Surviving and Thriving through Retirement

Medina Baumgart talks about transitioning into retirement as a law enforcement officer and spouse.


For years, my hubby and I thought and talked about what it would be like when we finally crossed the finish line into retirement. In fact, I had a countdown app on my phone that I started long ago that would tell me when the date would be when he would be eligible for retirement. We leaned on that a lot when we were tired, frustrated, or irritated about the job. I see posts of people saying, six more years, five more years, 12 more years.  I also have couples that tell me in session about how much time they have left in the field. While we all look forward to that day of retirement, knowing that our officer or you are home safe.  There is a transition into the civilian world. Things you may know and think about and things you may just not or don’t. For the most part, most of us are not going to deal with post-traumatic stress injuries or suicidal ideation, but there is a transition for both officer and spouse.

“I absolutely, completely underestimated my adjustment to his retirement.”

Today I talk with psychologist, department doc, and spouse of a retired officer, Medina Baumgart about transitioning into retirement from a professional and a personal perspective. We talk about what retirement is like for both officers and spouses, how spouses can help with the transition, and how you can make sure as a couple that you are surviving and thriving through retirement.

“Everything’s going to be so much better when you retire.”

Toward the end of an officer’s career, phrases like “Everything’s going to be better after retirement” or “It’s going to be a huge relief” are often thought about and said among couples.  The initial stages of retirement can feel like a vacation or time for decompression for both officers and spouses. Then you get settled and realize there is more to retirement than feeling “normal” or having “freedom.” There is an absence of anything.  Officers are used to being directed, told what to do, and moments of high adrenaline.  All that is gone and it can be confusing and unsettling for the brain to have that void.

Spouses, routine, and retirement from law enforcement

Over time, spouses are used to being alone and develop routines when they are alone.  Heck, I started a business and did a lot of self-care-related activities when my husband was at work.   I might have watched a little trash TV or a few sci-fi movies when he wasn’t around.  That changed because he is home when I am home.  I love that he is home AND I sometimes miss my alone time.  At first, retirement may focus on how we have missed being together.   There can also be moments of grief of the time you had alone without each other and the rituals and routines that once provided comfort that now go away because they are no longer necessary.

Role Reversal

During retirement, there can be a bit of a role reversal that happens between the officer and spouse. What used to be the spouse or family’s role to make space for the officer getting off work and coming down from stress or hypervigilance, is now making space for the spouse to decompress if they are continuing to work. Other roles that may be reversed are helping with the kids or family, meal prep, errands, and even emotional interaction.  Depending on your personal situation, you may see these changes and need to talk about who wants to take on different roles.  For example, my husband and I really like grocery shopping together.  While he could go during the week, we choose to go together.  This reversal is going to be an adjustment for both and needs to be discussed.

Feeling Helpless

There can be a feeling of helplessness among spouses when their officer retires. Watching them struggle to find their identity, new routine, and life can be hard. Pushing to help can ultimately cause conflict. Remember, officers have been trained for years to be in control of a situation and they do not like being told what to do.  The easiest thing to do is take a step back and recognize that maybe they are just looking for normalcy and to validate that feeling. Retirement is uncharted territory and officers have to figure out their sense of humanness and the feelings associated with it. The grief process takes time and part of that process is the support and understanding from the spouse.

Adjustments as an Officer in Retirement 


Towards the end of the career, self-reflection may take place, and bottled-up, compartmentalized emotions may start to bubble over. You may start to grieve over different aspects of your identity that you are losing. There are multiple layers; loss of the job, camaraderie, or even power based on your rank. The combination of emotions can make you feel lost and question yourself about what you can do. It can feel lonely trying to find purpose.


Law Enforcement culture reinforces a singular identity and mindset. Towards the end of the career, there can be more vulnerable emotions that arise. Emotions that aren’t connected to critical incidents but are connected with the transition of finding another identity. “I gave this agency, these people my life and they handed me a receipt.” No one prepares you to sign on the dotted line and become a “civilian.”

The job only trains you to have a certain mindset to do things that you have to do on duty to stay safe. There isn’t training teaching recovery from the impact of the career or how to become human again. This is a normal component that no one prepares you for however there are ways to combat the impact of retirement as officers and spouses.

How to combat the impact of retirement as a spouse

Try using the same strategies that were in place when your officer was on the job to combat hypervigilance! For example, instead of coming home from work and saying, “Please leave me the hell alone” say “I need 10 minutes.”  This is a relationship tactical disengagement. It gives the spouse the time to recognize they are coming home with “some stuff” and just need time to settle down before they can actually reengage and be present.

Help your officer find purpose and adjust to this lifestyle. They are getting used to a new role the same way that spouses get used to being law enforcement spouses.

Recognize that everyone’s retirement journey will be different.

How to combat the impact of retirement as an officer

Come up with a new routine! This could look like a whiteboard in the laundry room with tasks that need to be completed. This will reinforce the mindset that you are still useful without a uniform!

Find purpose through exploring hobbies and activities that have taken a backseat to the career.

Understand that the transition through retirement will be different for everyone. Find what works for you and develop habits and rituals to support your life as a civilian.

As a couple, learn to adapt to each other and understand that as your relationship grows and matures through retirement, there can be role reversal and finding new identities. The goal is to make each other better humans at different points in your lives.

Medina Baumgart, is an in-house doc at a large metropolitan law enforcement agency, a licensed psychologist in California and a board certified specialist in police and public safety psychology. She is also married to a veteran officer of 21 years.

If you want to get in contact with Medina, the easiest way is to email her at, [email protected]

LinkedIn: Medina Baumgart

Instagram: @bluelinebehavorialhealth 


Surviving and Thriving through Retirement

Medina Baumgart talks about transitioning into retirement as a law enforcement officer and spouse.