When Only One Spouse Retires: What if He Wants to Retire and You Don’t?

Very often the course of events makes it difficult for both partners in a marriage to retire at the same time. So how are you supposed to handle planning for retirement when only one spouse retires?

Let’s use a typical scenario: Alice has been out of the work force for about 10 years when her children were small. After a ten year hiatus, she decided she wanted to switch careers and leave the teaching world in favor of computer science. As a math teacher, she was already good at analytical problems and thought it would make a more challenging career for her. So she started at the bottom of the totem pole with a new company designing websites and programming. She loved it!

As her skills grew, she thought about moving to a larger company with greater opportunity for expansion and possibly an executive track. She landed a sweet job and was just about to move into senior management when Tom announced he would like to retire in about 5 years. In seven years, she would be at the top of her game and was not interested in leaving the working world just when things got really good!

He had planned to travel and possibly move to a warmer climate to play some golf and enjoy his retirement.

Neither of them had shared with the other what their plans were for the rest of their lives. They both assumed each would be in sync with the other. They raised three children, educated them all, and now their marriage was back to being about them. How far they had strayed from each other!

Learning to communicate with each other solely about their children, their finances, their community involvement and other family matters, they lost sight of planning for a life without children.

When they sat down and chatted about it, they realized Alice’s career and her enjoyment of it was more important to them as a couple than moving to a warm climate so Tom could play golf. He realized he had had a straight line in his career and did not interrupt it for the sake of their children.

So they compromised: Alice would take some of her 4 weeks of vacation to travel with Tom in two week clips so they could take some memorable vacations together. They would purchase a time share which would serve a dual purpose of allowing Tom to take some time to play golf in a warm climate and then trade that time for other sites to see where they would like to eventually live. They decided to postpone Tom’s full retirement for 5 years and see if he could earn some consulting income which would eventually allow him to retire earlier from his full time job and have some more free time while Alice capped out her career.

At this point, it seems like a plan. This is a fantastic example of what to do when only one spouse retires. It will need some tweaking as time goes by, but it brought what appeared to be an insurmountable problem to a workable solution.

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