There’s nothing worse than waking for your job while the rest of the house is sleeping. When one spouse retires while the other keeps working, this is an everyday reality.

Staggered retirements can lead to a variety of challenges, both financial and emotional, says Angela DiCastri, a director for the Retirement Market at Northwestern Mutual.

“After years of waking to the same alarm clock and racing off to their respective jobs, many couples find themselves having to adjust to a sometimes significant shift in their domestic lives,” said DiCastri.

“For some, one spouse chooses or is forced to continue working, either for financial reasons or to maintain health benefits. For others, one spouse has to retire earlier than planned either because of a layoff or illness. Either way, resentments can start to build, especially when the working spouse also would like to stop working but feels he or she can’t.”

How do you cope when you and your partner retire at different times? Here are five strategies.

One of the most important discussions is the retirement schedule itself.


    A lot of people are surprised to discover that their ideas about retirement don’t always match with their partner’s. For some, retirement is a long-awaited time for new adventures or discovering a new purpose. For others, it means relaxing on the golf course, at the computer or in a hammock. It’s crucial for both spouses to discuss their goals in advance, especially when one partner gets a head-start.


    DiCastri believes that one of the most important discussions is the retirement schedule itself. This means talking about which spouse should retire first and how that loss of income and/or health care and other benefits will impact your lives. However, keep in mind that this is often mixed with other issues. For example, your spouse may want to retire early, sell the family home and relocate to a less expensive area. In contrast, you may want to work longer to boost your savings in order to remain geographically close to your family. Get clear on what is driving the decision to retire.


    By living on one paycheck instead of two, you can get a clearer sense of your spending and what you can and can’t live without. At the same time, having one income still coming in can help you preserve your nest egg for a while longer. This can make it easier financially when it comes time to transition to joint retirement.


    Many couples are unprepared for the conflicts that arise when daily routines shift. Most men who retire before their spouse don’t envision spending their days on household chores and shopping. Tensions can rise when the still-working spouse comes home to a messy home and an empty fridge.

    “Clarifying your respective roles and establishing ground rules for how time will be spent can help you avoid conflict,” said DiCastri. “If your partner didn’t help with household duties before retirement, ease into sharing those tasks. Start with the things you dislike most, and take it from there.”


    A couple’s time together can dwindle when one spouse is no longer beholden to a schedule. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it. It’s an important opportunity to connect, and can also help avoid disrupting sleep patterns.

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