Togetherness Should Not Tear You Apart

This article first appeared in Rethinking65.

It is easy to smile and chuckle a little bit when you hear comments like these from newly retired couples:

“I need to go back to work, my wife and I are driving each other crazy.”

“My husband tells me to stop bugging him, he’s retired now and just wants to relax.”

“I’m thinking about playing more golf, it keeps me out of the house and out of trouble.”

“Now that he is retired, he thinks he can manage me like I was on his team at work.”

However, I have learned to not take these statements too lightly. Beneath the jest could be a much deeper struggle where one or both are grappling with the amount of time they are spending together.

According to the American Bar Association, 10% of all divorces now involve couples 65 and older. The U.S. Census Bureau has divorce rates for ages 55 to 64 at 43%. While there are many factors that challenge marriages, some common issues include: money problems, poor communication, household division of labor, boredom, stress and disrespecting boundaries. The hustle and bustle of busy career lives can mask many of the difficulties. Introduce retirement (and the extra free time that comes with it) and the veneer might come off quickly.

As financial professionals, you are not expected, nor should you be marriage counselors. As a certified professional retirement coach, I will refer my clients to seek qualified assistance when I see that there are systemic issues beyond general lifestyle planning. However, wealth advisors can show clients the reality of retirement life so couples can begin to plan together to use their resources effectively.

You can position yourself as the “introducer of ideas” and not the “solver of problems” in three areas of retirement marriage opportunities: communication, time management, and shared goals.

The power of communication

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau also shows that married couples heading into retirement have been together a long time. Therefore, it might be easy to deduce that both communicate well in a life that is defined and structured. Remove the known (professional life) from the unknown (retirement life) and the art of communication might need to be adapted or retooled. Introduce them to a little lifestyle probing to get them in a post-career mindset.

  • How do you envision your daily routine and activities in retirement?
  • What do you imagine your spouse/partner doing in retirement?
  • What are the key areas you are going to focus on together in retirement?
  • How does your financial situation align with what you both want to do in retirement?

If you find the couple has a hard time answering, then emphasize that the more they talk about life after their career, the less chance these problems will enter the mix: poor listening, easy criticism, dismissiveness and emotional withdrawal.

Time-managed partnership

When asked, 45% of the respondents to my Retirement Time Analysis (RTA) indicate they do not have the ability to manage their time well. They also wonder how they will fill the time when they leave their career. And just because some clients manage time well today does not mean they will do it in retirement. Conversely, if people don’t manage time today, it will only get worse when they find time becomes unstructured in retirement. Present some time-tested inquiries:

  • What do you think a typical retirement week will look like for the two of you?
  • How much future planning do each of you want to do?
  • What does being productive mean to you in retirement?

These questions are self-directed to the individual. However, as each answer, couples will learn new things about the other person.

Sharing goals

Successful professionals produce the necessary income to make retirement a reality. Nonetheless, success can be the linchpin that defines many of their goals in life. Not surprisingly, almost 78% of RTA participants state their career provides a significant amount of personal value, worth and satisfaction. Once the job stops, life can feel like it is void of meaning. Introduce the concept of goal planning (individually and as a couple):

  • When you are no longer working, what will be your purpose in life?
  • What is on your combined bucket or vision list? This is a record of unique and aspirational goals with no set timeframe.
  • What would you like to do or accomplish in the next two to four years (alone and together)?
  • What is one big objective you want to get done in the next year (alone and together)?

If the statistics hold, you will find your clients have not really thought about the meaningful things they want to do in retirement, let alone discuss them with their spouse. You may hear default answers like travel and finding a new hobby. Remind them, those are not goals, but activities. The true fun begins when they are able to define those activities into detailed goals.

Quality time together and apart

Retirement opens couples to spending more time together. One or both deciding to go back to work is a delay tactic that won’t last forever. Eventually time itself will force a change. When a spouse defines the life for both, it can cause the other person to withdraw. Seeing a significant other as someone to be managed (like you do at work) limits the goal planning opportunities for everyone.

Help your clients think about all the possibilities available to them when they “intentionally plan” to decide to spend all that time together.

Join the Conversation!

We’ll be talking about “togetherness” at my weekly LinkedIn Audio Event series. Register now to get it on your calendar for January 4, 2024 at 12pm EST.

David Buck is the author of the book “The Time-Optimized Life, owner of Kairos Management Solutions, LLC, and founder of the Infinity Lifestyle Design program. As a certified professional retirement coach (CPRC), David works with financial services providers helping their clients create a post-career lifestyle strategy. To learn more, contact him at or visit Infinity Lifestyle Design.

Check out my other articles.

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