When it comes to retirement, the most common concern we hear from our client couples isn’t usually related to their finances. It’s personal. Among the top for many long term couples? “How are my partner and I going to handle being around each other 24-7?” Here are a few ways to prepare for this transition.
1. Use a tool to guide the conversation
We don’t mean sit on the back porch and discuss the broad concept of retirement over a glass of wine (although, that’s important too!). Use an actual tool that’s designed to draw out what’s important to each of you. At our firm, we have a game for this very purpose. We use the term game because our clients have told us its fun; but don’t let that fool you. It can lead to serious breakthroughs in this important conversation. After guiding each partner through a variety of questions, it tally’s your results, highlights areas of agreement and encourages communication and conversation on the areas that differ. (If you’re reading this and think, “Hey! I want to try that!” drop us a line.)
2. Pencil out an ideal week on retirement
While some of you may cringe at the idea of having a schedule in retirement, bear with me on this. Our lives – certainly our working lives – run on a schedule. We become very accustom to this way of being and – in many cases – we flounder without it.
Jotting down an ideal week can help couples identify specifics on the day to day expectations of themselves and each other. In some cases, comparing your two calendars will naturally highlight times together and apart – both vitally important. When I asked one of my clients how she and her husband are making retirement together work, she said, “Throughout our relationship we have had shared and individual interests and friends. That has continued in retirement and has been crucial. We don’t rely on each other exclusively for living life.”
If you’re having a hard time knowing where to start on your ideal week, this may spark some thought. While everyone’s ideal will be different, our clients tell us that generally, happy weeks include these five aspects: Physical activity, social interaction with people other than your partner, time outside, intentional time with your partner, participating in something bigger than yourself (your church, your favorite nonprofit, your garden, etc.).
3. Put a dollar amount on ‘free’ time
Free time is very rarely free. In fact, idle hands can be incredibly expensive. Use that ideal week and put dollar amounts to your golf games or your gardening habit. Pencil out a budget and share it with each other.
If you haven’t already, consider working with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to get the short and long term view. We work every day to help our client families explore what’s possible and put tangible parameters on what has been – up until now – a nebulous dream. It’s a lot easier to enjoy that Viking River Cruise when you’re confident it’s not compromising your long term financial security.
4. Cultivate the pursuit of purpose
A very real part of retirement for many is losing the sense of purpose that came with a fulfilling career. This can pose a serious risk to a relationship if one person expects (consciously or subconsciously) their partner to be that purpose. This is an impossible task that no one can measure up to. So, to do this well, you have to put yourself out there.
Make time to try new things (in new places, with new people) in low-commitment scenarios. Attend a Rotary meeting as a guest. Take a master gardener workshop. Volunteer at the food share. Spend time with your grandkids. Just take care not to overcommit yourself until you’re sure of what it is that sparks your passion.
One of my clients summed up his experience eloquently, “Retirement forced me to figure out all over again who I really am, what I value most, and what is my purpose in life. That’s a challenge. You are likely to be asked by many organizations to volunteer and by many friends to help out with this or that or to do social things. You can quickly find your calendar filled with stuff that doesn’t fit your needs. That overload will prevent you from doing needed reflection on who you are and what your purpose is. My advice is to devote a year to this effort and, if you say “yes” to anything, do so only after careful thought as to how it fits with your priorities and your need for time to reflect.”
5. Be patient and courageous
The first few months will be an adjustment period, even if you do all of the above perfectly. Particularly if you retire at the same time, don’t expect your partner to have the same experience as you. This chapter provides the opportunity to reimagine, and in some cases, reinvent yourself. Embrace it. Share your wildest thoughts with your partner and encourage theirs. Be patient, give your partner, and yourself, a little grace.