What to Do When Your Sweetheart Retires Before You

How to plan for retirement when your schedules don’t align.

By Katrina Caruso

Photo: iStock/alvarez.

Most couples (93%) don’t retire at the same time, according to a 2016 survey by Saga Investment Services. The primary reason cited for the discrepancy was that one romantic partner wanted to continue to be in the workforce longer than the other did, and the second most cited reason was that one partner needed to keep working due to differences in income.

This gap in retirement timing can make things complicated for couples. It can lead to resentment, a lack of aligned priorities, and a period of adjustment that may make some folks uneasy or insecure in their partnership.

What can be done?

Retirement can be the ideal time for partners to come together and realign their goals and priorities, including those related to the relationship. Couples should be communicating openly about the changing dynamic in the relationship and about their expectations.

Many people retire only to find themselves somewhat lost. For many, leaving a job behind means leaving behind an identity. They begin to feel isolated and no longer important, that they no longer have something to contribute to society.

This can cause a chasm in the relationship and lead to a dissolution of shared ideals. One partner continuing to have a daily routine while the other now has none can create a disconnect.

The ideal situation is to have the conversations about one’s fears about retirement’s consequences before the time comes. This will ease the adjustment period. A few questions to ask:

– What is something we can do together for fun?

– What does my partner want their retirement to look like? What do I want?

– What are my partner’s needs? What are mine?

– How can we avoid hurting each other in this change?

– What can we both stop doing today that makes the other miserable?

– What changes to the household responsibilities can we make?

– What isn’t currently working for us?

The goal is to find a way for both partners to voice their concerns and hopes, and also to find common ground which both partners can get behind, and about which they can be excited.

It’s important for the partner who retires first to realize that the changes in the couple’s lifestyle will affect the partner who continues to work. This may become time to re-evaluate household chores, start a new hobby (with or without the partner), and find other ways to support the working partner. This is not the time to start tiptoeing around each other’s feelings: retirement is the time to refocus and redevelop that spark in the relationship.