What to Do If You And Your Partner Don’t Have the Same Retirement Plans

Category: Family and Retirement

June 27, 2015 — Most people are in relationships. Making decisions that involve a couple is complicated, starting with the obvious – there are two people’s needs and wants involved. Reconciling the dreams and goals of two different people is a challenge, but one that can bring much happiness and joy if done successfully. The goal of this article is to help couples find effective strategies to achieve success in their retirement planning.

Two years ago we surveyed our Topretirements Members on Spousal Compatibility. Over 600 folks completed the survey and provided a wealth of data, opinions, and great advice. You will find a link to the results of that survey at the bottom of this article. In this space we will discuss some of the most difficult issues that the survey turned up, along with a summary of the advice we received from our members on how to handle those challenges. We know that you enjoy reading about the experiences of actual people in your situation, so we hope you find these anecdotes useful. We especially look forward to your additional Comments at the end of the article.

A Suggestion
One way to use the information in this article is for both you and your partner to read it, and then schedule some meetings to discuss each of these issues together. Chances are there will be many areas where you find yourselves totally aligned, and some others where you are at odds. By using the techniques suggested here (and your own way of resolving differences!) you will be able to identify where you stand on these issues, and work through to a mutually agreeable resolution where there are conflicts.

Note that after each topic we have published actual comments from our members from past research – these are not from your editor. Many commenters offer sage advice, while others detail problems that have arisen in their individual situations. We have made some small edits to the Comments in the interest of brevity.

– Planning
Start discussions at least a couple of years before retiring. Get your finances in order first, then discuss retirement plans and wishes.

Just talk about what you want to do, what you can afford to do, and come up with a plan on what you will do. Want and afford can be far apart, but if you start talking new ideas will pop up.

Talk on a regular basis for short periods of time. Do not try to do it all in 1 or 2 conversations. Planning is key and helps ensure you discuss the cost of various options. Each person in a relationship should identify at least 1 thing they want for sure in retirement and 1 thing for sure they do not want

Absolutely must have open discussion even if you don’t agree. You won’t know until you talk about the issues.

List out the needs of both parties along with descriptive level of need (ie, critical, high, medium, low). Once underlying needs are listed, may find a way to meet at least the most critical ones of both people.

One should always be open to the thoughts or desires of your partner which often can bring a new understanding and enjoyment to both parties participating. The spirit of adventure should never be lost!

We are “pencil and paper” list makers with pros and cons for each situation. Common sense once all the facts are in plays a big role.

– When to Retire
The most difficult thing was the “when” – One of us would like to be not working at all right now and one of us realizes/believes it may be necessary for us to work at least part time for a while after we relocate.

We’re struggling with that scenario right now. I will retire in 5 years, but my wife wants to work as long as possible. We disagree on whether to sell our big house or not, if we want to stay in our current town or relocate, or where to relocate, if we want to be snowbirds or not, if we want to live near kids or not, and what activities we want to do during retirement.

My hubbie is quite a bit older (15 years), so chances are we will retire at different times ( although prying him away from a 60 week may prove the most challenging part)

The hardest thing to resolve is the fact that we have a several year age difference between us, which means several years between the time each of us can retire. We wish we could both be retired together.

Where to Retire (climate, type of housing)
Long story short: consider cost, climate, and what the location offers: know what you need and want in a community. Try out all the locations (several times!) that you can in the years prior to retirement, and then make a decision. And know that your decision doesn’t have to be the last one.

We are still trying to figure it all out. Probably the hardest thing is deciding where to live.

Visit different regions at different times of the year.

We attended the Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend at UNC Asheville a year ago. It was incredibly helpful and actually forced us to have very focused conversations about what we wanted in retirement.

The “snowbird” thing could be a good compromise for me.

Gather data, visit places, talk while you drive there and back, listen, listen, listen!! Try places/things that you don’t really think you will like…you might be surprised. Don’t rush on a final decision. Rent first. Put yourself out there and talk to people. They love to give advice…and most of it is good!

You need to keep an open mind. You need to visit different places. We are exploring different areas of NC. Listen to your spouse’s reactions to the different areas and communities you visit.

Don’t rush into anything. If you have friends already living in an area or community that interests you, listen to what they say about that area. Try to visit them.

– How to Maintain Independence
Potential problems stemming from too much time together; will newly retired spouse find own activities or be a pest/bother to spouse who’s already settled into own retirement routine?

Hardest area to reconcile is maintaining independence on an individual basis. Having some separate time is more important to me than my husband.

We have one complication not addressed here, though, which is we have an adult child still not quite on his own and living with us. It’s a complication that extends beyond most conversations we have about retirement relocation.

