By Robert Laura
This question is often referred to as either an “in-sync” or “out-of-sync” retirement. There is no easy answer as to which approach is best for you because there are pros and cons to each option. Age is usually a primary factor in both situations. Generally speaking, married couples range in age difference between one and five years, with the male being the oldest in most cases. Accordingly, once the male reaches the traditional retirement age of 62 or 65, he may be ready to call it quits, which can leave a few concerns on the table given the other spouse’s situation and age.
Generally, the older spouse will be eligible for some form of Social Security first, which will help offset any lost income. Not to mention, they may also be eligible for Medicare, which dramatically reduces the costs of individual health insurance. However, those two aspects become major stumbling blocks for the younger spouse, who won’t be able to replace their income with Social Security, and at the same time may have to pay hefty healthcare premiums to remain insured.
Whether couples have little to no age gap, or a substantial one, it’s not uncommon for a woman to put her career on hold for the sake of the family. As a result, she may prefer an out-of-sync retirement so she can work longer. Considering the time she put into raising a family, it may have taken her a few extra years to achieve the career success she desires and therefore wants to continue to make an impact there.
Another factor to consider is the role each spouse plays within the household. Not all, but some out-of sync retirements can cause arguments and frustration in terms of who is responsible for certain household chores now that one spouse is retired. Role confusion can make it crucial to discuss feelings and needs with each other before retirement instead of assuming you’re both on the same page. Talking about things such as:
• Will you go to bed and wake up at the same time?
• Will you eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner together every day?
• How much alone time will each of you need?
• Will household responsibilities be shared or follow traditional roles? Who has the most time and energy to complete regular household chores including yard work, cooking, and laundry to name a few?
• What are a few things you’re both willing to sacrifice in order to make your time in retirement the best it can be?
The possibility of spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together can be equally concerning. Initially, an in-sync retirement may conjure up loving images of long walks on the beach and star gazing over a bonfire together, but that can come with its own challenges. A simple trip to the grocery store can turn into an unnecessary tiff as one spouse questions the others driving, the route taken, or what gets put in the basket.
Therefore, it is important to spend time together, but to also spend a certain amount of time apart. That makes it important for couples to manage their own social networks. However, women tend to be more social and have stronger social networks, whereas men often find social solace at work. That can represent a major challenge for couples if one spouse loses their social network in retirement and doesn’t have a means to replace it. It can mean an over reliance on the other spouse to coordinate activities or deal with the wrath that comes from sitting on the couch and watching TV all day.
It’s important to develop and have your own social network, as well as get out of the house on a regular basis. By doing your own thing, meeting with your own friends, and allowing the other spouse freedom to do what makes them happy, you each bring more happiness and contentment into the home and to the relationship.
As you can see, a number of factors, including age, retirement savings, and individual roles come into play when you and your spouse decide to either retire together or at different times. In either event, it’s important to be open and willing to discuss the trade-offs and then do what’s best for the overall marriage.