The Honeymoon Phase of Early Retirement

The Honeymoon Phase of Early Retirement



The first several months of early retirement are the honeymoon phase.

Once you finally “break the chains,” you go through a sequence of emotions that mark the first several months as unique. It’s the honeymoon phase of early retirement.

What emotions can you expect to go through early in early retirement, and how might the honeymoon phase of early retirement be best used as a springboard to continued growth?


Emotions Peak on Retirement Day

It is that day you have thought about for a long time. Retirement Day!

You have been saying goodbye for what seems like forever now. You imagine how you will feel the next day and then:

You have no idea how you will feel the next day. Probably not that much different.

After all, we are a progress and success-driven lot, always on the next best thing. We are used to transitions as we rotate in med school and residency.

Then you hit your career, and likely at some point, you said, “Is this all there is?”

And you retired. We all have different reasons to retire, but all retire early for the same reason. 

The honeymoon phase ended when fear reared its ugly head.

But before we get to fear, what is the honeymoon phase of early retirement?


What is the Honeymoon Phase of Retirement?

In the honeymoon phase of retirement, we know what we will do when we retire. And you attack those with gusto!

First, I cleaned out every space in the house following the Pareto principle with my cleaning. Admittedly, I’ll need to go back to the other 80% of the junk I carried around in life and career.

An early retirement honeymoon phase is different from the traditional honeymoon. After you get wed, you go away and return to a new life together. After you retire, you go away and don’t ever come back.

The Honeymoon Phase of Retirement ends when you realize that you are never again going back to life as you know it. Everything has changed, and that’s why many have problems saying they are retired (or actually doing so!).

It is the feeling of honeymoon that fades in early retirement. The excitement, the anticipation, is gone. Routines are set. And… what’s next?

What is next? More emotions, for sure. Which emotions? That is yours to feel.


What’s Next After the Honeymoon Phase of Early Retirement?


The Honeymoon Phase of Early Retirement

(Source Joseph Coughlin, MIT AgeLab)


As seen above, I’m not making up the honeymoon phase of early retirement.

After the honeymoon phase, you have:

  • The Big Decision Phase
  • Navigating Longevity Phase
  • The Solo Journey Phase


What’s next after the honeymoon phase of early retirement?

The Big Decision Phase

The Big Decision Phase is about purpose and maintaining activities and interests that bring you joy. After the honeymoon people often have feelings of disenchantment and boredom.

That “Is this it?” phase kicks in after a few months. How am I going to spend the next 30-plus years?

This is important and the real issue: what are you afraid of?


Fear in Retirement

What are you afraid of in early retirement?

No, I’m not talking money now. You retired early; you got the money figured out.

But wait—is it about the money? Some people sublimate their non-financial retirement issues into financial ones, but that is a pretty easy solution. Either did or did not save enough for retirement. Financial problems spill over into spreadsheets and the fear becomes about money but really is about purpose.

Fear is likely a result of wondering if you have enough. Not enough money. Maybe enough joy? Happiness? Potential fulfillment? Enough retirement?

Is that boredom creeping in? No, worse. It is fear! Fear or some other negative emotion. You thought you were prepared, and you are, but when you get there, wait—where did this flood of emotions come from?

Here is the answer: pivot. If that doesn’t work: pivot. Keep trying. All you have is time!


Fear and the Honeymoon Phase of Early Retirement

An adjustment phase in early retirement is called the honeymoon phase. Retirement requires working through physical trash and emotional baggage.  You retire, and things go well for a while. Then they don’t. That’s life.

A sign marks the honeymoon phase: you feel the surge of unprocessed emotions returning to you. Is this all there is? Fear of change is the sign.

How do you adjust to life when it changes? You pivot! You adapt to new circumstances. Early retirement is a time of change. A massive change. Keep digging into what brought you moments of flow in earlier phases of life; keep bringing those back.

Don’t sublimate your fears into a spreadsheet and blame your financial situation when you are unhappy after the honeymoon phase of early retirement.

Luckily, I don’t like spreadsheets.

I felt fear during my honeymoon phase of early retirement. It is not about the money. It is about finding fulfillment in retirement.

The abundance mindset rather than the scarcity one, and you might find that you need fewer spreadsheets to keep track of your joy in retirement.

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