Your Spouse in Your Retirement
Plan —and NOT in My Retirement
Retirement can bring its own state of dejection, shortly after people leave the workforce or
much later when adversity strikes. John E. Sarno, M.D. in his book, The Mindbody Prescription, writes,
"Retirement is generally dangerous to your health, whether you're a man or a woman. The loss of
status, the change of pattern and lifestyle almost invariably produce disturbing internal reactions that may cause
emotional or physical symptoms."
"Some of the strongest feelings arise in the nonworking wife of a retiree. Now you have to
interact with your husband all his waking hours; you may find yourself cooking three meals a day. One woman
remarked that it's like having a teenager around the house again."
"If your husband gets sick, multiply the internal anger by ten. If doesn't matter how much you
love him. If the marriage was a little rocky before his illness, it may be worse after, adding to your internal
I've given my memoirs far more thought than
any of my marriages. You can't divorce a book.
— Gloria Swanson
The following material about couples in retirement first appeared in my international
best-seller How to Retire Happy, Wild, and
Free, which has now sold over 310,000 copies and has been published in 9
language, proving it is The World's Best Retirement Book. I
removed this material to make room for some other material even though the issue of marriage and retirement
is important. I have added a few quotes about marriage to enhance the
If you aren't presently retired, it's important to spend many preretirement days thinking about
what you want to do when you walk out of your workplace for the last time. In the event that you are married and
planning to retire, it's just as important that you don't forget to include your spouse in your retirement
Fidelity Investments' survey of soon-to-be-retired spouses and their view of retirement showed
that, generally speaking each member of a couple had attitudes toward retirement planning that was
disconnected from the other member. The Fidelity survey found that the minority of couples who said they made
retirement decisions jointly were better prepared for the unexpected and were more optimistic about what their
retirement lifestyle would be like.
More than one- third of soon-to-be-retired couples disagreed on their expected retirement ages
and on their expected lifestyles in retirement. In other words, they had not asked, "How much do I need to
retire?", "Should we use a simple retirement
calculator?" and "Is my retirement plan different than your retirement plan?"
Forty-one percent of soon-to-be-retired couples gave different answers when asked whether one or
both spouses in the marriage will work at a retirement job or career after their
normal careers are finished.
For those soon-to-be-retired couples expecting to have a corporate pension coming to them, 70
percent of husbands and wives knew the age at which they could start drawing retirement income on their own
pension, but only 37 percent of the women and 60 percent of the men knew when their spouses could draw retirement
income on theirs. Only 38 percent said they made retirement decisions together.
Third Law of Retirement:
Partners entering retirement need to travel the same orb.
— from Retirement Rocket
Most soon-to-be-retired couples agreed the potential for a health crisis in their retirement
years was a concern, but 23 percent said they have done nothing to prepare finantially or otherwise for that
potential, while 35 percent of soon-to-be-retired couples couldn't agree about what they have done.
Only 64 percent of soon-to-be-retired couples over 55 agreed they had a will or estate plan in
place, while just 46 percent of soon-to-be-retired couples under 55 did.
The lesson is straightforward: Include your spouse in your
retirement plan - and not my retirement plan!
Whether or not your decision to retire is made jointly or individually may affect your
relationship with your spouse when you retire. Couples in retirement do have problems they didn't have before
If your partner continues to work, he or she may feel left out and somewhat
resentful, particularly if you didn't consult with him or her before you retire. The dynamics of your
relationship may suffer just because you failed to communicate your desire to retire and the reasons behind it.
Furthermore, your partner may know more about you than you do, and be able to predict how well you will handle
retirement. He or she will certainly know the signs that you are
I don't know why togetherness was ever held up
as an ideal of marriage. Away from home for both, then together, that's much better.
— Amanda Cross
Compatibility and the ability to spend a lot of time with your spouse is important because you
may be spending a great deal of time together, particularly when both of you are fully retired. This is just as
important as finding the best places to retire happy. The shift in your employment status
will influence patterns in how much time you spend together, the types of activities you indulge in together and
individually, obligations towards each other, and your plans for the future. Your having an active retirement is
important for both of you.
