Retirement can spark both stress and disagreement in an otherwise contended marriage. After years of happy, healthy wedded bliss, sometimes one or both spouses are surprised to find themselves unhappy once retirement comes or when discord enters the marriage.
Negotiation and compromise are key elements in a successful marriage—long-time spouses already know this and practice both well. Entering retirement doesn’t change this. It’s hard for two spouses to enjoy their later years if each wants to sail in their own direction.
Marital stress in retirement can be linked to two primary sources: one, difference in timing on when each spouse retires; and two, different expectations for what life in retirement will be like.
When one spouse retires first
Married couples who enter retirement at the same time generally experience less stress and disagreement. Strife is more likely to occur when one spouse retires before the other. And that strife can be different when a husband retires first versus a wife retiring first.
From a financial standpoint, it’s advantageous for one spouse to continue working after the other spouse retires. The income from the working spouse’s salary can give the couple some flexibility in many ways, including planning for Social Security benefits.
However, wives may feel more stress when they continue to work after their husbands retire. Often, wives continue to juggle the dual responsibilities of home and work, even when husbands are home with much more free time on their hands.
When retirement goals are different
On the flip side, many husbands retire to spend more time with their wives. Yet, these husbands may feel slighted when their wives choose continuing their career over spending time together in retirement.
To ease the marital discord when spouses retire at different times, psychologists recommend a triple dose of talk, talk, and more talk. Both spouses need to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with each other and setting clear expectations about how they see their lives together in retirement.
Talking about the financial issues of retirement may only add to the stress that spouses feel. But these conversations are also an opportunity for married couples to be open and honest about their retirement goals and expectations.