retirement

How Couples Can Retire in Harmony

Strategies to get on the same page – or chart a new course.

When I was married, my husband often expressed a desire to retire to Phoenix. He liked the area’s dry heat and the beauty of the desert. I hated the idea. Nothing against Phoenix—I’ve never even been there. But I was perfectly fine where I was and had no plans to uproot myself.

The one happy byproduct of my divorce? Phoenix is off the table.

My ex and I obviously had other issues, but even rock-solid couples can discover that they have different goals or expectations for retirement. A 2015 Fidelity study of couples showed that half of baby boomers (people ages 52 to 70) don’t even discuss a post-career plan, much less agree on it. “He wants to live at the beach; she wants to live in the mountains. He hopes to spend more time with her; she wants to spend more time with the grandchildren,” says John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity.

Couples also have trouble expressing their expectations for each other in retirement, especially if one spouse retires first, says Dorian Mintzer, a retirement-transition coach in Boston and coauthor of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together (Sourcebooks). The working spouse, for instance, might expect the at-home spouse to do more of the household chores, whereas the at-home spouse—let’s just say it’s the husband—has no clue that’s on the agenda. “If you’ve been with someone for a long time, you imagine you can read your spouse’s mind. Sometimes you can and sometimes not, but you can’t assume,” says Mintzer.

Make a plan.

The first logical step in avoiding a marital disconnect is to discuss up front how and where you want to spend your retirement, expressing your views as “this is what I’m interested in doing” rather than taking aim at the other person’s ideas, says Mintzer. The goal is for each person to hear the other out and then work toward a mutual decision, she says. “Talking sets the framework and allows people to realize they can problem-solve together.”

Once you have the outlines of a plan, you still need to identify how you’ll pay for it. A financial planner can help you run the numbers and, if necessary, provide a reality check. Anne Chernish, a certified financial planner in Ithaca, N.Y., has her clients describe how they see their life at key stages, including retirement, and helps them budget their expenses accordingly. “I make sure the cash will support different objectives,” she says.

If it doesn’t, you could end up on the same page faster than you think. For example, suppose one of you wants to downsize and the other has been resisting the idea, but both of you want to travel. If you discover that your retirement budget doesn’t support frequent trips, you might decide to free up cash by downsizing after all. Or, if you can’t agree on whether to retire at the same time and the budget shows an income shortfall, having one person work longer (maybe part-time) becomes a no-brainer. Even disagreements about who will do the chores when one spouse works can be partly solved if you know you can afford to hire a housekeeper a few times a month.

Still not on the same page? Give your separate visions a trial run, says Mintzer. “One spouse could say to the other, ‘For the next couple of years, I want to stay where we are, and then we can reevaluate,’ or ‘Over the next few years, we’ll visit places where you want to move.’ ” If you’re desperate to escape cold winters and you’re both willing to think outside the box, rent a condo in Florida (or Phoenix) for a few months and have your spouse visit. Maybe you’ll both end up loving it there—or not. Either way, problem solved.

Most Popular

5 Beaten-Down Stocks to Buy on the Dip
stocks to buy

5 Beaten-Down Stocks to Buy on the Dip

The market has delivered some nauseating volatility of late. The good news? That has teed up a few great stocks to buy at a discount.
September 27, 2021
10 Best Stocks for Rising Interest Rates
stocks

10 Best Stocks for Rising Interest Rates

The 10-year Treasury yield is hovering near its highest level in months. Here are 10 of the best stocks to buy in a rising interest-rate environment.
September 30, 2021
13 States That Tax Social Security Benefits
social security

13 States That Tax Social Security Benefits

You may have dreamed of a tax-free retirement, but if you live in these 13 states, your Social Security benefits are subject to a state tax. That's on…
October 4, 2021

Recommended

6 Things You Can Do Right Now to Ensure Your Money Will Last in Retirement
retirement planning

6 Things You Can Do Right Now to Ensure Your Money Will Last in Retirement

Your retirement plan needs to take a holistic approach. Because there are so many decisions to make, it’s easy to get lost in the weeds. Follow these …
October 15, 2021
10 Least Tax-Friendly States for Retirees
retirement

10 Least Tax-Friendly States for Retirees

When it comes to state and local taxes, retirees in these states are likely to pay more than retirees in other states.
October 14, 2021
Taxes in Retirement: How All 50 States Tax Retirees
Tax Breaks

Taxes in Retirement: How All 50 States Tax Retirees

We rated every state, plus Washington, D.C., on how retirees are taxed. We considered taxes on Social Security and other retirement income, tax exempt…
October 14, 2021
Social Security Earnings Tests: 5 Things You Must Know
social security

Social Security Earnings Tests: 5 Things You Must Know

If you’re still working and claim Social Security early, your benefits could be reduced, at least temporarily.
October 13, 2021