Retirement is definitely a major life transition and can create challenges to strong relationships. After years of happiness, sometimes one or both spouses can find themselves feeling alienated from the new situation or otherwise frustrated by the change.
We often consider the financial implications when approaching retirement, but can overlook how our marriage or relationship might be affected when the time comes to retire. It is difficult to anticipate what changes might take place with how we will spend our time. We typically struggle to anticipate what types of hobbies, activities or new endeavors might be taken up once the day comes to close the door on one big chapter of life.
As always, we recommend planning ahead for the impact your retirement may have on your relationships and advise our clients to be proactive about certain considerations that might have an impact on your relationship or your spouse’s happiness and well-being. Research has shown that fostering conversations about retirement is a powerful tool to help people visualize a satisfying and fulfilling retirement lifestyle. It will be much easier to establish a plan of action when both spouses have shared a clear picture of their retirement vision.
Unfortunately, there are many situations where a couple hasn’t had productive conversations about retirement which can lead to conflict. The two most common factors that contribute to added marital strain post-retirement are how the timing of retirement is closely intertwined with personal identity and individual roles within the relationship, and situations where the spouses have different goals for retirement.
Timing of Retirement and Personal Identity
Married couples who have built a plan to retire simultaneously generally experience less stress and disagreement in retirement. A dual retirement may reflect open lines of communication that helped the couple effectively prepare for retirement both financially and emotionally. In some cases, however, it is not possible for the couple to retire at the same time which can lead to strain on the relationship.
The spouses may have worked together and developed a plan to retire at different times for a financial benefit. For example, having one spouse stay in the workforce can provide increased financial flexibility with ongoing cash flow and health benefits. There can also be a personal life benefit to allowing one spouse to establish their retirement identity with open lines of communication. One spouse may envision a lifestyle that includes lots of travel, while the other spouse is not interested in traveling, so they work together so one spouse can retire early and plan adventure travel with friends while establishing their identity in retirement.
On the other hand, different timing for retirement can cause marital strife when personal identity doesn’t align with individual roles in the couple’s relationship. Some people may feel jealousy for a spouse that continues to have a vibrant work life, while others may resent a spouse who is living a perceived life of leisure. In addition, failure to have clarity on household responsibilities can create conflict without a shared understanding of how daily tasks such as cooking and cleaning may change or stay the same. A more successful approach in these situations is for the couple to maintain open lines of communication and help each other phase into new roles.
A final concept to understand as a couple prepares for retirement is how each person will respond to a new environment. One person may have experienced a very connected work life with frequent attendance at individual or group networking events. That person may struggle to adjust when they no longer have a schedule filled with breakfast, coffee, and lunch meetings. Or a person who had a professional leadership role could struggle when they are no longer in a position to give orders, or need to adjust to taking orders at home from their significant other. All of these adjustments are perfectly reasonable and much easier to accommodate when both spouses are aware of how individual identities are affected by retirement.
Different Retirement Goals
Visualization can be a key factor for couples to achieve their life goals before and after retirement. It is never too early to start building and sharing your vision of retirement because it would foster a proactive planning approach. Conflict is created when the spouses have different visions of what life in retirement will be like with distinctly different views about where they will live, what activities or organizations they plan to be involved with, and whether or not travel will be a significant feature of their lives.
It is critical to emotionally and financially prepare for retirement. Success in retirement starts early and is easier with open lines of communication between spouses. As noted in this article about how couples fare in retirement, we recommend a triple dose of talk, talk, and more talk. The conversations need to clearly confront the issues about timing of retirement for each spouse and preferred lifestyle. Each partner should be prepared to embrace compromise to build a strong foundation for their life in retirement, particularly in the modern era where couples are spending 20+ years together.
At Flourish Wealth Management, we use a tool (see the button below the blog post to launch the tool) that helps foster open conversations between spouses to build a shared vision of retirement. The tool incorporates financial and emotional concepts to build a blended approach for retirement preparation. In some cases, one spouse may have devoted a significant amount of time thinking about their retirement lifestyle while the other has not effectively built a vision of that life stage. Although conversations about financial issues in retirement can lead to marital strife in the heat of the moment, establishing a safe environment for these conversations with a shared vocabulary can be extremely productive.
Although many people may not initially think a financial advisor would play a significant role in supporting couples to have a productive conversation about their life together in retirement, facilitating these types of conversations is what many advisors do all of the time for clients. Financial planning should foster a lot of discussions about life goals to establish a long-term plan that embraces both spouses. The financial advisor can serve an important role as an objective third-party who can help both spouses discover goals and build a vision for retirement that will motivate them to work together.