In past articles we strolled down the yellow brick road and ended singing of rainbows, blue skies and dreams. somehow, the fairy tale world of oz has changed over the last year and it looks more like the haunted forest on the way to the witch’s castle than the Emerald City. “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The Wizard of Oz made its way to the Hollywood screens in 1939. It is thought of as one of our country’s greatest and best loved fairy tales. It came about during a time when people had endured 10 years of gloom. The economy was finally improving, and hope was thriving. Films like The Wizard of Oz reaffirmed the nation’s belief in itself and in its ability to endure.

Transitioning to retirement requires this same belief and endurance. Retirement is an ongoing process of emotional adjustments. The actual act of retirement is typically short and sweet and may be marked by a dinner or other celebration. But then it’s over — you’re retired! Many arrive at the destination they have been dreaming about for decades in a state of jubilation only to find the emotional high wears off quickly. Once the honeymoon phase is over and reality sets in, some feel let down and disenchanted. Retirement is a major life change and is difficult on its own. But when you combine it with economic and financial turbulence, the change can be overwhelming. Retirement is an emotional event with a financial component. Whether your decision to retire is regrettable, wonderful, planned, or unintentional, it is crucial that you grasp not only the financial side but also the psychological side of this transition. In my earlier article we focused on taking a multi-layer approach to retirement and the activities that you can focus on to enhance the experience. In today’s article, I will expand on the topic.

Fortunately or unfortunately, with retirement comes a great deal of change — all at once. It’s almost like the tornado that hit Kansas in The Wizard of Oz. Your beautiful sunny day of retirement gets tossed and turned and completely shaken up by the “retirement twister.” Unexpectedly, your self–esteem and self-identity are tested. Many people base their identities and who they are around their working self. The question of “who am I?” becomes critical as a person evolves from being a professional to a retiree. For those who have had highly successful careers, they may also become disillusioned by a lack of the respect they had become accustomed to while working. It is not uncommon for a retiree to begin to question their self-worth and their purpose in life. A major source of depression in retirees is isolation and lack of motivation.

A common retirement challenge occurs when married couples choose to retire “as a couple.” The picture-perfect thought is that both individuals will retire at once and spend their days “happily ever after” — dreaming, yearning and wistfully longing for a trouble-free, fascinating, new world where bluebirds fly and there are colorful rainbows — a fairy tale. It’s difficult not to have this dream. Marketing materials that depict retirement portray this fantasy world. Brochures and fliers are not going to portray the potential downside that may accompany retirement including loneliness, depression, and disillusionment. Unfortunately, unless you prepare financially and emotionally, this could happen, and you won’t have a fairy tale ending. Striking the right balance between dreams and realities is one of retirement’s biggest challenges.

There are both financial and emotional reasons for working couples to stagger their retirement dates. From a financial perspective, if one spouse chooses to work longer, future social security benefits may increase. In addition, it gives you more time to save and fewer years that you are drawing on your investment assets to support retirement. It could also mean continued health insurance benefits in those years when you may need it the most. Financial reasons aside, the psychological adjustment necessary may be overpowering for two people to adjust to all at once. As previously mentioned, retirement sometimes leaves people searching for their identities. If you are like most couples who have spent their entire married lives with at least one individual working outside the home, the uncharted water of spending every waking minute together can be daunting. But to add to it, two individuals searching for “themselves” can be disastrous. It would make sense, in some cases, for only one spouse to go through this transition at a time. It gives each person a chance to create and build a new identity for themselves without the pressure of a spouse who may be going through the same identity crisis. This is a tension that can easily be avoided by spacing out retirement dates.

On this same note, if one spouse retires and joins a spouse who has previously not worked outside of the home, some initial friction can be expected. Trying to find a happy medium of how much time to spend together can be taxing. Retirement now puts both spouses on a “level playing field.” It may become a challenge to work out who does what. If one spouse previously cared for the house and took care of all the cooking and cleaning while the other spouse worked, it made sense. But now if the previously working spouse reads magazines, watches television and does crossword puzzles and doesn’t offer to help out, it could create tension for the spouse who feels that the retiree should now be “pitching in” around the house. On the other hand, this same spouse who has previously stayed home may feel that the house is “their domain” and the retiree may feel like an “intruder” or an “outsider.” Finding a “happy medium” will necessitate some effort, openness, and communication to discover what this new aspect of the relationship feels like for both spouses.

Some people can’t absorb everything all at once. For these people, whether they are married or single, it might make sense to not jump into retirement with two feet. Cut back to part-time work or find a new job that “doesn’t feel like work” and is not at the stress level of your past career. You might also find that volunteering will help make the transition easier.

Spending so much time together may also bring eccentric personal habits to the forefront, and things that were previously easy to overlook may not be so easily ignored when you are surrounded by them 24/7. It is important for retired couples to keep lines of communication open and determine early on what changes will need to be made. Plan for and give each other plenty of physical and emotional space. If not, it can lead to unnecessary tension.

During our working years, we move quickly and efficiently down the highway of life as we toil to get from one point to another. We dream of a retirement where we no longer must rush to destinations but instead are able to explore the countryside and take detours along the way, like Dorothy as she travels down the yellow brick road. The opportunity to have the time to pursue hobbies and other leisure activities and enjoy “down” time can create an emotional paradox. Some may look forward to idle time while others, me included, panic at the thought. Whether you choose to work well past your retirement age or whether you retire early, it is important that you find your passion in life.

There may not be a place called Oz and there may not be a Wizard, but retirement is a place where many of us will find ourselves. It is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Don’t let the detours that you encounter as you walk down the yellow brick road of retirement deter you. Show that you have the heart of the Tin Man, the brain of the Scarecrow and the courage of the Cowardly Lion – after they met with the Wizard. You can make it through the Haunted Forest and past the Wicked Witch of the West and you will get to your own Oz, a place we call home. Retirement can be filled with joy, purpose, and a strong sense of self. But closing your eyes and tapping your heels together three times like Dorothy will not get you there alone. Thinking ahead, having a thoughtful plan, and sharing the emotional transition with friends and family will help ensure “there’s no place like home.”