You have to ask yourself, "How do my spouse and I synchronize our lives so that our time
together is a lot better in retirement than it was in our working lives?" Should it be the case that your spouse
plans to work for a few years after you retire, it's wise to have a retirement plan filled with so many interesting
and challenging activities that you won't notice that your wife is still working and you aren't.
If your spouse stays in the workforce for another six years, it may be difficult for you to be
alone all this time. On the other hand, once your spouse retires, you may find that you actually liked spending
time alone, much more than with your spouse. This may wind up being a problem, more to your spouse than you.
Some people ask the secret of our long
marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight dinner,
soft music, and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.
— Henny Youngman
Indeed, retirement can create other interesting problems such as the one experienced by Frank E.
Douglas III, and his wife, Ana Maria, of Centerville, Ohio. After Mr. Douglas took early retirement at age
fifty-six, he suggested to his wife, a professor at Wright State University, that she get rid of the cleaning lady:
"It seemed to me like I ought to do it,"
Mr. Douglas later recalled. "After all, I was going to be home." Unfortunately, it wasn't long
before Mr. Douglas discovered that his house cleaning wasn't up to par. "My work didn't meet the manager's
standards," he admitted. As is to be expected, to resolve the problem, the couple rehired the housekeeper.
Married retirees must be aware that each spouse's retirement represents an important life event
for couples, requiring adjustment on the part of both spouses. Each of their "Top-10 Activities When You
Retire" may be a lot different than the other.
The retirement of one spouse has a tendency to affect the other because the amount of time, and
how they spend it together and apart, changes significantly. The quality of a relationship for a retired couple
also can be affected by the timing of each partner's retirement, health status of each partner, family
relationships on either side, and their overall financial status.
Seeing unhappiness in the marriage of friends,
I was content to have chosen music and laughter as a substitute for a husband.
— Elsa Maxwell
Contrary to popular belief, by no means do all retired couples enjoy their time together more
than they did when they were working. Marriage and retirement can be like oil and water.
Fact is, even two people who have enjoyed a successful marriage for three decades can end up
driving each other crazy when one or both retire. Not many wives or husbands will be happy with a stay-at-home
spouse who spends hoards of time sitting in an easy chair, for all intents and purposes, waiting to die..
My wife and I were happy for 25 years - then
— Rodney Dangerfield
There can be a lot of conflict, especially when the husband retires and has little to keep
himself occupied. As one retirement planner stated, ''Since they can no longer boss their staff around, some
husbands now order their wives around. The wife will think, 'But you are sitting there doing nothing.' This is when
Being the ''home minister," some women are also irritated when their husbands interfere with
their work by trying to help out. The clashes can lead to the men staying out of the house to avoid being nagged
and looking for company outside instead.
In Hollywood, all marriages are happy. It's
trying to live together afterwards that causes problems.
— Shelly Winter
Barbara Udell, Director of Lifestyle Education at the Florida Pritkin Longevity Center, states,
"Before retirement, separateness can be very healthy for togetherness. When a couple is thrown together full-time,
an attitude adjustment is needed. Sometimes counseling can be very helpful in assisting the couple with this change
in their lives."
A post-retirement lifestyle shouldn't be limited to the retiree spending most of his or her time
with their spouse. It's essential that each partner in a retired couple have his/her own interests. Bob
Buford, author of a book called Game Plan, points to higher rates of divorce among those who retire too
early and find themselves with nothing to occupy their minds or engage their interest.
It's also important that retired couples give each other the freedom to pursue individual
interests. Without the workplace to provide them with something to do, some retired individuals end up being lost
souls, following their spouse wherever they go.
Not giving their spouse the space and freedom to pursue their own interests can backfire and
leave these retirees with even less company and less to do. Not surprisingly, some spouses have been known to go
back to work once their retired partners drive them crazy.
