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Coping As a Couple: How to Handle It When Only 1 Person is Retired

Category: Family and Retirement

March 25, 2014 — Couples might joke about it with their friends, but the nitty-gritty issues of handling a “1 person working, 1 person retired” relationship is no laughing matter. For example, one spouse might have taken early retirement and now enjoys most mornings on the golf course or drinking coffee with friends. Meanwhile his partner is working away on the job – bringing in a paycheck and having a completely different kind of day.

Every couple has to handle their own unique situation if separate retirements are part of their life together. Sometimes the situation is not by choice, as in when 1 person was forced to retire earlier. This article will give you some ideas on how to handle it gracefully.

1. Talk about it before either person retires. What is each partner’s expectation – for themselves and the other person? Try to understand each other’s motivations and needs so you are not completely surprised later on.

2. How will you handle money? In all likelihood the person who is still working will be bringing in the bacon. She might have different ideas about who should be spending it – and how. It is absolutely critical that you have developed and agreed on a budget that includes all your expected expenses and income before you decide anything. Can you afford this, and how will you get by? Discuss this all in advance.

3. Vacations. If you are the one who is retired, you have the time to travel and take extensive vacations, while your partner probably is strapped for free time. Will you go away separately, or trim down your plans to accommodate? What if one person wants to sell the existing home and move somewhere warm – how will you handle that?

4. Handling chores. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for the working person to expect that the majority of the household chores would be performed by the retiree. But what if it is the man who is retired, and he doesn’t cook – or care to clean or go to the dry cleaners? Again, setting expectations is key.

5. Midway corrections. Just as you should do during your working days, it is a good plan to set periodic feedback sessions to discuss how things are going. For example, how is the division of labor and income/spending plan coming along? You might set aside time to discuss how you both feel about 1 person retired/1 working – particularly if one person would like the other to retire. Talking about issues before they explode is usually a great idea.

Comments: Please share your experiences or expectations about how to handle the 1 working/1 retired relationship. We all would love to hear your concerns and issues, plus how you handled this complex issue. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Further reading:
Coping When Not Entering Retirement Together (New York Times)

Posted by Admin on March 25th, 2014


  1. While your article had some merit and I was in that situation last year, was it really necessary to discuss an example of a man who didn’t do domestic chores? Really? If he can’t learn something new in retirement or refuses to be a real partner, I say honey move along because you can do better either on your own or with someone new.

    by Barbara — March 26, 2014

  2. After retiring in 2012 from my 33 years of teaching, I found myself sleeping in, having that second cup of coffee mid-morning, and going out to lunch instead of woofing down the contents of my brown bag lunch in a hurry to run outside for recess duty! My husband still works in a business management position. After seeing the amount of overtime that I put in for 33 years, grading papers, evening functions, completing report cards, parent meetings (and on and on), 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! Life has never been better!

    by SandyZ — March 26, 2014

  3. Barbara– totally agree with you on the domestic chore front…

    My husband, who’s six years older than I,officially “retired” August 31st last year, then worked part-time until the end of 2013, and now is freelancing for about 10 hours per week (comes and goes). I am still working and probably will be for at least another 4.5 years. He has begun to segue into cooking more, and actually taking responsibility for some of the food planning, and he is excited about our having joined a CSA and now he’ll go pick up our weekly produce box and our bison meat! I still do most of the “jobs” that I’ve had throughout our 35 year marriage — but we’ve always had those pretty well split up, no real complaints there. 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, because my older sister died at 60 (pancreatic cancer) and what if I get something too, and then we never get to do anything together?? That seemed to have opened the doors to some better discussions among us — and we’re also back to keeping track of every single expenditure, so that we see if we can undercut the conservative (i.e., somewhat padded) estimate that we thought we’d need annually in retirement that our financial planners have been working with. 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. 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. Good luck to everyone in this situation.

    by Paula — March 26, 2014

  4. I’m retired but my husband is not. I’ve been discussing retirement with him for the past 2 years and we bought a retirement home in Florida a year ago in a 55+ community. He has lots of vacation time and we have and will go there quite often. He loves it there and I want to be there full-time tomorrow. He will have worked at his job 42 years in September of this year. The biggest thing holding him back from retirement he says 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 and we really cannot tell what a policy would cost him. We have been to the website for Florida and get a “rough” idea bsed on our income. 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. Any ideas or information is greatly appreciated.

    by Karen — March 26, 2014

  5. 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, and I frequently feel like I’ve been burdened with less than 50% of the previous income but 100% of the responsibility for keeping the household (and us) afloat. I’d love to retire as well, but with COBRA insurance costing as much as a mortgage, it’s out of the question.

