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7 Questions Couples Should Ask Before Retirement

Dave Bernard

Picking a date to retire is a difficult enough decision for one person to make. But spouses need to come up with a retirement plan that works for both members of the couple.

Couples need to clearly understand what retirement will look like for each individual and for the two as a unit. When both members of a couple have been working, they have created individual lives in addition to lives together. Conflict can best be avoided if each spouse understands what is important to the other. It's a good idea to ask questions and pay attention to each others' answers before retirement. Just because you have known each other forever does not mean you know each others' retirement preferences before they are spoken. Here are seven questions to discuss with your spouse before retirement:

1. What would the perfect retirement life be like? Your idea of the ideal retirement may be coffee and a newspaper in the morning, golf in the afternoon, cocktails at five, and a good book to round out the day. That's not a bad way to go unless your spouse wants to be on the move, constantly traveling, and trying new things. Discuss what is most important to each of you. Make sure your expectations for retirement follow a similar path, and identify where your goals diverge. You don't necessarily need to adjust the course, but it is important to understand each others' perspective.

2. Who will be responsible for what in retirement? Before retiring, each member of the couple probably did certain household chores. After retirement, you may need to renegotiate which individual is responsible for different duties. You can avoid friction if you address responsibilities up front. For example, my wife is a whiz with the kitchen floors and I have no problem cleaning the bathrooms, so everyone wins. You also need to maintain enough flexibility to address new things to be done as they arise.

3. What common interests do you share? Many couples have a list of things they enjoy together, such as bridge, tennis, hiking, travel, concerts, yoga, and dining out. Retirement is a good time to take a look at your list to make sure you agree these things are what you want to continue sharing in retirement. Consider adding new activities you have not done in the past but would like to investigate now that you have the time.

4. What separate interests do you have? It is important to have our own individual interests in addition to those shared with a spouse. Hanging out together twenty-four hours a day is not healthy. We each need time apart to think, recharge, and pursue separate hobbies. Understanding this up front avoids one person feeling slighted when the other spouse heads out the door to do his or her own thing. We all need space and private time, and a little independence can make the heart grow founder.

5. What are your goals in retirement? Make a list of the individual goals you wish to pursue, and your shared goals as a couple.

6. Will you stay in your current home or relocate? If you have an ongoing mortgage, you might want to downsize to reduce your monthly expenses. Perhaps there is a new location you would like to move to. For example, I have always wanted to eventually move closer to the ocean.

7. Who will pay for what? If you had separate bank accounts while working, you each likely assumed responsibility for certain bills. Is that the way you want to continue things in retirement? Decide if you want to pay some or all of your bills out of a joint account. There is no need for money to be a sore spot if you address it up front.

Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only the Beginning.

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