After years of long work hours, responsibilities at home with the kids and busy schedules, retirement can be a great time to reconnect with a spouse — so long as they’re aware of each other’s goals for this next chapter.
Retirement Tip of the Week: Before you even think about leaving the workforce, talk to your husband or wife about your ideas for the future, and ask to hear about theirs. Get on the same page, even if you have different desires.
Couples might want the same exact things when they retire, such as lounging on a beach, moving closer to the grandkids or driving cross-country for the summer. They also might not — one spouse may want to live in another country, while the other wants to start a small business pursuing a lifelong passion.
Having different ideas about retirement isn’t inherently bad. What would be better, however, is talking about these goals, finding compromises where necessary and helping each other meet their needs.
“When our actions are out of alignment with our values, there could be a sense of loss,” said Michelle Buonincontri, a financial coach at New Direction Financial Strategies. “Retirement is no different.”
Avoiding this type of planning can be detrimental to relationships. The number of people who divorce in their 50s and later has grown substantially in recent decades, partially because people are living longer and want to have a robust life. Nurturing a marriage is always vital, no matter what age, but neglecting one in the midst of other life transitions can become a disaster. Divorces take an emotional, but also a financial, toll.
This discussion, or series of discussions, should start years before retirement, especially if it involves a big move or an expensive purchase. It also doesn’t have to be stressful or boring.
Sit down with a favorite beverage and a computer to pull up some ideas, like a month-long cruise or a new neighborhood to consider home. Or take a week off and pretend to be retired, mimicking what you anticipate the day-to-day to be. Fritz Gilbert and his wife, Jackie, created an “activity jar,” where they each contributed what they’d like to do in the foreseeable future. For example, a trip to the museum or a day of volunteering. Gilbert, who blogs at “The Retirement Manifesto,” and his wife became financially independent at the age of 55.
Communication, as in most instances, will be key. Couples may also consider bringing in a third-party professional to assist in the planning, such as a financial adviser, who can talk to the financial aspects of these goals and life plans and help find compromises in some cases.
Sparking these discussions, even if only one spouse has set goals in mind, can build a structure for the next phases of your life together.
The conversations can be moments of reflection, Buonincontri said. Ask open-ended questions, listen carefully to the other person, build on what they said, be mindful of body language and eye contact and let them feel heard, she said. “The hardest is being comfortable with silence,” she said. “If the other person doesn’t answer right away, it’s OK. We want to jump in and add, but that can interrupt the other person’s thought process.”
Not sure where to start? Here are a few questions to start the conversations, courtesy of Principal Financial.
- When do you want to retire?
- How should we spend our money in retirement?
- How and what to do you want to do with family and friends? Should we get involved in our community?
- Should either of us work part time?
- Will we support anyone else in retirement?
Another task? Think carefully about what type of retiree you’ll be. There are six types, according to Nancy Schlossberg, an author and former counseling professor: the adventurer, the continuer, the easy glider, the involved spectator, the searcher and the retreater. Each approaches retirement differently, and knowing which you and your spouse are can help navigate the planning process.
Above all, when making these plans, be prepared for the unexpected and remain considerate. “Be sensitive to the outcome you may not expect,” Buonincontri said. “Come with no expectations and be open with what unfolds.”