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Till Death Do Us Part: Will Your Marriage Survive Retirement?

Insights & Ideas Team •  July 6, 2015 | Enjoying Retirement

It’s been said that the first few years of retirement are a lot like the first few years of marriage: It can be a bumpy ride until you adjust to your new life together.

The reason?

For better or worse, retirement imposes major changes on a marriage, and that change is often stressful. It can be a big adjustment when you shift from spending most of the day apart to spending most of it together. Yet this often challenging stage of life may ultimately be the best years of your marriage if you take time now to understand each other’s goals, needs and expectations.

Here are five suggestions for planning a retirement as a couple.

1. Create a shared vision. Communication is essential to marriage, whatever the stage, but it is especially important when it comes to retirement. One of you may envision retiring at 60, while the other is happy to work forever; you may envision life in a condo overlooking the ocean, while your spouse wants to sell all your belongings and travel the world. Now is the time to share your hopes and dreams.

If you’re used to “going with the flow” to keep the peace, it’s not too late to change that. By talking openly about your hopes and dreams for retirement, couples can avoid future conflicts and disappointments and instead create a mutually satisfying and fulfilling retirement experience.

2. Get on the same financial page. Whatever goals you and your partner decide on for retirement, make sure your budget reflects the spending necessary to support them. Even if one partner handles your savings and investments, make sure both of you know exactly how much you can afford in retirement. If your budget isn’t as big as your dreams, talk about what you can compromise on to match your resources. For example, rather than buying a second home in a sunny climate, think about renting there for a month or two in the winter.

3. Manage expectations. Daily routines can be upended as you transition from work to retirement. Understanding what each of you expects and setting ground rules you can both live with can go a long way toward warding off friction and hurt feelings. One common point of contention? Household chores. Discussing the division of labor with regard to these and other responsibilities can help you avoid stepping on each other’s toes or arguing about the best way to load the dishwasher.

4. Talk about togetherness. Being married and retired requires a new sense of balance. Each of you wants to spend time together and each of you needs time apart without feeling guilty. Agree on how much time you want to dedicate to togetherness and how much alone time you prefer, and then respect those boundaries. Some couples find that establishing separate spaces in the house can make it easier to get the alone time both of you need.

5. Stay connected to the outside world. Whether you pursue interests and hobbies together or separately, it’s important to get out and explore. Take classes, join clubs, volunteer or become involved in your community—each of these can keep your mind sharp and engaged. Consider trying a new activity, like hiking or bridge, and learn it together. Don’t forget to make time for friends. Along with providing space, individual friendships are vital to maintaining your own sense of identity; they also give you news and other stories to share with your spouse over dinner.

Retirement changes the dynamics of couples much the same way the birth of a first child did. Take time to adjust to this new stage of life, and be patient with your loved one as he or she explores what it means to be retired.

Keep in mind that lots of married couples struggle to find their equilibrium right after retirement. The key is to make this stage as short as possible by facing the issues early on so that you can enjoy your happily ever after together.

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