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Topretirements Members Report High Degrees of Compatibility and Retirement Happiness

Category: Family and Retirement

September 17, 2013 — Plenty of good news came out of last week’s Spousal Compatibility Survey – thanks to the more than 600 good people who took the time to share their wisdom! Our members are busy talking about retirement with their spouses – 84% have discussed retirement either “extensively” or a “fair amount”. And that talking must be paying off, because of the members and visitors who took our 11 question poll, the vast majority (80%) say that they and their spouses or significant others are “fairly”, “very” or “totally” compatible on retirement issues.

The survey also delved into areas of compatibility and incompatibility. By far the biggest problem falls under “where to live”, an understandable situation considering the enormity of these type of choices. This article will present the results of the survey, including – best of all – a sampling of the more than 246 comments on people’s experiences with discussing retirement plans with their spouse. Their comments feature loads of wonderful common sense advice plus practical strategies for handling conflict in a positive way. In fact, these comments could be considered a “How to Discuss Retirement Primer”. You will also find a small sampling of comments people who are clearly struggling with their spouse on retirement issues.

Results at a glance
Q 1 – Are you presently retired?

The respondents to our survey are about evenly split between retired and not yet retired.
No plans to retire/other

Q 2 – What is your current age?
Most people taking the survey were below the traditional retirement age of 65.
55 and under
66 and over

Q 3 – What is your marital status?
Almost everyone taking the survey was married (93%) or in a committed relationship (6%). Given the subject, this survey was clearly not germane to our many fine single members.

Q 4 – How extensively have you discussed your retirement goals, dreams, and preferences with your significant other?
Compared to the general population, the people who come to Topretirements are planners. Some 84% of respondents report that they have discussed retirement dreams, etc. a “fair amount” or “extensively” with their spouse. That is a good first step, and as we shall see in the positive results coming up in the next few questions, one that is paying off in terms of compatibility and predictions of future retirement happiness.

Haven’t discussed at all
Have discussed a few times
Discussed a fair amount
Discussed Extensively

Q 5 How would you rate the compatibility of your retirement hopes and dreams with your spouse, significant other, or person(s)?
There was definitely good news here – most of our members report their retirement dreams and plans are very compatible with those of their spouse.
Not compatible at all
Slightly compatible
Fairly compatible
Very compatible
Totally compatible

Q 6 What are some of the biggest issues of incompatibility between you and your spouse/significant other
Choosing where to live and in what type of community/housing are the overwhelming top concerns for couples to work out. Five of the top 6 were really sub-sets of the #1 issue – where to live. These were the most chosen items where couples have trouble (respondents could, and did, choose more than one).
Where to live
Living in 2 locations
To move regionally
Money issues
To more far away
Type of environment

Q 7 What are your biggest issues of compatibility?
We have to admit we were surprised that money issues were the area of highest compatibility, and not the greatest area for incompatibility. Couples also seem quite aligned on choosing climate, the type of environment, and housing type.
Money issues
Type of environment
Type of housing

Q 8 and 9 Flexibility of you and your spouse
Human nature is clearly at work on this question- when it comes to self-ratings we all feel we are all above average. Note that self-ratings were consistently more positive than the ratings we gave to our spouses – and the “inflexible” rating declined to 1%! Maybe it’s time for us all to look in the mirror! .
Very flexible
Fairly flexible
Slightly flexible

Q 10 What is your prediction about your future retirement happiness?
This question might point to the best news about the entire survey – most of the people taking ate are extremely optimistic about their retirement happiness (79% will be very or moderately happy). Still, there is a small but significant number of people (15%) who feel they will have an unhappy compromise or be unhappy/resentful.
We will both be very happy
Both be moderately happy
One of us will be very happy
Less than optimum compromise
At least one of us unhappy/resentful

Q 11 Please share your thoughts about how to best discuss and/or resolve conflicts with a spouse, significant other, family members, or retirement buddy.

