When you and your spouse retire and ride off into the proverbial sunset together, will you be riding in the same direction? For most American couples, the answer isn’t so certain. Why? Spouses aren’t talking about what direction they want to ride. In fact, a 2016 study from Hearts & Wallets found that just one third of couples in the U.S. talk about retirement plans.

What’s holding couples back from those retirement conversations? Some have assumptions that they’ll want the same things in retirement. Others have fears about money or health in the retirement years that they’d rather not address. And for some couples, one spouse is better at finances than the other, so the burden of planning is unbalanced. No matter the reason couples avoid the conversation, talking about retirement doesn’t have to be tough.

If you and your spouse were asked what you want to do when you retire, could you each give an answer?


    Do you want to retire at 62 or work until you’re 72? Does your spouse or partner feel the same way? Will you retire together or at separate times? The answers to these questions will have a major impact on your retirement planning, so it’s a good idea to have this discussion early.


    Children are asked all the time what they want to be when they grow up. Most have imagined this enough to give an answer. If you and your spouse were asked what you want to do when you retire, could you each give an answer? Would it be the same one? Are you on the same page? It’s important to define what a successful retirement looks like for both of you.

    This part of the conversation should remain general and reveal overarching themes — like traveling. Specifics like where you will go aren’t as important for your initial conversations. This is a discussion about how you’d like to fill your time (you will have a lot of it in retirement). Determining where you overlap and where you disagree is key.


    This is the point in the conversation when you and your spouse should connect your goals to your financial situation. Assess the things you want to do in retirement. What will that cost? How will you generate the income to cover the cost?

    By the time you both retire, you’ll likely have worked together to amass a fair amount of money. Do you agree on how you will use your savings to create a paycheck for yourself in retirement?

    This may require a financial reality check. Depending on how much you are able to save, you may or may not be able to do everything you want. In addition, some things that you might think would save you money in retirement might actually cost more. For example, many couples say they want to downsize in retirement and travel more. But downsizing to a condo with high-end finishes and vast amenities could cost more than retaining your current home.

    Making financial mistakes in retirement can be costly since you’re now supporting yourself with the money you have saved. For that reason, you and your spouse may want to consider working with a financial professional as a part of this retirement conversation.


    You and your spouse should talk through the risks that could pop up during your retirement years — longevity, market volatility, inflation and taxes, health care costs, long-term care and leaving a legacy — and how you’d address each of them.

    Creating a plan that corresponds to each risk allows you and your spouse to move on to plan other aspects of your retirement with confidence, less worry and less stress. You’ll be more likely to avoid disagreements over how to deal with a tough situation should one occur at a later time. Knowing you could tackle any uncertainty ahead can create a feeling of freedom as you approach retirement together.

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