How to Communicate With Your Partner About Retirement

We make the best plans for how everything will be when we jump into the abyss known as retirement. And then life happens. 

A sudden downturn in the market, a delay in Social Security payments, a sudden reversal in the employment decision of your replacement, the sale of your employer’s business, an unexpected major illness or any number of other miscalculations can show up at the wrong time. And you’ve already had the retirement party, cleaned out your desk and made reservations on the next ocean cruise when it happens. (For related reading, see: Retirement in an Age of Longevity.)

So what now? How do you regroup and find the plan B for your retirement?

Before you panic, consider the significance of the decisions you made when setting this up. Social Security can be deferred if you have not yet begun to take it. The withdrawals from your 401(k) plan do not need to be taken and can be stopped. The trips you had planned if you had travel insurance can be refunded and rebooked.

What You Can't Change

The ones you can’t easily reverse? 

  • The closing on your house, but you can rent somewhere and put your things in storage for a few months.
  • The Social Security checks if they have already started.
  • The closing on the new house you bought in the warmer climate.
  • The new job you took on a part-time basis to start in a few weeks. Yet if it is with a small privately-owned business, they may be able to work with you.
  • The payments from an annuity which was to start on a certain date.

Plan B is a necessary step for all of us who are facing retirement with a smug sense of certainty. Life never allows us to realize the perfect plan. How flexible are your plans? (For related reading, see: Top 5 Things to Do When You Retire.)

When we look at the uncertainty of life, be assured that same craziness continues in retirement as well. Depending on how flexible you are with life now, you will need to carry that sense of going-with-the-flow in retirement as well. Or you will find the stress of trying to control those issues which you cannot control will derail your retirement joy and possibly lead to other nasty consequences you had not planned either. Like divorce. 

Gray Divorce

The incidence of “gray divorce” has dramatically increased in the last 10 years. The number one cause is a lack of communication and a widening emotional chasm which seems to have been in existence well before the decision to divorce. But no one wanted to admit it. Is it because now that you are face-to-face, 24-7-365 with that person you have been married to for over 30+ years and realize you cannot share your financial concerns or establish some kind of financial boundaries and should not continue this way of life? 

Having a great communication system in place with your significant other will help in many ways to get past the inevitable hurdles you will both encounter during your retirement. And of course, there will be the end-of-life issues no one wants to talk about. 

Sharing your third age of life (or life after 50) with a responsive and empathetic partner is so often overlooked when the need for retirement planning occurs.  Retirement counseling ought to be a major part of retirement planning. It needs to be included to assure your success in retirement, as much as planning for an education and careful job choices were critical to your success in your career.  Of course it is not necessary, but it is a valuable exercise for couples. There are now specialists trained to provide this counseling who are not just newly-minted “coaches.” 

For some guidance, consider a Google search online for couples retirement counseling. Beware of those who consider themselves counselors and are insurance agents in disguise. There are some very well trained counselors who help couples see the “softer” side of retirement as a place where both members of the couple can find their authentic selves, live a happy life in retirement together and survive the curve balls life will hand you. (For more from this author, see: Retirement Planning Isn't Just About the Money.)