– Activities
Difficult when one is fairly physically active and one is not. One is perfectly fine watching TV all day, one is not. One likes to be busy and somewhat productive, while the other could care less.

Talk about what you need, what you want, and why these issues are important to you. And let your spouse do the same.

– Sharing the Load
My husband still works. After seeing the amount of overtime that I put in for 33 years, he enjoys hearing about my leisurely days and seeing me rested and so enjoying more time for our family! Yes, I took on more chores around the house, but now I have the time to get them done during the day rather than spending our weekend time cleaning, doing laundry, etc. I look forward to experiencing his joy in reaching retirement as well in a few years. Jealousy – no, haven’t seen a bit of it! Yes there is less money, but time and feeling energetic is soooo worth it, for both of us!

My husband was forced into early retirement as a result of rapidly declining health. Now that he’s home all day, my expectations are that I will not have to run errands, do laundry, tackle issues like dealing with insurance companies, home repair people, etc. However, because he’s in pain a lot of the time, and has several medical appointments per week, as well as needing to take a lot of medications, he’s frequently of very little (or no) help around the house. Consequently, in addition to my very demanding job, I know have to squeeze in all domestic duties and errands in the precious little time I have left. I have found this to be a very disappointing situation.

(Husband is retired and helping out at home). One thing I’ve found is that, because he’s not under the gun to take care of all HIS errands/chores just on weekends or evenings (lawncare, fix things that break, etc), he’s more open to my suggestions for things to do. I totally agree that open communication and lots of discussion along the way is critical for this new developing stage of our lives

– Money Issues
The hardest lesson will be working off a budget. Once we have that figured out, I am 100% convinced that we will have a very happy and enjoyable retirement.

We found we needed to sit down and REALLY set a goal. We were just treading water and making no firm goals. Then we had to see how far apart our goals were. We have been meeting with certified financial planners. Having to put it on paper for someone else helped us set a tentative goal. My husband wants to retire soon. I’m nervous about $ and that is too soon. Financial planner helping me realize that it is a possibility and find compromises. So we agreed to agree and revisit in a set time period.

The thing that has been most challenging was in the beginning, when he wasn’t getting his usual paycheck, he didn’t want to spend money on ANYTHING. I asked what our next trip was going to be, and all I would get was, CAN WE AFFORD IT?? That was in spite of having met with financial planners who showed we could. One day I had a meltdown and said that **I** was still working, and I didn’t want to wait until we were both retired to travel. That seemed to have opened the doors to some better discussions among us. For anyone who’s living with a just-retired spouse, I think the key (at least it has been for me) has been to realize that it’s just as much an adjustment for THAT person as it is for the one still working, just in different ways. We’re trying to somewhat still plan for the future, but enjoy more of the present.

– Travel
We will be taking long vacations during the next 2 years and then at least a 6 month ‘sabbatical’ in a motor home of sorts across the USA when we are both at full retirement age.

The subject of travel is the biggest problem. I love to travel and he hates it. We travel domestically together and I’ll need to travel alone internationally, or with others.

– Health Issues
Health issues, which neither of us expected at all, are surfacing and making the decisions more difficult.

I’m a little nervous because we are not 65 yet and if something happened to his job, health insurance would be a concern–like it is for so many of us before we are Medicare-eligible. But hubby’s health and family history have convinced me that we need to start enjoying our time while we can–there are no guarantees! There must be a balance between saving “enough” and having the time and health to enjoy it.

My husband says the biggest thing holding him back from retirement is health insurance. He is not 65 and would go from employer insurance to what – Obama Care? This whole affordable care stuff is so up in the air. He says he doesn’t want to pay more for health insurance so keeps on working even though his body is worn out. I’m afraid he’ll be one of these people who will work until they die or have a poor quality of life when they do retire.

– Reconciling Differences
How to resolve difficulties: Use the three ‘L’s”. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN!

If our feelings become strained and we begin to go “to a corner” in our relationship, we pick a time once a week (morning works best and Monday works best) that we sit in the living room facing each other. Each person gets time to talk without being interupted to tell the other person how they are feeling and why.

You have to be willing to really open up and say what’s on your mind. Holding it in and hoping for the best won’t work. We’d rather discuss and argue now than have it blow up in our faces later.

Communication is the key along with seeing the world from each others eyes!

Being compassionate to your partner’s point of view is something that needs to be developed and nurtured over the years. It’s OK to lose some opinion differences

Let the other guy finish a thought before you chime in. Remember you’re on the same side!

When it comes to female versus male, the female needs to state her idea and then let it go. It has been my experience that the male will come up with the same idea in a few months and say it is his!

