NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Retirement

Talking to your spouse about retirement can be a stressful conversation or it can be an exciting conversation, depending upon how well you and your spouse communicate.  Many couples avoid having this conversation because they fear it will bring on a confrontation.  I'm often amazed at how many couples (and individuals) completely avoid talking about retirement until it's upon them.

Talking to Your Spouse About Retirement

I usually recommend that couples talk about retirement at least five years or so before they anticipate retiring.  Hopefully, there has been financial planning throughout the marriage.  I'm not a financial planner, so I'm not giving financial advice in this blog.  But I have seen couples get embroiled in arguments about retirement planning, so I'd like to address this issue on an emotional level.

This isn't your grandfather's retirement:
People often avoid talking about retirement because it makes them feel uncomfortable.  They think about their grandparents' retirement and they get anxious because, years ago, people didn't live as long, so they often died soon after they retired.

This was certainly the case for my grandfather, who focused his entire life on two things:  his family and his work at the post office.  Like many people, before he retired, he looked forward to the day when he wouldn't have to go into work any more.  

But, after he retired, he realized that he had a lot of empty time on his hands.  About a year after he retired, he died.  At that time, this wasn't surprising.  It was just the way it was for a lot of people.  But people are living much longer these days--sometimes 20-30 years beyond their retirement, especially if they're in good health.  So, it makes sense to make plans for your retirement.

Tips For Talking About Retirement
  • Play with ideas:  If you know that talking about retirement will be a loaded topic, assuming you have enough lead time, I suggest that you approach it initially as "playing" with ideas rather than trying to nail down your plans immediately.  This can take a lot of stress out of it.  It also frees you up to throw out ideas and minimizes either of you becoming reactive.
  • Don't be reactive and immediately find reasons to say no: After you've played with some ideas, focus on what you and your spouse agree upon first.   For instance, if you both agree that you'd like to move to a warmer climate, start with that.  Ideally, where would each of you like to go?  Don't get bogged down immediately by finding all kinds of reasons why you can't do it.  If you both have a strong desire to relocate to a particular place, you might find a way to do it with enough planning ahead of time.
  • What lifelong dreams have you delayed that you might want to consider now? Are there things that each of you have wanted to do all your life, but you didn't because it wasn't possible at the time?  Talk to each other about what those things might be.  For instance, I knew a friend who had a lifelong career in finance, but he yearned all his life to be a teacher.  He didn't feel he could switch careers when he was in his 40s and 50s because it would have been a substantial decrease in income.  But when he was considering retirement, he and his wife decided that they could finally afford for him to take a job as a teacher because they could afford to live on the lower salary in combination with his retirement savings. Fortunately, he and his wife were on the same page about this.
  • See a financial planner: A financial planner, who has expertise in retirement planning can help you and your spouse to plan the practical aspects of your retirement.  Before you see a financial planner, it helps to know what you and your spouse would like to do during your retirement years.  For some people, this might sound like putting the cart before the horse.  They might say, "Shouldn't we figure out how much money we'll have first and then decide what we'll do?" From my perspective, as a psychotherapist and not a financial planner, I would suggest that you both consider your desires for the future first rather than shutting down ideas because you think you won't be able to afford it.  If you look at the money first, you might automatically eliminate some of your dreams as out of hand without considering all of your alternatives.
  • Stay open to new ideas: For instance, a couple who have jobs as a carpenter and a schoolteacher might look at their retirement savings and decide that there's no way they can maintain their current home in their neighborhood on the money they have saved, even though they might want to remain in that home.  But automatically eliminating that choice might preclude them from considering other alternatives--like the one of them might be able to start his own business and the other might be able to work part time.  Maybe this is an alternative they can both agree upon rather than closing themselves off to this possibility.
Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your spouse have problems talking about money or communicating in general, you could benefit from talking to a licensed mental health professional.

Instead of going around in circles, seek help from a psychotherapist who has experience working with couples.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.