    I’m not certain what the answer is, but I can say with absolute certainty this is not what I expected.

    by Laura — March 26, 2014

  6. my Hubie is retiring at the end of the school year.he is older then me i will not look into retirement from a long time.he will most likely go to a part time job but may also just go back to school for a different spin.he is 55 so can still work some. but iam worried as how this will really feel when it happens i will be following this thread to see how it going for everone else

    by cara — March 26, 2014

  7. “Listening” to the conversation with interest- 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)-
    Paula, your marriage sounds great
    Laura, I empathathize, I was widowed from my first marriage and know how hard it is when your once healthy partner is limited in what they can do- hang in there,
    Cara, offering a free online class on The Affordable Care Act that you can do at your own pace, starts in April – you might want to check it out.
    Good luck dear ladies, and thanks for sharing your experiences

    by Kellie — March 26, 2014

  8. Oops, alibi: Karen, not Cara: course is offered by, title: US Health Policy

    All: if you are retired, or have time, check out these fabulous websites for free courses, offered by top tier colleges ( like Harvard, in the case of the one suggested above)

    by Kellie — March 26, 2014

  9. I am planning to “retire” in a few months since hubby makes a good living and we are ahead of target on savings. 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. I think he will enjoy having me less stressed out and with time to enjoy life more, from more time together to better social life if I don’t have to spend my weekends running errands. I can hardly wait!

    by Jini — March 26, 2014

  10. Kellie: I went to, but it was simply one of those search engine sites with additional links to online schools like Phoenix and other search engines. Can you tell where the course actually resides? It sounds useful.

    by Sharon — March 27, 2014

  11. Sharon, Here’s a helpful link of free courses from top universities:

    Shows a bunch of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). I’m taking one right now offered by Duke – while I sip my coffee at my computer. It’s free, fascinating, and fun.

    Jan Cullinane, author, The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement

    by Jan Cullinane — March 27, 2014

  12. Thanks Jan. I took a class on CourseRA recently that included some physics, and I thought my brain would explode! It took me a lot more time to get through it successfully than I anticipated, but I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I’m still working, but I anticipate taking classes regularly when I retire. I might even go after another degree.

    by Sharon — March 28, 2014

  13. Jan thank you so much for that link. I retired in June after having a varied career of doing everything from working as a reporter in DC to teaching special education at a middle school. I enjoy my time to read now, but always love learning new things.
    I retired earlier than I planned after Dick’s best friend died suddenly. Dick is 8 years older than me, and we’ve spent years talking about the travel plans. I worked for almost two years after he retired, although he kept his position as a dissertation advisor at a university. He can do what he needs to do for that online for the most part.
    We spend our time now pursuing joint and individual interests. Our big focus now is on selling my home and moving to Tuscon. This is a great time in our lives, having both gotten out of unhappy marriages. By the way, we share domestic chores according to our interests and abilities. It just feels right. Barbara

    by Barbara — March 28, 2014

  14. Jan, thank you so much for the link. Both my husband and I will be taking some of the courses.

    by Godsgirl — March 28, 2014

  15. Cara, I can definitely sympathize with you. My husband, too, is disabled. I do all of the driving, housework, and work full-time. Forget about a vacation…I have used up my vacation and sick time taking him to his appointments. I also never have any alone time.

    by Marty — March 29, 2014

  16. Marty and Cara and ALL who who have similar circumstances. I am sending Blessings and Love to you and hoping for all the best for you. It is not easy being retired when the only trips are to Doctor’s offices and Hospitals, but then it is not easy for those who have to do that when they are not retired.
    I really love my solitude so I can commune with Nature, but that is rather seldom available. I saw my first beautiful Robin the other day, and heard the Canada Geese heading South, so I suspect they know more that I about how our Planet is going. The Frogs are also disappearing.
    Oh well, guys, we are all in this together. Hang in there, and we have to look for the sunny spots that make our days.
    Love to all,
    Elizabeth in NY~

    by Elizabeth~ — March 30, 2014

  17. Admin
    I am not a couple, would it be possible to move info on courses, etc to a new blog…it is a great subject and I do look for OLLI locations, but would love to read more on courses and education.

    it is worthy of its own blog.

    by Elaine — March 31, 2014

  18. I should have said a blog on inexpensive enrichment ideas.

    Note from Admin: Great idea Elaine. We will put that on our editorial calendar.

    by Elaine — April 1, 2014

  19. This article applies to the situation I’m in. My wife is a bit younger and still working (bless her heart) and I’m mostly retired. 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. Bottom line: there is no simple solution but to slowly forge ahead. Frustrating, to say the least (for me).

    by Dan — May 10, 2014

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