Salute to Spouses Blog

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What I do know about what I didn’t know about retirement

I often hear from friends who are scared of all the perceived challenges facing them in retirement. Or they read something on Facebook, which may or may not be accurate, and they get freaked out about the transition from military life to civilian life.

I see those same posts. Mostly, they go something like this:

“I am so stressed out about my spouse’s retirement. I just want to cry all the time.”


“I don’t know how I am going to handle all this.”


“We have no idea what we will do next.”

Of course we are all scared and nervous when we embark on anything new and unknown. That’s human nature.

The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know.

But, fellow spouses, I’ve been there, done that. My husband has been officially retired for just over 16 months now. Our transition definitely isn’t complete, but it’s well on its way.

And now I DO know what I didn’t know.

Here’s my top 10 lessons learned during our transition so far:

  1. Deciding where to live is hard, but don’t overthink it. On the other hand, you might think you know exactly where you want to go or what you want to do, but trust me … that can change a dozen times. The one-year paid government storage upon retirement is the biggest benefit there is. It buys you time to figure out where you will live, and if that place is the right fit for you.
  2. Don’t worry so much about household goods. Our stuff all survived storage fine, and some of it was there for 6 ½ years. And if it didn’t survive? Eh, it’s only stuff. Once we got it back we ended up getting rid of half of it anyway.
  3. Money isn’t everything. Lots of retirees tend to take the first job that comes along because they feel pressured to support their family like they always have. And for some, they have no choice but to work right away due to financial constraints. But how much money do you really need to live on? Many families can probably find a way to make their finances work without their retiree having to move right into a second career, or at least not a fast-paced, high stress second career. This is another area where priorities are important. If at all possible, give your retiree time to figure out exactly what he or she wants to do next career-wise.
  4. Keep current in your career field, and figure out your own plans for when military life ends. This time, I mean you – the spouse who isn’t retiring but has been following the military around for the past 20-plus years. Even if it’s just a part-time job, try to have some recent employment on your resume before retirement.
  5. Don’t get caught in the trap of comparing other people’s lives with yours. This is true in life in general, of course, but sometimes we all need a reminder that no one else’s experience is any more or less valid than our own.
  6. Civilians are not all annoying idiots who just want to thank you for your service and move on. Yes, it is hard to fit in when you’re not living on base anymore or not surrounded by other military families. But give ordinary civilians a chance – most of them are actually really nice people.
  7. Retirement is about the person who is actually retiring. They are the one going through the biggest transition, no matter how daunting this might all seem to you.
  8. Retirees need a hobby. And friends. They don’t have that built-in network in a military unit anymore. Help your retiree find his or her niche.
  9. A high VA disability rating comes with a cost. Many people hope for a high rating, especially sometimes spouses who are thinking about finances. That’s again human nature. But remember this: A high rating means your retiree is broken. Perhaps irrevocably. Don’t ever wish for that.
  10. Military retirement is not the end of the world. It’s not devastating. It’s not impossible. In hindsight, it’s not even that hard. It’s just another transition, and we’ve all been through enough of those to know that, eventually, it all works out.
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