My wife and I both work, and we’re trying to figure out when each of us will retire. What are the advantages and disadvantages of retiring together or at different times? How do you manage retirement when one spouse is still working?
There is, of course, no single correct answer when it comes to timing retirement. But here are several points to consider:
• Retiring at the same time tends to work better. Most couples, by definition, navigate big changes in their lives together: relocating, starting a family, choosing (and changing) career paths. Retirement, of course, is a very big change. If one spouse suddenly is staying home, it can throw a marriage out of whack.
Take something as simple as housework. When one spouse continues to work while the other retires, the working spouse may expect the latter to take on more responsibility for cleaning, running errands and cooking. But the retired spouse may balk at suddenly becoming a full-time homemaker. Retiring together can help minimize such complications.
• Except when it doesn’t. Yes, some spouses who retire at the same time struggle with new routines and setting new boundaries. But that’s usually because they failed to take time before retiring to address several fundamental questions. Among them: What’s our vision of later life? How do we plan to fill our days? What activities and interests will we pursue as a couple and individually?
There is also one specific instance in which retiring at the same time can cause problems. It stems from the fact that men and women often view decisions about retirement through different lenses, says Deborah B. Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
To be specific, when a husband retires, it is frequently an individual decision: His career has run its course, or he has reached a particular age or goal. Yes, he might discuss the decision with his wife, but such chats are more likely to occur after he has made up his mind, or all but made up his mind.
When a woman retires, by contrast, it’s more likely to be a family decision, Smith says. A husband expects the wife to leave work because he is doing so, or a family member (usually an aging parent) requires care.
In short, if a wife is pulled from her job or career before she might be ready to leave, strains are…