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As you and your spouse began building your life together, the trajectory seems simple and obvious. Ideally, your marriage started with the two of you on the same page and ready to head in the same direction. You were kept busy building that life — working, having and raising kids, building and maintaining your house and socializing as a team around all of these things.
As you prepare for retirement, many of the obligations that drove your life are becoming stripped away. Kids have grown and are moving out of the house, maybe even out of town or to another state. Your job, which may have taken up a majority of your time throughout the past few decades, will no longer monopolizes your energy. Friendships once based on working together or raising kids alongside each other may start to change or fade away.
Without all the anchors that kept you in place and on a particular path for so long, you may see and want to seize opportunities for change. It’s important to know what kinds of change your spouse is thinking about and willing to embrace. If you’re both not on the same page, you may be torn in separate directions and kept from seizing any opportunities at all.
Don’t wait until you discover these differences to talk about them! Start discussing your plans and dreams for retirement early and often. Then you can address and find compromises for any major disparities that might exist between your spouse’s post-work interests and your own.
Answer these questions, and discuss what they might mean for your retirement plans:
1. When you imagine your retirement together, what are you both excited about? What are you each afraid of?
This first question may address a lot of other issues, so it’s important to discuss. You may find your spouse is excited about the freedom to travel more, while you were hoping to settle into a quiet, secluded house and have more time at home. Your spouse may be excited about launching an online business, while you’re excited to have more leisure time.
Additionally, discussing your fears about the changes coming to your life before you’re faced with them head-on will allow you time to plan for how you can best support each other. You can discuss ways to address those fears or prepare for the issues you’re afraid of.
2. Do you want to stay where you are, move somewhere else or travel often?
Many people find that without work and family obligations tying them to their location, retirement is the time to finally explore new places either by moving or traveling. You may think that your spouse will naturally feel this way if you do, but maybe she’s just excited to settle into a quiet life in your home without the buzz of kids and work.
Maybe you have to compromise. Instead of selling everything and moving across the country, you could settle on a nice location for a vacation home. Then you can enjoy the excitement of a new place, and she can enjoy the stability and comforts of home.
3. Do you want to live in the city, suburbs or a rural area?
In retirement, you may realize your job or your kids’ school were the major reasons you live where you do. Without those obligations, maybe you want a change. Maybe the pace of life where you are was perfect while you were working, but you want something faster or slower to accommodate your new desires in retirement. How does what your spouse envisions mesh with your own desires?
4. Do you want to find a new job, take up new hobbies or go to school?
Some people think of retirement as the end of work. Others think of it as the beginning of new opportunities, a chance to finally do the work they’ve always wanted to do or learn the things they’ve always wanted to learn. Your spouse may reveal he wants to go back to school just as you’re imagining a luxurious life of travel.
Ask this question early and entertain these possibilities so you know what to plan for — e.g., maybe you have to plan around summer vacations to accommodate an academic schedule.
5. Do you want to stay near children and grandchildren or stay in touch with them remotely?
Do you and your spouse agree on the importance of living near family and loved ones? If your children have moved away from home, do you want to move to be closer to them? Alternatively, do you want to stymie an urge to travel or live someplace new in order to live near them in your hometown? Depending on each spouse’s relationship with your children or grandchildren, you could find that you have different priorities.
6. Do you want to spend most hours of the day together or doing your own things?
This is a very basic question, and may seem rude to bring up with your spouse. But discussing it can save you a lot of discontent in the future. When you’re both working, raising kids and managing hobbies and your social lives, you may not realize how few hours in the day you’re actually spending together. Being thrown into a retirement where you’re constantly together throughout the day may actually cause stress.
Be open and honest with your spouse about these feelings. If you know you’re an independent person who appreciates autonomy and alone time, make sure you can include that in your retirement plans. Ignoring the issue could leave you resenting that you spend too much time together or leave your spouse resenting that you’re always trying to get away. Discussing it will allow you to build that independent time into your plan without neglecting time together.
7. Do you want to own more, less or different things?
Are you planning for a huge garage sale after the kids are out of the house and work is done? How does your spouse feel about that? Over the years of your marriage, it’s quite likely you’ve amassed a lot of stuff. Retirement can be a great time to reboot and start fresh, purging the things you no longer find necessary.
But making that decision can be a long and emotional process. What you find necessary or dispensable may not jibe with what your spouse thinks, so have the conversation before you embark on a major decluttering of the attic.
8. Do you want a smaller or bigger home, the same home or a remodel?
As they head into retirement spending less money on their children, many couples find they have more money to play around with than they’ve in years. How do you want to allocate that money? Are you ready to create your dream home? You and your spouse may have been talking for years about what you’d change in the house when you had the chance, but when you’re actually faced with making those decisions, she’s decided she’d just prefer to sell and move into something smaller.
In the midst of those dreamy conversations about what might change, bring up this question and discuss what choices are practical and the best fit for your retirement plans.
9. How do you plan to handle care as you age? Do you want to move into an assisted community, hire assistance or live near or with children or grandchildren?
There are a lot of legal and medical issues tied up in this question, but you also need to focus on the inherent lifestyle issue involved. Do you expect to live with your children when you or your spouse require care or assistance, or do you prefer to live independently in an assisted community or facility?
These various living situations can have a profound impact on your relationship with your spouse, so it’s important that you discuss your preferences early to avoid being ushered into a situation that doesn’t work for you.
Which of these questions have you confronted?