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For Better or Worse, But Not For Retirement?

Apr 18, 2008
Retiring is a life-changing event, no question about it. As we anticipate it, the word we most associate it to is "freedom!" The end of day-to-day responsibilities, the opportunity to do all the things we have dreamed about doing, the beginning of "me" time and "us" time.

The allure of freedom is powerful, but the truth is that freedom for one member of a couple may feel like servitude to the other. If you have worked outside the home, for example, and your wife has been responsible mainly for dinner meals, the new "free" you may now want a late breakfast and lunch as well as dinner. Or a working wife may suddenly find a retired husband "supervising" her purchases or her other household activities, having shifted his work responsibilities to the home front. "Petty" you may think, or the stuff of TV sit-coms. However, the stark reality is that the highest divorce demographic has now shifted to the 55+ age group! "For better or for worse, but not for lunch" now has real punch and is not just the tag line of the standard retirement joke.

What to do? How do we resolve such diverse differences as a lifetime desire to live in China and master Mandarin vs. an emotional need to be near the grandchildren? And what about different life stages where one spouse pre-retires the other by as much as a decade? Although there are no secret rules to make everyone happy, there are guidelines to help you transmit information so that the relationship is enhanced by challenge, opportunity and communication, rather than undermined by seemingly irreconcilable differences. Below are some tips.

1. Choose time and location for important discussions carefully. Far better to set up discussion time than to try and wing it through a "by the way, I'm booking our flight to Beijing" while dinner guests are on the way.

2. Establish an atmosphere of mutual respect. This is a discussion about your wants and needs, not an opportunity to accuse your spouse of lots of "you always," or "you nevers". Stay rooted in the important concerns and accept that you may only get some of what you want.

3. Make a list of your interests and prioritorize them, assigning number values to order of importance as well as depth of passion. For example, playing every championship golf course around the world may be on your list, but may rank far behind in intensity to climbing Kilimanjaro with your college roommate. This exercise will help you compare not only rank order but intensity so that the composite list can clearly identify your priorities.

4. Be realistic. Whatever your choices, understand that your initial idea of your post-retirement will evolve over time. There is a tendency to overload the initial opportunity (i.e. in the first year after I retire, I will finish the solarium, plant a new garden, learn Spanish and read all of Shakespeare). Revisiting, reprioritizing and pruning based on real time experience will help make the transition to retirement easier.

5. Finally, leave open the opportunity to return to work in a partialized way. Many retirees find a phased approach to retirement suits them far better than constantly creating new opportunities for pleasure. You may not arrive at this immediately (there is a honeymoon phase to retirement) but after six months or a year, doing some type of work may again appeal to you for its intrinsic reward and/or to offset financial concerns. If you anticipate this before leaving employment, so much the better, as frequently pre-retirement agreements can be put in place for rehires either as a consultant or project-based employee.

In summary, your marriage has a better chance of surviving your retirement if you maintain a desire to please your partner as well as to share and enjoy the opportunities available. If a couple at this phase of life can master generosity and a desire to truly know what each other wants at this phase, the chances of reaching that Golden Anniversary will increase exponentially.
About the Author
John Trauth is co-author of "Your Retirement, Your Way" (McGraw-Hill, 2007), a step-by-step curriculum which explains the secrets for happiness in retirement and helps readers prepare for the psychological, strategic and financial aspects of this major life transition. Learn more about this book and take the free "retirement readiness quiz" at http://www.YourRetirementYourWay.com.
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