You Retire, But Your Spouse Still Works

When pondering retirement during our working careers, it’s common to assume that our spouse or life partner will decide to retire at the same time.  In reality, that is often not the case and for any number of reasons, you might consider retiring years before your spouse or partner.  And while it’s important to model the financial complications and crunch the numbers carefully, it’s also important to consider the emotional and interpersonal dynamics.  Here are some common issues to think about and discuss with the important people in your life before pulling the trigger on this life-changing event.

How will retiring affect your identity? If you are one of those people who derive a great deal of pride and sense of self from your profession, leaving that career for life around the house may feel odd.  Hopefully, your spouse recognizes that you will experience some adjustments and soul-searching, even enough to affect a relationship.

How much down time do you want?  If you absolutely hate your job, you may want weeks, months, or years of relaxation after leaving it. You can figure out what to do next in good time. Conversely, you may be energized to immediately start the next chapter in your life.  It may be important to discuss whether you prefer an active, ambitious retirement or a more relaxed one.

How will household chores or caregiving be handled? Picture your partner arising at 6:30 am on a January morning, bundling up, heading for work and navigating inclement weather, all as you sleep in. He or she may grow a bit annoyed with your new found retirement freedom and one way to restore domestic bliss is to assume more of the everyday chores around the house.

For many baby boomers, caregiving is also a daily event. When one spouse or partner retires, that can rebalance the caregiving “equation.” Where eldercare is needed, retirement can make shared percentages more equitable. Some people even retire to become a caregiver to Mom or Dad.

You may find yourself on different timetables. Maybe your spouse or partner works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in a high-stress job. Maybe your children attend school on roughly the same schedule and your family has endured the rush-hour commute or the joys of mass transit.  If you have lost the work related stress in your life, you may have an enthusiasm and a chattiness that may not be appreciated. Maybe they just want to unwind at 6:30 pm, but you might be anxious to reconnect with them after a day alone at home.

So talk about retirement before you retire. What will your daily life look like? What are the most important things you want out of the retirement experience? How do your answers to those questions align or contrast with the answers of your best friend? As you retire, make sure that your spouse or partner knows your point of view, and be sure to respect his or hers in the bargain.

Winfred G. Jacob, CFP®
Senior Financial Advisor


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