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Spousal Incompatibility in Retirement? Try These Ideas!

Category: Family and Retirement

November 2, 2022 – Thanks to everyone who took the time to take last week’s instant poll on spousal compatibility around retirement decisions. The good news is that the vast majority of you all are either extremely compatible (25%) or mostly compatible (41%). Luckily, only a handful are extremely incompatible. Many of you added insightful comments to explain your particular situation, and offer lessons learned to others. We have incorporated some of those into this article, along with ones from previous articles. (see Further Reading below to see all of them).

The worst situation

The biggest problem is when two partners disagree on major issues about retirement. If they can’t agree on when and where to retire, how much money to spend, how close to family, or what is the right climate, somebody might end up extremely unhappy. Let’s hope that didn’t happen to you. But if it does, here are some tips on how to make the best of it, along with some of the common pickles that couples find themselves in. 

Get started early

It is never too early to start talking about retirement with your significant other or someone you want to retire near. WIth an early start you can narrow down the possibilities and identify the areas that are going to require some work. You don’t want to arrive at the day of your retirement and find one person wants to live in a North Carolina active community, and the other in New York City! Or that one person has no intention of retiring. Unfortunately, there are more areas to discover incompatibility than you might expect.

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, advantages, and disadvantages 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.

Make lists

List out the needs of both parties along with a descriptive level of need (ie, critical, high, medium, low). Once underlying needs are listed, you 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. Being accepting can often can bring a new understanding and enjoyment to both parties. The spirit of adventure should never be lost!

With your “pencil and paper” list you can see the pros and cons for each situation. Once all the facts are known common sense will make things easier.

Reconciling Differences (a collection of ideas from others)
Someone wise told us that the best way to resolve differences is to 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 that we sit in the living room facing each other. Each person gets time to talk without being interrupted 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!

How some of our Members have dealt with tricky situations

(Lightly edited for reasons of brevity). The first comment from Goldie is an interesting reaction from seeing the Comments from others in reaction to our recent compatibility poll.

Goldie: I wasn’t expecting the comments that followed this article which I found it very interesting, but kind of sad that people are not spending their retirement years as they have planned….Finding friends to socialize with is a great thing to do and volunteering is a wonderful way to make friends and provide a much needed service.


JohnH: 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.


Christopher: This article really cuts to the heart of the matter for married retirees. During their work years couples their marriage finds a rhythm of in terms of together and apart time. Once retirement hits, that changes.
While my wife and I had discussed possible timeframes for retirement, a situation at work made my decision to retire fairly quickly a no-brainer, and I pulled the trigger. My wife continued to work and I began my home projects and de-stress program with unbridled joy!

I still remember the day my wife came home, looked at me sitting on the couch fixing something and said “My God, you are always here!” It wasn’t said with affection or joy. It was a wake up call.

Fortunately I was asked to come back to work. The lesson that we both learned was that when (retirement) comes, we are now aware that we will need to build in activities and times to be together and times to be apart. We have some similar interests, and also stuff that that the other person isn’t interested in. We now know that this will be crucial for our long-term happiness with each other. All couples need to work through this prior to actually retiring!


Rich: Understand, it’s not all rosy — you can never anticipate the effects of age. And you should never forget that you have only one life to live — don’t spend it all waiting for perfect conditions — the ideal.

Mary 11:  In my case my husband would prefer living in a more quiet and private retirement, whereas I think at least in the beginning I’d prefer an active retirement community that offers daily activities. My mother and father were the same and they ended up spending less time together, and I don’t want that to happen to us. I would just feel guilty leaving him alone at home, but then he might like the solitude. That’s why it’s important to discuss these matters with each other.


Kris: Driving back from vacation we stopped to visit friends who retired to Pennsylvania. It was obvious that the wife was not as happy as she was last year. She said her husband wanted PA for tax reasons and outdoor recreation, and she was excited about a new house and adventure. But she didn’t realize the stress and problems it has caused with her wanting to go back to visit the kids and grandchildren. Now she realizes they never talked about how often they would visit, and he never mentioned he didn’t want her traveling without him. I hated to see her this unhappy, and I wish they would have seen this blog, there is so much to talk about and maybe even write down so one doesn’t forget what was discussed.

Daryl: I wanted to move south, spouse didn’t. Glad now we didn’t leave our family. Might all move in future, or snowbird for short periods. What a difference a few years makes.


Jini: We agreed on moving to Florida and have had an incredible time living in our community. What we didn’t discuss was that he had no interest in travel and I had years of pent-up demand! Nothing can be done but I now find myself looking for girlfriends to take trips with and visit. Talk about your expectations ahead of time! You might be surprised, as I was, and need to adjust!


DiaAn: I still don’t feel like I fit in where we live now. I would love to find another place, maybe another country, to live for a while at least, but it’s nearly impossible when one’s partner is perfectly fine staying where he is.
Time will tell, but at this point, we pretty much live separate lives. It doesn’t make sense financially to split up, so we just live in the same house & get along as best we can. Not the way I thought retirement would be, that’s for sure. Could be worse.


MaryNB: A friend was in her early sixties and I was a out 40. She had been married for 38 years and her husband had been telling her for years that when he retired, he wanted to live on a houseboat where it was warm. She didn’t pay much attention and laughed it off, not really thinking he was serious. One day, her husband came home and told her that he had bought a houseboat, found a woman who shared the same dreams, and wanted a divorce. She was stunned and in almost every conversation we had she would sooner or later utter,” I can’t believe Walt is living somewhere on a houseboat”. Poor woman. I guess the moral of the story is this subject is really a serious one and should be hashed out long before retirement age.


Bottom line

The good news is that most of the people visiting this site seem to have found a high degree of spousal compatibility! These Comments illustrate how they did it, using common sense techniques like planning and frequent, early communication. They also show the many unexpected pitfalls that can await if you don’t take early steps to find common ground and work out differences.

For further reading:

Posted by Admin on November 1st, 2022

1 Comment »

  1. I love all these suggestions. My spouse and I are fortunately very compatible about our retirement preferences. We both wanted to have warm winters so we go to Florida. Our grandchildren are in California which is unfortunate for everybody, but we agree we are not moving there. Too crowded and who knows, the kids might move East. We have had our differences in other areas of life of course, and it has taken me about a lifetime to realize that talking the issues out in the open, early, is the best course to find a happy medium.

    by Chris — November 3, 2022

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