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Can retirement ruin your marriage?

Maybe your dream of retirement is to settle in a little beach town in paradise. Is that your spouse’s dream, too? (iStock)

I’m looking forward to retiring with my husband.

And we have a plan. We when retire, we’ll devote even more of our time to financial literacy projects. We both love helping people manage their money, and we already team teach. We volunteer at local prisons conducting money management classes for inmates, especially those who are about to be released. At our church, we are instructors for a 12-week money-management class for married couples.

Still, right now, most of our time is spent apart. So I wonder what will it be like when it’s just us 24/7?

“While you may view retirement as a long-anticipated emancipation from the work world, it is also a period of considerable change and adjustment,” writes Dave Hughes, founder of the Retire Fabulously website. “If you are married, some of the most profound changes will take place within the context of your relationship with your spouse. For some couples, the fact that they have been drifting apart for years could be masked or ignored because most of their time and attention is devoted to their careers or raising a family. For these couples, suddenly spending more time together may present a reality they aren’t prepared for.”

A retirement study by Fidelity Investments found that 1 in 3 couples aren’t on the same page when asked to describe their expected lifestyle in retirement.

Hughes offers suggestions to help couples navigate life in retirement. His first tip: Share your visions of retirement. “Perhaps you are anticipating years of travel and adventure while your spouse is envisioning staying home and relaxing, gardening or playing golf. You should talk about issues such as how much time you will spend visiting your children and grandchildren and whether you want to explore new interests or volunteer.”

Read more: 10 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive Retirement

One of the major issues that can cause friction in a marriage arises when one spouse wants to retire and the other doesn’t.

Maybe you should consider whether retiring together makes sense.

“Retirement is a complex and expensive phase of life,” certified financial planner Mark P. Cussen wrote for “When couples stagger their retirement dates, they can reap both financial and emotional rewards that will make this vital transition easier.”

Read more: Retirement: The One Thing Couples Shouldn’t Do Together

A reader wrote to me once that she felt she was being held hostage by her husband’s decision to retire.

“My husband is facing a medical issue that will probably mean the loss of his current job,” the woman wrote. “He just told me that he’s planning to retire after his surgery. He has $30,000 in savings, and he’s 56. I’m 43 and had worked out a financial plan based on both of us working until our full retirement ages. Now, I’m stuck trying to pay off a mortgage and make necessary home improvements on one income. Our budget works out on one income as long as we don’t have to fix the roof. Rent would cost more than our mortgage. This is an awfully long time for me to be footing all the bills. I’m already working a side job.”

Here’s how I responded to this woman’s dilemma: Your partner’s plan for retirement should agree with yours

“As difficult as it may be to stumble into misaligned retirements, it’s even harder to have retirement shoved down your throat,” Margery D. Rosen wrote for AARP’s magazine. “Even when they manage to synchronize their departures from work, men as well as women report a mix of sadness and apprehension as the actual exit date approaches.”

Read more: Advice for Couples Who Stagger Retirement

If you don’t want retirement to ruin your marriage, talk things out.

“Communicating effectively is probably the single most important factor that predicts successful relationships,” Roberta K. Taylor and Dorian Mintzer write in their book, “The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: 10 Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together.”

Taylor and Mintzer’s book was a Color of Money Book Club pick. Here’s my review: Talk with your spouse now about retirement plans

This book covers the important conversations couples need to have before and after they retire. For example, what if your spouse wants to buy a second home and move to Florida but you don’t want to spend the money and you hate the idea of living in a hot-weather area? What if you had planned on a leisurely retirement with a lot of travel but your spouse wants to start a business or second career?

“Approaching the second half of life is an opportunity to reassess outdated rules, let go of what no longer works and open up to new possibilities,” the authors write. “It takes courage, commitment and compromise. Couples do best when they think ahead, communicate and plan together. Remember, it doesn’t matter how long you have been together, relationships are always a work in progress.”

If you don’t work things out, you risk a divorce, which can derail the best-laid retirement plans.

Read more: A ‘gray divorce’ can devastate your retirement plans. Here’s how.

With so many people living 20 or 30 years in retirement, there’s a lot that can go wrong in a marriage if you aren’t in sync.

Your thoughts
I’d like to hear from married couples on how you managed the decision of when to retire? Also, what’s your relationship been like since you retired? Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state.

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise.

If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

The debate continues about the right time to start claiming Social Security.

What you don’t know about Social Security could cost you a lot of money

Jon Gutek of Flushing, Mich., a retired attorney and CPA, said he started collecting Social Security at 62. “It is not enough to calculate how many dollars you will receive; you must calculate the net present value of the stream of payments,” the 79-year-old said. “Money has time value. Getting one dollar today is better than getting one dollar a year from now. If you decide to wait to collect benefits, the rules might change to your detriment. My advice is to start collecting at age 62. Get on that gravy train before the train leaves the station.”

Jackie Igoe, Arlington, Va., wrote, “I have fantasized about taking Social Security at 62. My plan would be to work part time (doing something pleasant) while collecting. I would continue to make contributions to Social Security on the part time income. Would these payments have any effect on my benefit over the years?”

Here’s an answer from the Social Security Administration: What happens if I work and get Social Security retirement benefits?

Also read: Will My Benefit Increase If I Keep Working?

A couple of readers were upset that their Social Security benefits have been reduced because of the “windfall elimination provision” or WEP.

“It will affect my Social Security drastically and makes planning for retirement a bit different,” wrote Leslie Kapner of Culver City, Calif.

Marie Altman of Chico, Calif., wrote, “I divorced at age 40, went to school and became a teacher. I don’t understand the windfall elimination [provision]. Are teachers being discriminated against here?”

The Windfall Elimination Provision can affect how Social Security calculates your retirement or disability benefit. “If you work for an employer who doesn’t withhold Social Security taxes from your salary, such as a government agency or an employer in another country, any retirement or disability pension you get from that work can reduce your Social Security benefits,” the agency explains.

The confusion happens because WEP can affect you when you earn a retirement or disability pension from an employer who didn’t withhold Social Security taxes and you qualify for benefits from work in other jobs for which you did pay taxes.

Read more: Windfall Elimination Provision

Here’s some reading to help you understand WEP.

— Both readers were teachers in California and should read: Educators and Social Security

“Educators are often confused or mistaken about what they will collect from Social Security in retirement,” according to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). “Participants do not pay into the Social Security system as California educators. Instead, they pay a higher percentage of their earnings into the CalSTRS fund. Therefore, they do not qualify for Social Security benefits at retirement, unless they are eligible due to a spouse’s earnings or earnings from another job on which they did pay Social Security taxes.”

Will the Windfall Elimination Provision Cut Your Social Security?

“The Windfall Elimination Provision is designed to prevent people who didn’t pay Social Security tax on the majority of their income from receiving disproportionately high Social Security payments,” writes Matthew Frankel.

Will My Spouse’s Social Security Be Cut by the Windfall Elimination Provision?

Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments. (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

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