How to Retire Before Your Spouse

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Senior caucasian couple working in cafe.
Getty ImagesIt can create tension if one member of a married couple retires before the other.
By David Ning

Money plays a big role in figuring out when you should retire. But most families would benefit from having thorough discussions about the transition into retirement that go beyond the financial realm. Retirement can be especially complicated for spouses who don't retire at the same time. Your role within the family will change for both the working and non-working spouse. Here are some potential complications you might face if you retire before your spouse.

Your significant other needs to be completely comfortable with you quitting work. I still remember the look on my wife's face years ago when I greeted her in my pajamas after her long day at work. Let's just say she didn't seem too pleased, even though I was working at home. It's difficult for one spouse to endure the grind with the thought that the other is relaxing all day. Make sure the two of you talk about how you feel about the new situation, and make an effort to resolve the kinks. Something as simple as getting dressed before your spouse gets home or preparing dinner can do a lot to ease tension.

You need to communicate with your spouse about your retirement plans. You and your partner may have different assumptions about what your role around the house is once you are no longer working from nine to five. The working spouse might expect the retired spouse to start doing more housework and errands. If you make assumptions instead of talking through who will do what, it can create conflicts later on. You may find that you would rather keep working than to take on extra household responsibilities. It's important to renegotiate household chores before leaving your job and to reach a compromise everyone is comfortable with.

You should be comfortable with the rhetoric of no longer earning income. Some people don't cope well with their spouse making money while they are retired. While you might feel comfortable telling others you aren't working because you sold a business for millions, it's quite another story to tell people you are retired while your spouse is still toughing it out in the workforce. And for those who retire early, it can be doubly difficult because almost everyone you know will still be working. Make certain you will be comfortable with your new identity before you actually quit.

Family members will need to adjust to you being around more often. It's not just your spouse who needs to be comfortable with you staying home. There are probably other family members who will see you much more often too. Work out a reasonable amount of time to spend together before you quit, because the intensity will only be heightened once you start seeing each other practically all day, every day.

Your spouse may want to quit shortly after you retire. Imagine how your spouse will feel when you stay in bed while she has to get ready for work, or when you stay up at night watching a movie while she has to force herself to go to sleep because there's an early morning meeting with the boss. I know I would feel awful and jealous at times. The working spouse may want to retire shortly after his or her partner, even if retiring was never considered before. It's ideal to get your finances in order before either of you retires, because it may not be best for the couple to rely heavily on one spouse working for decades longer. You probably don't want to tell your significant other that quitting isn't an option because the family can only afford for one of you to retire and you took the only spot.

Your retirement finances have to be in place before anyone considers retirement. But you also have to consider what is best for your relationship. Communication with your spouse becomes especially important as you transition into retirement. The more time you spend discussing the move, the better your family will cope with the change. You probably spent a substantial amount of time preparing your finances for retirement. It's wise for you to allocate some resources to preparing your spouse and other family members for the lifestyle change.

David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing.com.
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