk and contribution as part of a panel at the conference were well received. However, the cost was tremendous in terms of stress in my life, and in my marriage relationship.

The period of part time work showed me that I am better off not continuing in my professional career. I have been tempted to go back to work. My former employer asked if I could come back and lead some technical work. This appealed to my ego and made me feel important, but I wisely declined. Recently one of my favorite clients called and asked how to gain my participation next year for several conferences in North America, Europe, and South Africa. Again, this was flattering and appealed to my sense of accomplishment, but I have decided to decline these offers. Maybe if I was not on the spectrum, I would know how to participate in these opportunities without damaging my marriage, but I have learned that devoting the energy necessary for me to succeed in participating in my profession is damaging to my personal life. Because I no longer need to do this, I am free to decline and stay focused on improving my marriage and direct energy to more fully develop other neglected relationships.

One of the things that I have been able to devote more time to in retirement is to work on my relationship with my wife. I have been able to read books that address different aspects of how my neurology affects the way I communicate, and discuss them with her and my coach, and to work out how to be a better husband. I am learning to increase my bandwidth for personal interaction and other stimulation, connect better with my wife in ways that she sees as connecting, and communicate more

clearly and consistently with her. The insights I have gained through working on my marriage are also benefiting my relationships with friends. I am finding that structure to my day is necessary if I am to succeed in this retired life. This is life changing for me because I have usually resisted attempts at structure such as schedules. I have come to see my lifelong resistance to structure as an outgrowth of my tendency toward rigidity (if I have a schedule, I must follow it to the exclusion of all else-No changes or I have made a mistake/failed). Without a schedule it would be ok to be flexible in response to changing conditions. I am learning that I can enjoy the structure of a schedule while maintaining flexibility AND communicating about what is going on.

I am also learning that my internal thinking is not obvious to others and should be appropriately communicated. I have always assumed that in each situation (work, home, social gatherings, etc.) that everyone had the same information I did, so that everyone pretty much would be thinking the same/have the same understanding. This led me to believe that others would also have the same ideas causing me to not share my thinking with others-why share the obvious? In many cases if others expressed different thinking than mine, I would conclude that my thinking was flawed and begin seeking what it was that I did not know and spend lots of energy and time trying to figure out my mistake. It was only after my diagnosis and subsequent better understanding of how my mind works that I began to realize that my thinking may have led to creative ideas that should be shared and discussed with others.

I wish I would have figured this out a long time ago. I could have contributed a lot more to the lives of those around me. It has taken me nearly a year to figure out that it is ok for me to NOT pursue all of my interests at once. I have started to restore my 1968 mustang. It is the season for me to do this. If I pursue this, I will not have as much time to do geologic mapping, or hunting, and that is ok. This does not mean I will not map or hunt, I just will not do as much as I could if I was not devoting more time to the car. My hunting, fishing, and mapping can occur more frequently after the mustang is done, etc. etc. In retirement I plan to keep on doing the maintenance it takes to sustain a much better relationship with my wife, reinvigorate old friendships, and pursue my interests in a way that builds joy with my wife, family, and friends.

Greg, is a regular with Dan on the Just the Guys segment of the NDCC podcast.

We are doing an Empty Nester and Retirement Podcast, January 15th! Find it at this link on January 15th:

Greg and his wife Carol with another couple will be discussing retirement preparation for neurodiverse couples!

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