On a recent book tour, I met a woman whose face I cannot forget. She looked overwhelmed, depressed and dejected. As we began to talk and her story unfolded, I discovered the source of her turmoil: retirement. Unlike others I’ve met who worry about not having enough money, she and her husband faced a different hurdle—agreeing on when to start spending their retirement money.
The couple had saved millions of dollars and had no debt. Both were in their 50s and were in a great spot financially. She wanted to start enjoying retirement; he wanted to keep earning and saving. He couldn’t bring himself to enjoy the fruit of their labor, and she couldn’t bring herself to keep working at the same pace. When a husband and wife are not on the same page, say hello to conflict.
And they had lots of it. They’d both dug their heels in and their relationship was suffering. The problem wasn’t just about their money. It was about their marriage.
What to Do If You’re in Different Places
The advice I gave the woman that day is the same advice I’d offer anyone in that situation. If you’ll take action to focus on the relationship first, the money problems will be easier to fix. Otherwise, you’re just putting a Band-Aid on a wound, and you’ll be fighting again before you can say Roth IRA.
- Go talk with your pastor. Your marriage is sacred. It is more important than anything else (except for your relationship with God, of course). Sharing the conflict with your pastor means having somebody in your corner to encourage you and pray for you. It may also mean some accountability to keep your priorities in order.
- Get some marriage counseling. Money fights are rarely about money. There’s almost always something underneath driving the conflict. Talking with someone who has the skills to help you identify the underlying issue can save you valuable time and energy—and a lot of hurt feelings. You may even want to do some individual counseling. Deciding when to retire is a big deal, and you may have mixed feelings about it.
- Identify your expectations. Do you think you and your spouse should retire at the same time? Do you expect that you will do everything together? How do you see your daily life? Understanding each other’s perspective is an important part of bridging the gap between you.
- Compromise. Yep. The magic word for a happy marriage. If your spouse wants to keep working, that’s fine. If one of you would like to work part time, that’s okay. A compromise would be scheduling some fun trips together once a quarter. Plan some weekend trips with friends. If your spouse wants to play golf or learn a new language or rebuild an old car, that’s okay, too. You don’t have to do everything together, but you need to do some things together to stay connected.
- Start small. If you or your spouse can’t fathom big changes like retirement, then start with little changes. Splurge at that restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Take a class to see if you’d like to start that business. Then build from there. That dream dinner can turn into a weekend getaway or even a dream vacation. By starting small, you’re allowing your spouse (or you) to get used to the idea of being retired. For some, it’s hard to imagine life after a career.
Getting on the same page about retirement doesn’t mean you retire at the same time or that you agree on everything you’ll do. It just means you keep dreaming and planning and talking no matter what stage of life you’re in. If you keep working to strengthen your marriage now, then you’re less likely to hit retirement and feel like you have a roommate instead of a soulmate.