How Couples Can Survive (and Thrive) the Emotional Transition to Retirement

emotional transition

If you’re married or in a committed long-term relationship, you can’t treat financial planning like one of the chores that couples divvy up between themselves. As you get closer to retirement, it’s going to become more and more important that both people understand their spending and withdrawal plan, the diversification and rebalancing strategies that will help their investments cope with market volatility, and how their taxes and health care are going to change.

But just as important as these nuts and bolts issues is a couple’s emotional transition to retirement.

Many newly retired couples find themselves spending more of their days together than they have in decades. With the kids out of the house and the old workday routines gone, retired couples need to find new ways to fill their time and fulfill themselves emotionally.

Like most important issues that arise in a relationship, solving for a successful transition into retirement depends on quality communication. With that in mind, here are some questions you and your spouse can ask each other to open up a dialogue that will help you ease into your golden years:

What are we retiring TO?

Your parents and grandparents retired FROM their jobs. Today’s successful retirees have adopted a new mentality: retiring TO activities that keep them active, engaged with other people and fulfilled, both separately and together.

In other words, you need a plan! Couples who don’t figure out how they’re going to spend their days often end up puttering around the house and driving each other crazy. Ending your old 9-to-5 work routine can be disconcerting, but the best way to get over that hump is to make a new routine that lets you live your passions. This is the time to turn that interest or hobby you always kept on the backburner into a real skill, or even a new money making opportunity. This is the time to try new things, visit new places, make new friends. A couple’s emotional transition to retirement will be a lot easier if both people stop thinking about retirement as an end, and start thinking about it as a chance to start something new.

What are our expectations for life in retirement?

You plan to spend your retirement years tending the garden in the backyard and playing golf twice a week.

Your spouse plans to see the world, visit the grandkids more regularly, maybe even move to a retirement community out of state.

Neither of you realize how out of sync your retirement visions are until one day you’re planting vegetable seeds to harvest in the fall, and you hear your spouse on the phone with a travel agent planning a six-month European tour and researching condos in Florida.

I’ve worked with many couples over the years who just assumed that they were on the same page about what life would be like in retirement … until I asked them!

And while your fiduciary advisor can be a good resource to help these conversations along, a couple’s emotional transition to retirement is going to be a lot easier if this dialog starts at home. What do each of you want in retirement? Where do you see yourselves living? What will each of you be doing? If your individual expectations are further apart than you realized, where is that middle ground where you can live harmoniously?

What does work mean to us?

For most people, retirement used to mean, “I don’t have to work anymore.” Today, more and more seniors are either delaying retirement past the traditional age 65 or working part-time after they do retire. Some of these seniors have to keep working for financial reasons. Many of them continue working not because they need the money, but because they find value and meaning in what they’re doing.

Do you and your spouse plan to delay retirement, or continue working in retirement? Do you really need to keep working, or are you so worried about running out of money that you’re stuck in “savings mode”?

If you don’t need to keep working, why do you want to? What does work mean to you and your spouse? If you can afford to stop working, can you pursue that same sense of meaning in ways that might be more fulfilling, like a volunteer position at a cause you value? Or starting your own small business so you can work when you want, how you want?

Are we putting off a real conversation about retirement?

A study by Age Wave – a company that looks at how an aging population affects society – found that most people beginning to contemplate retirement do not believe they are on track. This feeling of unpreparedness can create anxiety, depression, and conflict for couples who dance around having an open, honest discussion about what each person wants from the next phase of their lives.

So if you need a nudge, let me give you one: Forward this article to your partner right now. Include a note offering to talk once you’ve both had a chance to read and digest these important questions. And after you’ve had this conversation, make an appointment to share your vision with your fiduciary advisor. Your emotional transition to retirement will be much less stressful if you have a financial plan in place that’s strategically based on your flexible but well-laid plans for retirement, helping to maximize your quality of life.

Bill Keen: Your fiduciary advisor can help you and your partner discuss the emotional transition to retirement.

About Bill

Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 24 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

Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  

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