I’m Working – He’s Not! Four Ways To Thrive With A Retired Spouse

My husband is ten years my senior.  He has had two iterations of “retirement” so far and both of them had financial and emotional implications for us. His most recent shift has been out of a paid career to having more freedom with his time.

I had my expectations of what his days would look like.  I dreamed of a perennially clean house. He could keep things tidied up – he has the time!  I fantasized about the “honey do list” being fulfilled.  No longer would I need to spend my weekends catching up on the household chores.  The thought of him taking over dinner duties made me smile.  I imagined a glass of wine and a healthy gourmet meal awaiting me when I arrived home from work.

Then, I woke up.  His version of clean, and mine – let’s just say there is a divide.  Mark has never been a handyman or ever had an inkling of wanting to be one.  Why did I think retirement was going to change that?  I have always been the “foodie” who enjoyed creating epicurean fare as a reflection of love for family and friends.  While he tried the role – “I’ll cook once a week”, he was calling me with kitchen questions and was disappointed when it didn’t look just like the cookbook pictures.   I found I really didn’t appreciate him stepping into my turf as much as I thought it would benefit me.

Given my career path as a financial life planner, I thought we were well prepared for the transition.  We struggled at first and continue to work at refining this new life season.  As we strive to thrive, I want to share a few suggestions that may help you.  I know there are many ideas out there and I hope you will share yours.

Space and grace:

We both needed to give ourselves permission to explore this new season of life.  He took a “gap” year.  He golfed, biked, read, looked into organizations he found intriguing and hunted for golf balls with the dog a lot.  I was in the midst of writing a book, meeting with clients and creating a new business venture that fulfilled me.  I had meetings to prep for, conferences to attend and long days to fulfill.  We were at two ends of the scheduling spectrum – he was free and I was totally booked.  We had to do a lot of talking about what was working and what wasn’t.  We both had to let go of our expectations of each other and of ourselves.  Eighteen months later, we are enjoying the new normal.

What you appreciate – appreciates!

When I acknowledged how well he did his own laundry and inquired if I could take that off my list of “to does”, he willingly obliged.  As I recognized his enthusiasm for travel and finding local social, educational and community activities or events, I declared him “cruise director”.  Yes, it has to fit within our spending plan and time, but now he comes up with creative ways to spend our evenings, weekends and vacation opportunities.  He is very focused on his physical health and he encourages me to go for a bike ride, go on a hike or get to that class in order to show up for my clients in top condition.  Cooking – he does like to make salads!  A lovely accompaniment to whatever I cook up and it saves me fifteen minutes in prep time.

Mental shift with income streams.

His paycheck now comes from two pensions.  I am fortunate that I love what I do and continue to “earn” a living.  We have been married for over twenty five years and about twenty years ago, we decided it was not my money or his money – but our money and we needed to have a unified mindset about all aspects of bringing it in, sharing, growing, protecting and spending it.  We have been very strategic and intentional about how he is taking his pensions, and how to optimize our Social Security benefits. We decided to push Social Security out, primarily for the widow’s benefits since I am a younger spouse.  We review our spending plan to make sure our choices aligned with our goals and what is important to us.  We TALK about money.   It can still be emotionally charged,  but because of common ground, we don’t argue like we used to!

Evolve through the emotions.

If you are starting to build resentment that he is “free” and you aren’t, nip it in the bud.   Resentment, anger and fear only hold you captive and keep you out of your life and financial integrity.   This is where the numbers crunching can be very powerful.  Together, define what you want your life to look like. Then quantify it.  You can proactively plan in order to make the most of the investment vehicles you have accumulated over time, optimize your social security options (over 500 of them) and create sources of income that align with creating a life of no regrets.  If you start discerning between your soul needs and your ego desires, you will find that you can probably live on less than what you thought.

Don’t let the media or society deem what you “should” be doing in retirement – define “rewirement” for yourself!  You both can thrive and create your personalized version of prosperity.

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