Retirement Can Be Wonderful, But Also Stressful On a Relationship

Ah, retirement. For many of us, it’s been a dream for many years. Get out of the rat race. Stop commuting. No more office politics. You will finally find your Shangri-la.

What does your dream include? There are so many fun and exciting possibilities: lots of travel, more time with the grandkids, endless rounds of golf, endless rounds of margaritas, sleeping in every day, volunteering, taking classes, and reading all those books for which you just haven’t had time.  

Hopefully, retirement will be what you want and expect, but there may be a lot of ‘work’ for you to do to get there, especially if one spouse is retiring before the other.

While some people look at retirement as the ultimate goal, others may view it with dread. Either way, it often comes with some increased level of anxiety. For most people in or nearing retirement, the biggest fears revolve around money, mainly, “do I have enough of it?” But don’t underestimate the importance of other concerns. For example, do you know what you want to do with your time? Have you considered how retirement will affect your relationship with a spouse? The changes can be more stressful than you anticipate, so it’s important to do some psychological preparation along with financial planning.

Is Your Vision of Retirement Compatible?

For a married couple, retirement will impact both of you, sometimes in unpredictable ways. To navigate it successfully, experts say you need a game plan. Do you have a vision of what retirement should look like? Does your spouse have a similar vision? Many people are surprised to find out that their concept of a fun and fulfilling retirement is not the same as their spouse’s idea. A recent study cited in AARP The Magazine found that nearly four in ten couples disagree on the lifestyle they want to lead. And if there are already problems in a marriage, retirement can magnify those issues. Even in healthy relationships, change brings on new issues to deal with.

To make this new phase work, the most important tools are effective communication and compromise. Disagreements are inevitable, but you can work through them if you actively listen, engage in respectful conversation, and avoid making accusations and assigning blame. It’s a matter of aligning and adjusting your combined expectations.

Many experts suggest that you draw up a “purpose plan” to understand each other’s needs, expectations, fears, and desires. Unfortunately, many of us spend more time planning a vacation than we do planning the next 20-to-30 years of life.

It’s helpful to put this down on paper; and remember, like financial planning, this is not a one-and-done process. What you wrote out is on paper, not etched in stone. Your retirement together can last for decades, maybe even as long as your working career. As a result, it can involve many transitions and changes as you age, set new priorities, and deal with potential health issues. It’s important to remain flexible.

Money, Money, Money

Your retirement changes your relationship not only with your spouse but with your money as well. You have spent your entire working career looking forward to depositing and investing your income to build up your nest egg. Now, you have to go into reverse and start to draw down that nest egg. Psychologically, that’s not an easy transition.

Disagreements over money can lead to discord, even divorce. The way you think about money might have to change. How much do you take out each month? Even if you collect Social Security (another challenging decision) or have a pension, how much more do you need to maintain your lifestyle or meet the lifestyle you want to have? Do you need to cut back on your spending, or do you have enough to go on lengthy vacations and eat out regularly? If there is less disposable income, can you agree on where cutbacks can be made? Most importantly, do you have enough so that you won’t outlive your savings?

To find the answers to these questions, you may need to consult with an independent financial adviser, such as EKS Associates. If you do not already have an adviser, get recommendations from friends, or check online. Look for someone who has a CFP® (Certified Financial Planner) or PFS (Personal Financial Specialist) designation. There are many other designations, but these certifications educate and test advisors on holistic financial planning concepts, which we believe are critical for comprehensively advising clients. A professional can also help with decisions about health insurance if you retire before reaching Medicare eligibility at age 65.

And while you may have been in sync about issues of risk-tolerance during your working years, the level of risk you are willing to take now with your investments may change. After retirement, many people become much more conservative with their investments. Make sure your investment views are in alignment with your partner too.

Even couples who have amassed significant wealth can be vulnerable to these problems. You will need to find a balance between spending like a drunken sailor and becoming so miserly that you miss out on exciting new opportunities.

Check Your Ego at the Retirement Door

Another challenge for many people entering retirement is the loss of self-esteem. Your identity is no longer tied to the workplace, the job title, and the paycheck. As much as you might look forward to retirement, you might also face an identity crisis. Who am I now?

This might be especially true if you are forced into retirement because of age, poor health, or a layoff. Some retirees feel as if they have gone from being somebody to being nobody.

The website RetiresGreat.com notes that the day you leave work, everything changes. Going from a busy lifestyle to having vast quantities of free time can, in itself, be quite the challenge.

Different Schedules in Retirement

You and your partner may also differ on the timing of moving into retirement. One of you may be sick of the daily grind or forced into retirement, while the other finds great fulfillment from the job and wants to keep working.

Eventually, though, you will end up in retirement together, but it doesn’t always start that way, and that can cause stress too. Is the retired person expected to do more of the housework and cooking? And again, money can be an issue if you drop from a two-income household to a one-income family. Don’t let resentments and jealousies build-up, which can happen when one person gets to sleep late each day and is brimming with energy late in the day, while the other comes home from another hard day at work and needs to veg out. In this situation, you’ll need to avoid falling into the trap of living separate lives.

And when that day comes when you’re both retired, you can end up being together almost 24/7, which can lead to discord and put lots of stress on what had been a comfortable, stable relationship. Don’t drive each other crazy. It’s a big adjustment, and your relationship will need to find a new equilibrium. It’s important to create space for each other – physically and emotionally. Take long walks, sometimes together, sometimes separately. Lessons learned from our recent COVID confinement may have been a good trial run. 

And if one person has been a stay-at-home spouse, the sudden 24/7 relationship can feel as though the one person is encroaching on the other’s space. There’s my time, your time, and shared time.

Other suggestions

  • Hopefully, your retirement will last a long time, so keep your mind and body active to protect both your physical and mental health.
  • Find your inner compass by seeking purpose and meaning. That could include volunteer work for a charity or cause you feel strongly about. It’s an opportunity to rediscover your own interests.
  • Learn just for the fun of it. That are all sorts of education programs for seniors, many of them offered for free
  • Renew old friendships and nurture new ones.
  • Try new activities. One couple we know became volunteer ushers at local theaters, allowing them to see many shows and performances for free that they would never have seen previously.

We don’t intend this article to take the air out of the retirement bubble. Yes, there are plenty of challenges, but this phase of your life can be the most fun and most rewarding in the long run – but that may not happen without laying the proper groundwork. 

If you’re in a partnership, you have the opportunity to revitalize your connection with each other. With some planning, communication, and compromise, you can travel the path of retirement hand-in-hand, side-by-side. Happy trails.

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