(Try not to end up in this situation): I thought we were communicating and on the same page, but maybe we were in different books.

Bottom line
We hope that this exercise has helped you appreciate some of the challenges that couples face as they plan for and begin to experience in retirement. More importantly, that it gives you some solid ideas and strategies for turning potential conflicts into a happy retirement.

Comments: What issues have you had the greatest difficulty with when discussing retirement with your spouse or significant other? What strategies have you employed to work them out? Please share your comments below.

More resources from Topretirements:?
Spousal Compatibility Survey Results
Florida and Southeast Top Your “Where to Retire” Preferences
Our Members Getting Ready for Big Retirement Moves- 2013
Retirement Living Preferences – 2013
How to Handle It When Only 1 of the Couple Is Retired
Topretirements Members Very Confident About Retirement

Posted by Admin on June 27th, 2015


  1. This article is chuck full of good information and suggestions. We spent nearly a year discussing, traveling, planning and preparing for a retirement/move. In the end, we valued “nearness to family ” as the final deciding factor. Seven months after making our move into a 55+ community, we’re happy about our decisions and enjoying retirement life.

    by John H — June 29, 2015

  2. I’m a big believer in having separate interests and trying new things, even if your significant other is not. Joining a team, taking a class, starting a new exercise regimen, volunteering in your community, etc. These keep you engaged and interesting. Of course, shared interests are important, too.

    As far as when to retire, I suggest you discuss the answers to these three questions: Do you have enough? Have you had enough? Do you have enough to do?

    Here are the results of one study about gender and retirement: Professor Phyllis Moen (University of Minnesota) did a study involving 534 married couples in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. Moen found that husbands and wives reported greater marital satisfaction if they retired at the same time. While men with nonworking spouses had greater marital satisfaction than those with working wives, regardless of whether the men themselves worked, those men who didn’t work but had working spouses reported the most marital conflict. Women experienced the highest marital satisfaction if they entered new jobs after retiring and their husbands were also working, but men who worked after retiring from their primary job experienced more marital discord than those men who didn’t work.

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (AARP/Wiley)

    by Jan Cullinane — June 30, 2015

  3. Great article! At least I see I’m not alone with the frustrations of trying to get on the same wavelength as my significant other with retirement. I’m a take charge leader type and he is a follower type who never wants to commit to a decision. But this is too big a decision for him to just sit on the sidelines.

    by Bonnie — July 1, 2015

  4. We’ve been at this for a little over a year now and it’s REALLY difficult when 1 wants a small town environment and the other 1 wants a larger, not necessarily metropolitan, area. There is some great advice in this column and I think the biggest one if Listen, Listen, Listen!

    by Susan — July 1, 2015

  5. Anyone think two people could survive on approximately $3,000 per month as a fixed income?

    by John — July 1, 2015

  6. John, if you have to, you will find a way.

    by EMA — July 2, 2015

  7. John, Two people can survive on less than $3,000/month. (We do!) Make a budget by keeping track of everything you spend. Shop around wherever you can on things like auto insurance, cell phone plans, cable TV, etc. Of course it depends on how much (if any) debt you have. Is your mortgage paid off, do you have car loans or credit card debt? Those are the “big ones” and if you don’t have any of those, then it’s much easier to stick to a budget. The most challenging expenses to cover are the unpredictable ones, like auto/home repairs or unexpected medical costs. If your basic needs are less than $3,000 then whatever makes up the difference is your emergency fund for the unexpected.

    by Gene — July 3, 2015

  8. We have traveled a lot in our life from North to South due to our jobs. We definitely know where we don’t want to live. Our vision was to set down roots in retirement and travel. After 5yrs of researching retirement and the start of health issues, our needs have changed. Due to the high costs of medical bills($10K not covered by our medical insurance from one ER visit!) We knew we had to find a cheaper place to live, or end up a burden to our children in years to come. We agree our current 3 bedroom home with stairs, will be a burden to keep. Our choices were Kentucky, Tennessee or South Carolina. We wrote down the stores where we shop and things we do like to do. We researched medical facilities and the Chamber of Commerce in each city that interested us. We spent Thursday thru Saturday in the different cities to learn more. We shopped and saved receipts to compare later, buying the same things we use on a weekly basis. Kentucky won out in this area. Kentucky won out due to climate. Kentucky won out socially too. Never met such nice, friendly, helpful people in all our travels. Now working on sizing down, and getting out of Ohio. 9 years until retirement . Great article, and wonderful website.

    by DeyErmand — September 8, 2015

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

Salary Data custom salary reports specific to your state and industry.