Are you and your partner in your pre-retirement years, planning the rest of your lives? Do you know what your spouse is thinking, longing for, or dreaming about when it comes to retirement lifestyle? Are your interests so different you are actually considering remaining a couple yet living in different places after retirement in an arrangement called “living apart together”? Be sure to talk through your options.
Work It Out
Sara Yogev’s I Married You for Better or for Worse–But Not For Lunch: Making Marriage Work In Retirement includes examples of couples ending up in therapy because their needs, interests, and wishes at this life stage seemed so irreconcilably different. The seriousness of the conflict brought them into counseling because the stability of their marriages was threatened. This made me reflect on some of the couples I have worked with over the years. They had navigated all the important discussions and decisions that come up in all life transitions–from getting married, to having and raising children, to the value they place on money and how it is spent, to how they will interact with in-laws. Why should the transition to retirement now be any different?
At this life stage, there are no buffers or distractions because the children are gone, spouses aren’t climbing the corporate ladder, and most of us have come to a place of accepting ourselves and the life that we’ve created. After spending all these years together and working out other challenges, why would you throw your hands up in the air and default to a lifestyle that could possibly threaten your marriage and actually cause divorce? This does not include those marriages where there are extenuating circumstances of abuse or neglect and the couple is best served by ending their marriage. Having these important conversations before retirement about topics that will affect the rest of our lives will prevent a lot of conflict, disappointment and disillusionment going forward.
I’m always in favor of working it out, not only because I’m a therapist as well as a coach, but because I have seen the value in the growth that occurs when you can listen to your partner and actually hear what they are saying. Over the years, my husband and I have experienced the typical conflicts regarding the different ways we think and feel about a certain situation. Even though it wasn’t always easy, we’ve worked them out and are better people for it. By this stage of life, most couples, if they have managed to stay together, have the coping skills to make it through this life stage, but they often need additional support.
Avoid Becoming a Statistic
Healthy, constructive and loving communication can facilitate the success of these changes. Setting up a time to talk is the very first step. Listening and talking are two important communication skills. We often forget that listening is such an important part of communication, maybe even the most important part. If you’re thinking about what you’re going to say in response to what your partner is sharing, you won’t be listening well. Quieting your reactivity is a major challenge for many people. However, the ability to stay open and not react will minimize the potential for conflict. Another way to minimize conflict is to make sure that you reflect on what you are hearing your partner say. This will clear up any misinterpretations of what your partner has said. Stay on the topic and, if another situation related to it comes up, agree that you will come back and discuss that topic at the next meeting. Take the “let’s take a break” approach for unexpected emotional reactions to a particular issue. If you overreact, take a break and come back to that issue at another time, but make sure that you do return to that conversation. Don’t avoid it.
Talk It Through
Here are some questions related to retirement that if discussed now, before retirement, will minimize surprises and begin the collaborative process to a successful outcome:
1. When will you retire?
2. Where will you retire to, if you move?
3. How would you make adjustments to having less income each month?
4. How do you value money, and how does this affect your relationship?
5. What amenities and services are on your “must-have” list?
6. What will give you and your retirement lifestyle purpose?
7. Will you pursue a new career, go back to school, volunteer, or travel in retirement?
8. What are your retirement dreams and are they compatible with your partner’s?
9. What new things would you like to experience?
10. How much time do you want for solo activities and personal growth and how much for joint activities?
11. How will you navigate your relationships with friends and family as you strive to stay connected yet maintain your autonomy during this transition?
12. How will your roles change in the relationship when one or both of you are no longer working?
13. What are your plans if one of you becomes ill, and the other partner is still working or unable to take care of you?
14. Who will you entrust with power of attorney and medical decisions for each of you?
15. What is the legacy that each if you would like to leave your families, both individually and as a couple?
Remember that change in life and in relationships is inevitable. We cannot avoid change but we can, out of respect for the union that you made many years ago, protect the viability of your relationship as you move forward in planning this next life stage. Having these important conversations now will hopefully ensure that you’ll make the very best of your life for the rest of your life.