This question generated an amazing 246 comments and suggestions – truly a treasure-trove of wisdom and practical experience. You can find a link to every comment at the end of this article, but before that we have picked out some of the more interesting ones and tried to sort them by category. Communication and listening to one another was the most common theme by far. There are some sad stories too, unfortunately. Each paragraph is a quote from a different person.

How to resolve difficulties:
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.

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 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.

Keys to retirement planning success:
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

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

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!

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.

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.

The difficult areas:
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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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 theirs!

When it doesn’t like it will work out:
We’re in counseling but it looks like I will leave to fulfill my dreams without him.

Confused and worrisome.

I have learned that the only way to have a peaceful and fulfilling retirement is to be subservient to my wife’s ideas and goals and her pleasurable pursuits.

I thought we were communicating and on the same page, but maybe we were in different books.

My spouse simply refuses to discuss anything other than what she wants.

My husband does not want to do the “snowbird” thing which would be a good compromise for me.

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

Bottom line
Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to respond to this survey with your thoughtful comments! We just love your collective wisdom, and look forward to more great surveys in the future. Let us know your ideas.

Here is a pdf summary of all of the more than 200 comments made to question 11:Compatibility survey Sept2013
Some people might find the csv version of the results more useful. Compatibility survey results sept 2013

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


More surveys from Topretirements:

From the Wall Street Journal: “Why Too Much Togetherness Can Ruin Retirement

Posted by Admin on September 17th, 2013


  1. […] Topretirements Surveys: Spousal Compatibility, Areas of Incompatibility, and Predictions of Retirement Happiness See previous survey results on the Best and Worst Things about Retirement, Buckets Lists, […]

    by » Adventurous Topretirements Members Getting Ready for Big Retirement Moves Topretirements — September 17, 2013

  2. I’m looking for advice on how to get my wife to retire. I retired in January at age 64 and 8 months and would like to do as much traveling as possible before I get too old to enjoy traveling. However, my wife who is an RN and 66 old refuses to retire despite the fact that have plenty of income and do not need her part time earnings to live on. I’ve begged her to retire so that we can travel together. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    by Tony — September 18, 2013

  3. She obviously gets something from helping others or feeling useful to others. Perhaps if she knew she could volunteer or find an activity that feeds her in the same way, she could move on easier.

    by scotty — September 18, 2013

  4. I have been trying to engage my wife in meaningful discussion about the key retirement issues we face; relocation south for lower cost of living, friendlier, less crowded and warmer climate, and being further from long time friends and our kids. I’m 7 years older and mostly retired; my wife is still working full time. My wife is basically on another planet on the general topic of retirement and I see myself being stuck here in an expensive area with a house that’s too much of everything, freezing my butt off each winter, and our retirement savings disappearing much too quickly. Everytime I try to discuss the realities she gives me short answers that tell me she just isn’t interested in any changes. I feel I’ve run out of options to move this forward. Help!

    by Dan — September 18, 2013

  5. Hey Tony,

    My wife is the same way so I go traveling WITHOUT her! I did this for 3 trips and now she decided to retire and travel with me. Why should you stay home while she’s at work? Enjoy your life with or without her! Good Luck!

    by mary — September 18, 2013

  6. The PDF summary for Question 11 truncates the response after about 290 characters. Can we get a copy that shows the full response? 🙁


    Editor’s note: Thanks to Ray for the workaround below. Here is the link to a csv version that might be easier.

    by Ray — September 18, 2013

  7. I found a work around for the truncation issue in the PDF summary for Question 11. If you select, copy, and paste the whole document, it will also copy the parts of the document you cannot see in the PDF format.