The key is to organize your life so that you have time with your spouse and plenty of time to do
your own thing. If you are male, your wife is not going to be happy if you rely on her to make you lunch each day
while you sit around waiting for things to happen.
In the same vein, if you are female, your husband won't relish your following him around
everywhere, including the golf course and coffee bar where he meets his male friends to talk about "men things."
Without their spouses being present, women should be able to enjoy the companionship of other women and men should
be able to enjoy the companionship of other men.
Every marriage tends to consist of an
aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.
— John Updike
Having your own space at home as well as giving your spouse her own space will be more important
than it has ever been. While you were working, you had your own work area that you could call your own. It may have
been a big office with several windows or it could have been a small area in a car manufacturing plant, which you
could call your own. Especially for traditional couples, in which the husband has been working and the wife has
been looking after the house, establishing personal space is essential.
After leaving the White House, Ex-President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn had to adjust to
their retirement away from public life. Just as important as having to decide what to do with their time, they had
to learn how to share their lives together in a new way and it wasn't always easy. In a 1998 telephone interview
with Ron Hogan of Amazon.com, Jimmy had this to say regarding their spending time together as a couple:
Both of my marriages were failures! Number one
departed and number two stayed.
— Gustav Mahler, in a Swiss radio interview
"Rosalynn and I had never really been in a house together all day, and we didn't know how. We
are both very strong-willed people, and we didn't know how to accommodate that constant interrelationship. After
several months, we sat down and tried to make an inventory of what we had accumulated in our lifetime of experience
and education and contacts and influence, and what we had as opportunities for developing a new life.
Pleasure for one hour, a bottle of wine.
Pleasure for one year a marriage; but pleasure for a lifetime, a garden.
— Chinese Proverb
"First of all, we've learned to respect each other more. We've also learned how to give each
other privacy. I've got an office now that I use at home that used to be a garage, and Rosalynn has got an office
in another part of the house that used to be one of our boys' bedrooms. And when we are working on a book or
working on paperwork or making telephone calls or doing other things, we really are very respectful of the privacy
of the other person.
Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper
think she's a householder.
— Thornton Wilder
"And we've worked out a routine that's flexible, so that we know what times of day we want to be
together. And usually in the afternoon, when we're home, we go out and play tennis or ride bikes or go jogging or
take walks on our farm to get some physical exercise. The things that we do find that we have in common as an
interest, we go out of our way to share them with each other."
As the Carters' experience indicates, most couples must adjust to the fact that they will be
spending a lot more time together after retirement. Trying to adapt to a life without the structure, sense of
community, and personal identity that a job provided can bring up a lot of emotional and psychological issues, not
only for the retiree, but also for the spouse. A situation where one person is totally engaged in life and the
other isn't will sooner or later lead to relationship problems.
Marriage is the only war in which you sleep
with the enemy.
— Unknown Wise Person
All things considered, couples planning retirement are urged to figure out what
dreams they do and don't have in common and how much time they plan to spend together when one or both retire. Some
couples have spent virtually no unstructured time together during their working years, aside from two weeks on
vacation every year or so.
Once they retire, these couples in retirement realize their relationship lacks
substance because they've been so devoted to their work over the years. This can present a problem. But it is also
an opportunity to carry the relationship to a deeper level as the Carters were able to do.
Retiring is easy.
Staying retired — now that's the trick!
— Richard Parker, Author of Retired & Staying Retired; Enjoying the RV
What Sort of Legacy Will You Leave to Your Children
Will Any of These Be Your Retirement
- Retired at 63 and vegetated until he died at
- Retired at 62 and watched 10 hours of TV every
day for the rest of her extremely boring
- Took early retirement and lost all his
retirement savings at the casino because he didn't know what else to do with his
- Retired early, got extremely bored, and then
tried to return to her old job that she hated, couldn't get it back, found
a job that she hated even more, and had to retire again because of poor
It Doesn't Have to Be That
the Latest Edition of How to Retire Happy, Wild,
and Free Today Through These
Copyright 2017 by Ernie