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Family Finances

8 Things You Should Talk About When Retiring as a Couple

A retirement coach shares her tips on how to transition into your next phase of life—together.

Articles by Sarah Kaufman

By Sarah Kaufman
Director of Brand and Content, Betterment  |  Published: September 30, 2014

A perfectly happy pre-retirement marriage can be harshly disrupted by a simple lack of communication.

The two most important topics to cover with your spouse before retirement are finances and health.

If you’ve given any thought to planning your retirement, you’ve likely considered the obvious, most important questions:

  1. How much money will I need to retire?
  2. Where will I live?
  3. What will I do?

And yet there’s one that is often forgotten: How would my spouse answer these?

Nearly 40% of couples disagree on the lifestyle they expect to live during retirement, according to a 2013 Fidelity Study. While men envision themselves indulging in sports, women see themselves spending time with family, doing hobbies, and volunteering. The study also found that 36 percent of couples disagree on or don’t know where they plan to live.

Dorian Mintzer

These are the types of conversations that couples must have before retirement to avoid the fights that may come with it, says therapist and retirement coach Dorian Mintzer, owner of retirement resource site Revolutionize Retirement and co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together.

A perfectly happy pre-retirement marriage, Mintzer says, can be harshly disrupted by a simple lack of communication. To learn more about what married couples can do to cope with this impactful lifestyle change, we asked Mintzer about some of the key points in her book.

What is the most important thing couples should remember or take into consideration when they’re retiring together?

If you’re both retiring at the same time, it’s important to recognize that you may approach transitions differently and therefore react differently to this retirement transition. Some people have no difficulty with transitions. But for the people who do, it could be the ending, the unknowns or the new beginnings that are troublesome.

How can couples deal with this now to make the retirement transition easier?

It’s helpful to talk together ahead of time about how you each handle transition. Discuss your goals, dreams, and priorities. Clarify expectations about time together and time apart, as well as changing expectations about roles and responsibilities at home. With more dual-career couples, I’ve seen that women don’t necessarily want to live their husband’s retirement dream—they want their own dream, which may include some separate and some together plans.

It’s helpful to think through and create your individual vision—and then, through conversations, begin to create a shared vision, which hopefully takes into account what you both need and want. It’s less important to focus on what you’re retiring from and more important to talk about what you’re retiring to.

What can people do to make sure they’re maintaining that balance of independence and intimacy with their partner after retirement?

Generally, unless you’ve both worked at home, work has provided you with a structure for time together and part. It’s actually helpful for each of you to have some of your own interests—and then come back together. Being tied at the hip may foster too much dependence on each other. Remember, healthy relationships tend to be a combination of independence and interdependence.

During the second stage of life—when we’re working and maybe raising a family—everyone else’s needs tend to come first. This stage of life is an opportunity to reclaim some “me time.” In addition, research tells us that by the time we reach age 65, it’s less about genetics and more about attitude and lifestyle choices, such as nutrition, exercise of the body and brain, and developing a sense of community, purpose, and meaning.

Again, talking together is key. There may be some activities you want to do together, but also some that are just yours.

If communication is essential to a rewarding second half of life, what are some of the more important topics couples should cover before retirement?

As we began working on this book, we had some focus groups on this that confirmed some of what we knew from our friends, clients, and colleagues. Ten themes (or we call them “Must-Have Conversations”) emerged.

Two big areas that impact other lifestyle decisions are (1) finances and (2) health and wellness. Here are some other important topics to discuss with your spouse before retirement:

  • The timing of retirement (e.g., if, when, and how)
  • Changing roles and identity
  • Expectations about time together and apart
  • Relationships and obligations to children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and friends
  • Where to live
  • Emotional and physical intimacy
  • Social life and building community with others
  • The importance of finding purpose and meaning in life.

The goal is to be conscious and intentional about the choices that you make. The book also offers some helpful tips about ways to have these conversations.

Are there any other surprises couples should expect to encounter once they’ve both retired?

There are a variety of surprises that can surface. Some people discover there is a “honeymoon” period following retirement—it can feel liberating: There’s no need to wake up at a certain time, and there’s endless time for leisure and travel longed for when work took up so much time.

One surprise may be that they start to get on each other’s nerves—and want some time and space apart. That doesn’t mean you have a bad relationship—what it does mean is that you need to have some important conversations. Without the work identity, there may be questions like, “Who am I?” “Who are you?” “Who are we?”

Others may discover that they really like having this extra time for some spontaneity with each other. A tension, however, is that each of you may be experiencing this transition differently. One of you may want to travel, while the other wants to pursue an encore career. It’s not unusual to be “out of synch” with each other. Again, talking to each other is important.

About the Book “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together,” co-written by Dorian Mintzer and Roberta Taylor, offers step-by-step ways to have more effective communication and is filled with smart practical advice, anecdotes, and exercises to help you tackle some of the important conversations to help you create a rewarding second half of life.

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