The following is adapted from the book, Keen on Retirement – Engineering the Second Half of Your Life.
Many couples are unprepared for how retirement impacts a marriage. Even if you’ve been happily married for decades, most likely neither spouse has ever been married and retired before, so it’s a new experience. Over time, you learned how to respond to job loss, market corrections, health problems, family troubles, and professional challenges. Now, you and your spouse will be dealing with many of those same challenges, while also learning how to spend the majority of your days together.
It’s a real shame when two people spend most of their lives working, planning, saving, investing, and dreaming … and then their relationship falls apart just as the golden years begin. I’ve seen it happen many times during my career, and “gray divorce” is more common today than ever.
Here are three questions you and your spouse should ask each other to make sure your marriage is ready for retirement.
What are we retiring to?
At Keen Wealth, we like to check in with our clients after retirement to make sure they are adjusting well. Often, we’ll find that the spouse who worked full-time is having trouble. The other spouse might say, “Well, we’re trying to get them out of the house to do some things, but they haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
The tension is usually palpable at this point, because both spouses are locked up in the house together. They might not be angry at each other, but they are struggling to deal with the constant close quarters. They’re used to one or both of them going off to work every weekday. With the work routine gone, they’re trying to figure out how to fill the time.
All successful life transitions require communication. If you sense tension creeping into your marriage, it’s possible that you and your spouse need to think about retirement not as an end, but as a beginning. Instead of focusing on your retirement FROM work, talk to each other about what you want to retire TO. These conversations can be energizing, because it gives spouses an opportunity to begin envisioning a happy future. Maybe they decide to join the local YMCA, or the community center, or a club. Maybe they decide simply to get outside and take regular walks. Working on being healthy and happy together can be a powerful bonding experience, and it’s something many married couples just don’t have time to work on before retirement.
What will we do separately and where can we meet in the middle?
The happiest retired couples find a way to balance spending a lot of time together with regular time apart. This allows each person to have their own interests.
It’s important to discuss how this dynamic will work for your marriage. Spending three days a week going your separate ways during the day is a good place to start. Each spouse can pursue their individual interests on those days, whether it’s a hobby, volunteer work, sports, or in some cases, a part-time job. Make it a routine, so you can get into the rhythm of your new life.
Your time together will be a balance between doing the things you both love and finding ways to meet in the middle. For example, we recently helped a client couple compromise on the husband’s love of golf and the wife’s desire to travel. As part of their retirement plan, they joined a golf club and the wife took golfing lessons. The husband then agreed to travel with her all over the world, as long as they could play a little golf in some of the cool places they visited. As it turned out, this compromise proved to be a vital part of their retirement, and they are thriving. Because they were willing to communicate and respect each other’s interests, they were able to create a healthy dynamic that allowed both of them to pursue their passions.
Are our financial attitudes in sync?
Some couples don’t realize how out of sync they are on money matters until they retire. Moving from a regular paycheck to living off your savings and investments can be a real shock. Many retirees find themselves making a monthly budget for the first time to help them stay within their planned annual withdrawal amount.
This change can lead to some major disagreements on financial matters. Travel, living arrangements, and even the weekly grocery list can become contentious if both spouses aren’t on the same page about their retirement spending plan.
Money creates more confusion, stress, and disagreement than just about anything else in a marriage, so we always recommend both spouses attend every meeting with their financial advisor. With both spouses present, we can see where each one is coming from, what their individual histories are, what drives and inspires them, and how they each see their lives going forward.
When we have these discussions with clients who are close to retirement, we’re also figuring out what they are going to live on each month, where that money will come from, and what each spouse’s investment risk tolerance is. By having both spouses at the meeting with the financial advisor, they can both hear from the professional what needs to happen to make their financial plan work. That’s much more effective than one spouse coming home and trying to explain it all to the other spouse.
This process takes more than a single thirty-minute meeting and a pie chart. It requires rolling up the sleeves and having some in-depth conversations, ideally with your financial advisor present. How important is this? In my experience, it can make or break a marriage.
When you truly prepare for your retirement, it can be the most beautiful and moving phase of your life. It’s worth all of the hard work.
For more advice on tending to your marriage in retirement, you can find my book Keen on Retirement – Engineering the Second Half of Your Life on Amazon.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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