We’ve all heard stories about the couple who got along famously… until the husband retired and was suddenly underfoot all day, rearranging his wife’s kitchen cupboards or telling her how to run the household, making a general nuisance of himself — and possibly jeopardizing the marriage, because, while he diligently saved for retirement, neither he nor his spouse planned for the tremendous shift that would occur in their daily lives once the husband and wife were under the same roof all day.
(For younger retirees, where the wife has also held a job, or for same-sex couples, the outward appearance may differ but the issues are essentially the same.)
Gray Divorce Is Booming
Baby Boomers are ending their marriages at record rates, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The AAML found that 61 percent of its 1600 members have seen a rise in what’s termed “gray divorce”: divorce among those 50+. And retirement may have something to do with it.
Reverse mortgage professionals, take note: making marriage retirement-ready is the one area of retirement planning most couples miss. As a result, a couple may work hard, save and invest, raise a family, and look forward to their senior years — only to discover, as one recently retired man admitted to his financial planner with sadness, “I don’t know my wife and she doesn’t know anything about me. We raised four great kids and did what we had to do… but we were ships in the night and now everything feels off. We still do stuff and go through the motions but it’s not what I expected at this stage in life.”
For other couples, the challenges may center on a refusal to help out or go out, an obsession with a specific sport such as golf or tennis, or becoming a “cheapskate” because of a deep-seated fear of running out of money. While the latter issue can often be assuaged with a reverse mortgage for qualified seniors, the larger problem is failing to plan for how life roles, responsibilities, time, energy, and health will shift once both halves of a couple are retired.
According to Dr. Louis Primavera and Rob Pascale, authors of The Retirement Maze: What You Should Know Before and After You Retire, there are several ways couples can psychologically prepare their marriage for retirement:
- Commit to talking about it. Honest discussion lays the groundwork for greater understanding and is much more productive than simmering in silence.
- Eliminate expectations. Each member of the couple can explain how they view retirement, what activities they hope to do jointly, areas each would prefer to manage solo (e.g., the kitchen, the garden) and how to integrate one another into activities either person previously handled alone.
- Appreciate separate time as well as togetherness. If she has a weekly quilting group or he loves to golf with his buddies (or just the opposite — gender roles are fluid today), accept, allow and encourage this time apart from each other. Separate activities also give a couple something to talk about later.
- Face obstacles with aplomb. Disenchantment after six months or so of retirement can be a normal part of the adjustment process. Running into difficulties doesn’t have to spell the end of a long and mostly happy marriage. If a couple has prepped their marriage for retirement, whatever issues arise can find a workable solution — and it’s OK to ask for help from a qualified professional if necessary.
- Plan for the first retirement while one continues to work. If both partners work, odds are one will retire before the other. Discuss how this will play out on the home front, so you’re both on board with your evolving roles.