Should couples plan for retirement together?

“For better or worse, in sickness and in health till death do we part”. These are the words that married couples recite when they enter the union of marriage. Typically many years later after going through all the ups and downs in life, couples will face many crossroads together. One of those crossroads is retirement.

Retirement is often thought of as an individual decision. Sometimes you do not have full control over the decision to retire. Sometimes that decision results from downsizing by your employer. Other times it might be due to health. Whatever the case may be, if you are married, it is important to communicate effectively with your spouse. This does not necessarily mean that you should or should not retire together. That is a different issue in itself. However, studies have shown that communication between spouses makes for better decisions and a higher likelihood of contentment.

The reality is that ideas on retirement are very individual. It also does not mean that if spouses have very different wants for retirement that they can’t make decisions together. Retirement is simply another decision in life, which will require a series of ongoing discussions, decisions and sometimes compromises.

Bill retires before Margaret

What happens if one spouse retires while the other continues to work? It’s hard to say but in the case of Bill and Margaret, Margaret began to resent Bill who retired before she did. Resentment built because Bill’s idea of retirement was more about golfing and hanging out with the guys at the golf club. Meanwhile the duties around the house were neglected. For Margaret, she thought that if she were busy working, it would be nice to come home after a hard day work and have the house tidy and dinner prepared. After all the years before, when Bill worked and she stayed at home to take care of the kids, she was expected to maintain the house. Now in a so-called world of equality, Bill should have some time to take care of at least a few chores.

Bill never envisioned a retirement of household chores. He worked hard his entire life and deserved to live out some of his retirement dreams. Who is right and who is wrong? Neither, they are simply different opinions. The issue here is simply one of communication and perception.

Jerry retires after Penny

In another case, after Jerry retired, he drove his wife Penny insane for the first 6 months. You see, Penny only worked part time most of her life and she retired a couple of years before Jerry. When Jerry retired he tried to show Penny how to re-organize the house. In the first few months of retirement Jerry was not sure what to do with his time so he spent his time re-organizing the house differently from the way Penny liked it. For Jerry, he was sincerely trying to improve things. However, for Penny, she felt Jerry was implying that she did everything wrong and yet her way worked long before Jerry retired. Penny liked things the way they were.

A couple retires together

Retiring together seemed like the right idea. Rick and Cynthia were married for 35 years and lived a very happy life together. However, when they retired together at the same time, they started to get into fights about what they should do. Rick felt that retirement was about living a better life. He had worked so hard to save money for the golden years that he wanted to travel more and travel without having to worry about money. Cynthia was much more conservative and did not think retirement would be any different than life prior to retirement. Cynthia’s big fear was spending money too fast and being foolish with the assets they had accumulated. If you think about it, they lived successfully being apart for 8 hours a day and 5 days a week and now they were expected to smoothly transition into spending every moment together.

Communication is the key

Married couples must be aware that each spouse’s retirement represents an important life event for each individual. However, this individual decision also has significant bearing on a couple and the marriage. Retirement typically requires adjustment and compromise on the part of both spouses.

We’ve looked at three different couples with unique situations and the reality is there is no right or wrong in any of these circumstances. The point is that couples need to do some planning together to make sure everyone has a happy retirement. Communication is the key to this type of planning. It is very important that each spouse simply knows and understands how the other spouse thinks and what their perception of retirement is. The fact is there will likely be many differences and many similarities. After all aren’t men from Mars and Women from Venus?

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