While you may view retirement as a long-anticipated emancipation from the work world, it is also a period of considerable change and adjustment.
If you are married, some of the most profound changes will take place within the context of your relationship with your spouse. For some couples, the fact that they have been drifting apart for years could be masked or ignored because most of their time and attention is devoted to their careers or raising a family. For these couples, suddenly spending more time together may present a reality they aren’t prepared for. They may find that they no longer have as much in common as they did while they were dating and during the early years of their marriage.
There are 6 questions we think are important for couples to consider before making any retirement decisions. When do you plan to retire? How much money do you want to spend yearly in retirement? Where do you want to live in retirement? What activities do you want to pursue in retirement? How much time do you plan to spend together? What family obligations will you have?
Even happy, well-adjusted couples will find that many aspects of their relationship will undergo change and require adjustment. Not surprisingly, honest discussion and a willingness to compromise and explore new solutions will help you deal with most challenges. Here are ten suggestions that will help you and your spouse navigate the inevitable changes that will take place when you retire and enable you to better enjoy your remaining years together.
1. SHARE YOUR VISIONS OF WHAT RETIREMENT WILL BE LIKE.
Perhaps you are anticipating travel while your spouse is envisioning staying home and relaxing, gardening, or playing golf. You should talk about issues such as how much time you will spend visiting your children and grandchildren and whether you want to explore new interests or volunteer.
2. DISCUSS HOW MUCH TIME YOU WILL SPEND TOGETHER.
You will probably discover that there are some things you enjoy doing together and others you do not, and you should agree upon how much time you will allow each other to enjoy your individual pursuits. The fact that your spouse doesn’t want to spend all of his or her time with you doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t love you. It’s a rare couple that truly enjoys being together 24 hours a day.
3. TALK ABOUT HOW YOUR ROLES AND IDENTITIES WILL CHANGE.
This is especially relevant if you will no longer be the primary breadwinner, or you receive a great sense of fulfillment from your work. If one of you will retire before the other, each person will go through the emotional process of separation from work on a different timetable. The spouse who retires first will probably transition into the role of primary homemaker, and then the roles will change again when the second spouse retires.
4. RENEGOTIATE HOW YOU DIVIDE HOUSEHOLD CHORES.
This is particularly relevant if one spouse is a homemaker while the other is the sole worker. The worker may feel that he or she has earned a retirement that is free from any more work, without considering that the homemaker will effectively never retire. In cases where one spouse had a supervisory role at work, he or she could fall into the trap of trying to supervise the other spouse’s household work. That rarely ends well.
5. CREATE A NEW BUDGET AND MONITOR YOUR FINANCES TOGETHER.
In many couples, one spouse assumes the primary responsibility for managing the household finances. While you are enjoying regular income from your jobs, it’s easy to become accustomed to a high standard of living without much focus on spending. In anticipation of living on a more limited income, you should talk about how the amount of money you have available will change and how you will adjust your spending habits accordingly. When both spouses understand their financial situation and agree upon boundaries, conflicts over money can be reduced.
Even happy, well-adjusted couples will find that many aspects of their relationship will undergo change and require adjustment. Not surprisingly, honest discussion and a willingness to compromise and explore new solutions will help you deal with most challenges.
6. PURSUE SOME OF YOUR OWN INTERESTS AND MAINTAIN SOME SEPARATE FRIENDSHIPS.
One spouse shouldn’t assume that he or she will automatically be included in the social circles the other spouse has developed. Nor should either spouse feel like they have to spend less time with their friends in order to spend more time together. This can be a difficult adjustment in cases where a working spouse relies heavily on his or her co-workers for socialization during their working years.
7. ESTABLISH SEPARATE TERRITORIES IN YOUR HOME.
You and your spouse will probably find it helpful to have a place where each of you can retreat when you want to have time alone. This can be a challenge if you are planning to travel the country in a recreational vehicle or downsize to a smaller home.
8. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE AND PUT YOURSELF IN SOCIAL SITUATIONS.
Remaining in your house for extended periods of time can cause you to feel stir-crazy and can exacerbate the smallest annoyances into major conflicts. Often, a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air is all you need to avoid this problem. You are probably accustomed to having plenty of people to interact with at work, so after you retire you can find other people to connect with by taking classes, joining clubs, or volunteering.
9. TREAT YOURSELF TO DATE NIGHTS.
While you work, you and your spouse probably have limited amounts of time to spend together, especially if you have children. After you retire and you are around each other most of the time, being together will become commonplace. It’s easy to take your time together for granted. At least once a month, plan a night out to share an activity that you both enjoy.
10. EXPECT AN ADJUSTMENT PERIOD AFTER YOU RETIRE.
Even the most mindful, well-prepared people will go through a lot of emotional adjustments after leaving work. You will probably take a few weeks or months to decompress and get used to your new lifestyle. Your spouse’s transition will probably be different, especially if you retire at different times. It will help to communicate your feelings and allow each other sufficient time and latitude to adjust to being retired.
Retirement can be a stressful time when many aspects of your life change at once. With open communication and awareness of the changes that are taking place, you and your spouse can work together to create a lifestyle that you both enjoy and that meets both of your emotional needs. Your BWFA team has been working hard over the past five years to incorporate lifestyle into your plan and can often be a guide as we have seen what is working well with couples as well as for singles in retirement. We look at financials as only half of the equation and we try to explore these topics that are important to you in each of our financial planning reviews.
ROBERT G. CARPENTER
President & CEO