November 2017: Dual Retirements – The Time In Between

By: Michael Townshend

Published:  November 20, 2017

“We have both been working for many years and our retirements are approaching. Hooray!”

But, we’ve realized that our eligibility dates won’t coincide, often, not even close.  Is that going to be a problem?  Are there ways to prepare for the time in between when one of us is still working while the other is at home enjoying retirement?”

These are not uncommon questions. Many couples with dual careers realize that they will not be able to retire simultaneously.  In fact, most dual retirement horizons will have some period in between. 

This timing difference will not necessarily lead to difficulties although the most common predictor of problems is the amount of time that will elapse.  For example, couples report the least difficulty when the period is a year or less.  I think that this is because within a year, we can always see the light at the end and few problems seem so annoying that can’t be tolerated for relatively short periods.

But, what if the hiatus is longer than a year?  Some have told me (often because they married someone older or younger) that there can be as much as 10 or more years of difference in eligibility.

The key to avoiding problems is preparation.

The most useful preparation for enjoying the time between retirements is dialogue in which the couple clarifies what each wants and expects of the other during the time in between.  This dialogue is most effective when using a technique that psychologists call “visioning”.  This is a conversation in which each partner expresses to the other what they foresee every weekday, weekend, holiday, and vacation during that time.  This requires a fair amount of thought for each to predict the many expected and unexpected daily activities that all partnerships entail.

Here’s an example: “While I’m still working and you are not, I don’t think that you need to rise while I do, but I’d really enjoy it if you would take care of the grocery shopping, laundry, and dinner preparations before I return home.”

Conversely: “While you are still working and I am not, please keep me posted on your schedule so that I know when to expect you and I can plan my time accordingly.”

Also: Agree to renegotiate as time goes along.  Things change and we see things differently, so our approach to each other should be open to new sharing of needs and expectations.

In closing, please prepare for awkwardness and surprises from your partner, but decide to enjoy every single day of the time, no matter what.  Just remember to take it one day at a time, suspend judgments of each other, keep your sense of humor, and communicate openly and often with each other.  The time will be an extraordinary joy in the end. It is part of life’s journey.

Mike Townshend is a social psychologist, certified mediator and retirement coach. He has over 20 years of experience as a coach, senior trainer, and facilitator to both major corporations as well as government agencies.