That’s the standard advice financial planners give when counseling a recently widowed or divorced client. And, in fact, the same would hold true for people who just retired, battled a major illness, or underwent other significant life events.
It takes time to adapt to new circumstances and re-define your life and lifestyle, when the road you are on suddenly heads off in a new and unfamiliar direction.
And since many events like widowhood, divorce, illness or job loss have serious financial components, we urge clients to take time to understand and evaluate their situation before embarking on major changes.
We always worry that hasty or spontaneous decisions after a significant event – decisions like selling a home, moving to a new town, splurging on an expensive purchase, or rebounding into a new relationship – might turn out to be unsound.
It turns out that there’s some psychological validity to the old “6 month” rule of thumb, and if anything, that sixth-month period may not be long enough.
Elizabeth Bernstein, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says psychology experts believe “most people should give themselves a good two years to recover from an emotional trauma such as a breakup or the loss of a job. Getting over the death of a loved one is more complicated and typically will take even longer than two years.”
The adjustment process is more complex than it looks, says Bernstein.
“There is the recovery from grief. And there is the even more time-consuming process of rebuilding the structure of your life.”
We’ve seen first-hand how difficult this process can be for some retirees, who were so involved with their work that retirement meant losing a large piece of their identity. They no longer knew who they were or what they could do all day to give their life meaning.
We’ve observed how a job loss can prompt clients to question their ability to take care of their family, and a real estate foreclosure can shatter one’s sense of self-worth.
And of course, widowhood and divorce can lead to alienation from an old circle of friends, and sometimes a harsh readjustment of finances and social standing.
It takes time to map out a new strategy and carve out a new life.
So if you find yourself navigating through a sea of change, consider these guidelines:
- Give yourself time to adjust and find a new path.
- Slow down the decision-making process and think things through.
- Take baby steps and congratulate yourself on incremental progress.
- Ask yourself what you want out of your life.
- Seek advice and support – financial, emotional, medical, legal – when needed.
- Focus on the new phase of your life that’s starting, not the one that’s ending.