    by Ray — September 18, 2013

  8. Planning on retiring overseas in 3 – 5 years in either Costa Rica or Ecuador. My wife and I are on the same page with our retirement plans and have been drawn closer by having the same goals. We are planning trips to both places at least once a year, for two or more weeks until we retire. We made a list of the top ten things we wanted, needed in retirement and used those factors to narrow down choices for retirement. So far it has gone well but still need to visit and see how that all works out.:smile:

    by Tim — September 25, 2013

  9. I opened this forum by mistake, and then read a few of the postings. I may be wrong, but I have a tip for some of the couples on different pages about when to retire. My spouse and I had some relatives who went for their free Medicare physical when they retired, and were diagnosed with terminal diseases. Awful, but we all know something can happen any day. They lost their dreams of retirement. My spouse was 8 years older than me, and we talked about the fact that we might not have many years to share a healthy retirement. We both figured out our bucket lists (dreams that we hoped to do before we die). We then make the bucket lists our priorities! Sometimes we would skip an annual vacation or cut back on a luxury in order to work towards our bucket lists. Hubby got to go deep sea fishing in Venezuela, we renewed our vows in Alaska, etc. Sure enough, my spouse was diagnosed with a degenerative terminal disease. I’m a new widow at 60, but I know that my spouse had no regrets because he accomplished his bucket list. So don’t sweat the small stuff, keep communicating, and focus on each other’s dreams. You’ll never regret it.

    by Sharon — September 26, 2013

  10. Sharon,

    Your article was so meaningful and uplifting. It reminds us that life is short and we never know what the future has in store. Thanks for sharing.

    by Nikki — September 26, 2013

  11. Sharon,
    I understand completely! Due to health concerns, I retired at age 45. My Mayo Clinic physicians told me that if I did not retire, I would be dead within the year. It was one of the most difficult decisions, at that time, I had ever made.
    Well, that was in 1995. It is now 2013! I feel wonderful and am the happiest I have ever been. In 1995, after retirement, I was lost and afraid. But within a year I started feeling better and enjoying my new life. I began the process of self-discovery. I shall always remember, ‘WHEN ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER DOOR OPENS”. I have found this to be so very true and shall embrace ‘change’ with a very happy heart.

    by RAE — September 27, 2013

  12. Since we wrote this article there have been some interesting other surveys on the same topic. Once from Fidelity talks about who controls the finances in the family, and what the financial disagreements are

    Another article about that same survey says Baby Boomer women “Call the financial shots”

    And finally, here is an interesting article: “Financially mismatched couples at risk”

    by Topretirements editor — September 27, 2013

  13. Problems of managing the finances is only the symptom of a much larger disagreement. At the core is whether or not couples agree on HOW they want to spend the last years of their “healthy” lives. After 45 years we didn’t agree on a lifestyle; she decided to raise 3 more children (grand children), while I wanted to spend time traveling and visiting ALL of our children (with no unrealistic time restraints on having to get back to care for the grandchildren – I had spent too much of my life tied down and on schedules). Sadly, it ended with a divorce.

    by Dan — September 28, 2013

  14. […] For further reading: See out other member surveys on spousal compatibility, downsizing, where to live, and more. […]

    by » Is Retiring Near Your Family A Good – Or Not So Great – Idea? Topretirements — September 30, 2013

  15. […] For further reading Survey Report: Topretirements Members Report High Degrees of Compatibility and Happiness […]

    by » Beginner’s Guide to Life in Retirement Topretirements — December 2, 2013

  16. […] to Previous Surveys Topretirements Members Report High Degrees of Spousal Compatibility- 2013 Our Members Getting Ready for Big Retirement Moves- 2013 Retirement Living Preferences – 2013 […]

    by » Florida and Southeast Top Your ‘Where to Retire’ Preferences Topretirements — June 24, 2014

  17. […] to Previous Surveys Topretirements Members Report High Degrees of Spousal Compatibility- 2013 Our Members Getting Ready for Big Retirement Moves- 2013 Retirement Living Preferences – 2013 […]

    by » Good News: Topretirements Members Very Confident About Retirement - Topretirements — September 15, 2014

  18. […] below. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle ||[]).push({}); More resources from Topretirements:? Spousal Compatibility Survey Results Florida and Southeast Top Your “Where to Retire” Preferences Our Members Getting Ready for Big […]

    by » What to Do If You And Your Partner Don’t Have the Same Retirement Plans - Topretirements — June 27, 2015

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