How a Spouse Who Still Works Can Affect Your Retirement

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Even if you’re opposites in many ways, the beliefs, values, and activities you share in common with your spouse probably help your marriage work. Retirement can throw this balance off if one of you continues working.

When one spouse heads off to work as the other stays home, resentment, financial worries, and disputes about how to spend your time can boil over. Here’s how a marital retirement mismatch can affect your relationship—and what to do about it.


How a Mixed-Retirement Marriage Changes Things

Any major life transition can stress your marriage, and retirement is no exception. When only one spouse retires, a number of conflicts are common. Those include:

• Disputes over how you spend your time.
• Disagreements over money; one spouse may be more concerned about finances than the other.
• Feelings of loneliness by the spouse who doesn’t work.

These feelings are normal. Dealing with them, rather than ignoring them, can help you move beyond stress and into a happy, relaxing new stage of life.

Health Insurance Concerns

If the retired spouse is not old enough for Medicare, health insurance may be a concern. Fewer and fewer employers offer insurance to retirees, and COBRA insurance typically maxes out at 18 months. The spouse who retires should therefore time retirement such that they are soon eligible for Medicare.

Alternatively, you’ll need to look into adding the retired spouse to the unretired spouse’s health insurance. Before counting on this option, you’ll need to talk to human resources to ensure the retired spouse is eligible for coverage.

Different Approaches to Expenses

Most couples find that one is a spender and the other is a saver. Who is which can change over time. When only one spouse is retired, the retired spouse might be more concerned about money—or they might be eager to enjoy their retirement with the assistance of lavish trips and gourmet meals.

Plan for some disputes over money. To minimize them, sit down well before retirement and look at your budget. Find a way to enjoy small luxuries while still saving enough for both spouses to retire.

Living on One Income

The transition to living on one income can be tough. The working spouse may feel burdened by the need to support the family, while the retired spouse may feel guilty. Saving for the second spouse’s retirement can be extremely difficult on just one income.

If you’re struggling to fund your retirement, are over the age of 62, and you own your own home, a reverse mortgage can help quiet financial disputes.

This option offers you money you can put toward a variety of expenses, including paying down your debt or investing in a retirement account. In most cases, you won’t have to repay the loan as long as you remain in your home.

Final Thoughts

If you’re like most couples, your goal is probably that you’ll both eventually enjoy retirement together. When you’re living on one income and facing the marital stresses of only one working spouse, that dream can grow more and more distant.

To shorten the time line from now to a mutual retirement, have regular meetings about your finances. You’ll also want the assistance of a professional. A financial planner can help you chart a course to a faster and more satisfying retirement.

16 thoughts on “How a Spouse Who Still Works Can Affect Your Retirement”

  1. My parents are currently in this situation. My dad retired and is on Medicare, but Mom still works part time because she is only 63 and not eligible for Medicare. She needs to work to cover her health care costs. They make it work well, but you bring up many of the issues they’ve had to deal with. Great information, Brian!

  2. My wife and I had to adjust to this even though I don’t consider myself retired, I do think of my time as very fluid. I’ve reduced “active work,” that is work that I must do at certain times, and she still has quite a bit of that left.

    It’s still a work in progress but communication is key. If you can’t talk about it, that’s when resentment will build because you expect your partner to *know* things that you don’t *tell* them. That’s unreasonable…

  3. We are going to be a mixed-retirement couple because my husband is ten years my senior. I would really like to retire early so that we retire at the same time, however, I am not sure if it is going to happen.

  4. Interesting! I had heard that it’s difficult when both spouses retire at the same time. Perhaps if the difference is only a year or two, it’s actually better, but if it’s significantly longer, it’s worse. One spouse can sort of pave the way and smooth out the transition for the other if it’s only a year or two. If longer, one spouse gets ingrained in habits that are hard to break once the second spouse retires. Does that sound right?

    • Interesting point Ruth, about helping with the transition. I would think that would be really beneficial with a spouse that is defined by their work or if a couple is not used to spending a good amount of time together.

  5. My wife recently became a stay at home mom. While she’s not retired it’s a lot of e same issues. For us we are able to cover everything from my employer in terms of benefits. So far there is no accrinomy over spending, which I do worry about as other friends in similar situations fight a lot about spending. Thankfully we are both largely on the same side of the spend to save spectrum.

    • Great to be on the same financial page as your wife. Even when my wife and I disagree we have an open discussion about the item which typically leads to an agreeable compromise.

  6. Mr. Picky Pincher and I are planning for a mutual retirement. I don’t think there would be disputes over time management, though. I had two weeks off of work during the holidays and it was like 10 days of FIRE. I did plenty around the house and ran the little annoying errands we’d normally have to do after work. That meant Mr. Picky Pincher came home to a hot meal, clean house, and zero things on his to-do list. I think there are ways to make life equitable and to keep one spouse from feeling resentful of the other.

  7. Any major life changes whether it is retirement, relocation due to work etc. can put a lot of stress in short term on marriage. Communication is key and for any major life changing decisions, it must be a joint decision to minimize the stress.

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