Negotiating Retirement as a Couple

As I collect stories and experiences about retirement, I hear rather intimate details of the lives of couples as they head into retirement.  Many of these tales have to do with the minefield of shared decisions from the timing of retirement to relocation plans to separate sets of ideas for the new lifestyle together.

“I did not retire to be a househusband!”

Men tend to be older and are more likely to retire sooner than their wives.  This can mean evolving roles as the still working wife is expecting some relief in the shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and social planning category if she has not had that all along.  Not every guy has this as a part of his retirement vision.  Thus, the chore wars begin or negotiations get underway.

“Retire or else!”

This ultimatum comes when one spouse has retired and the other does not wish to do so.  I have heard this from husbands with wives who are at their career peaks and are quite happy to carry on with work.  I have heard this from wives who are fed up with the farm, the family business, or the professional who will not leave whatever his calling has been.  One wife bought my book for her lawyer husband’s  seventy-fifth birthday and gave him the choice of retirement or divorce!  Farm and business transitions take time and planning on the part of all partners.

Communication is key

Starting the planning process early, listening to each partners’ views and visions of retirement, and appreciating the other  person’s position goes a long way to alleviate some of these more extreme situations. Talk about the fears as well as the fantasies. Gray divorce is a sad reality as couples cannot negotiate this transition on the same page.  Money is one of the friction points as incomes tend to fall in retirement, couples spend more time together, and have more time to shop, travel, renovate, and make their retirement dreams come true. According to the latest Zoomer magazine, Canadians over 65 are racking up debt at three times the average rate!  Twice the spouse on half the money can be trouble.

Retirement coaches are getting busier with the Boomers heading their way.  Counselors are seeing retirees for both identity issues like who am I now, and for relationship problems. They can mediate to a point, educate to a point, and work on communication skills.  Many of these conflicts can be avoided with pre-planning.  Statistics point out that only about 35% of couples discuss their visions for retirement prior to actually retiring.  Cards need to go on the table earlier so that discussions and negotiations have the time to happen in a relaxed atmosphere.

Splitting assets does no good for anyone’s bottom line in retirement.  Starting the discussions early, in a calm and respectful manner, with as much flexibility as possible  can mean lots of minefields are side stepped.  Ground rules shift, schedules change, options open up, and recalibration happens. Diverging dreams can be accounted for if the couple sees them coming.

Do what you can to make that shift into retirement as smooth as possible.

Do you have any other experiences about negotiating retirement as a couple?

Written by Donna McCaw

Donna McCaw is the author of It’s Your Time about the choices and decisions in preparing for retirement, a storyteller and speaker who helps people make informed and positive transitions to retirement. She does courses and presentations on Retirement Readiness and Women and Retirement.

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