Love may be forever, but even the strongest marriages go through their ups and downs. A recent study by the University of Bern analyzed data from more than 165,000 people, aged 20 to 76, to determine if there was a common trajectory to the satisfaction folks in long-term relationships experience.
According to the study, most relationships experience a dip in satisfaction after the 10-year mark, which typically encompasses young adults up to age 40. For the next twenty years, satisfaction generally increases as folks near traditional retirement age. Then, satisfaction dips again around the 30-year-mark before stabilizing as couples advance into the second half of retirement.
It's that second dip in relationship satisfaction around retirement age that I want to talk about today. "Gray divorce" rates have been climbing since the 1990s, and many experts believe COVID will accelerate that trend. More and more couples who aren't prepared for the ways that retirement could affect their relationships will struggle to climb out of that senior satisfaction ditch if they aren't intentional about their retirement plan.
Here are three ways that retired couples can plan to get more from their money and their most important relationship in retirement.
1. Reinvest in your time together.
Senior longevity is a topic that we discuss frequently on our blogs and podcasts. Thanks to improved health care and better science around nutrition and exercise, today's seniors need a financial plan that is going to support -- hopefully -- a 30-to-40-year retirement. The good news is that if you commit to that plan and a proactive wellness routine, you could have a lot to look forward to in your Golden Years.
But increased longevity is also a challenge for some couples who aren't used to spending the majority of their time together. Researchers have found that once the nest egg is grown and the children are out of the house, retired spouses start to wonder what they have in common anymore. They see 40 years of retirement ahead and can't imagine how they'll fill those days, weeks, months, and years.
It may be hard to remember, but there was a time, in the early days of your relationship, when you two weren't rushing to and from work, shuttling the kids to practices, and budgeting for groceries, car payments, and the forever home you wanted to buy. How did you spend your time back then? What were your favorite activities to do, people to see, places to visit? Which of these things can you rediscover now?
Of course, not everything your younger selves enjoyed will be realistic in your 60s and 70s. But while coed rec soccer or mountain climbing might be off the table, you and your spouse could start playing pickleball, cycling, or taking long nature walks. Other activities, such as travel or touring great local restaurants, might actually be less stressful and more enjoyable now that you have greater financial resources. And you can use those same resources to experiment with new activities that will deepen shared interests, such as online classes or museum memberships.
2. Make new investments in yourselves.
For many retired couples, the key to spending more quality time together is scheduling quality time apart. Expecting your spouse to share every one of your interests isn't just unrealistic, it can lead to resentment if you start to see your spouse as less of a partner and more of an obstacle to your personal fulfillment.
This is where being more intentional about your schedules can be helpful. Get a weekly calendar or use a ruler and a piece of paper to make your own. Divide every day into three blocks: Morning, Afternoon, Evening. Talk to your spouse about the things you want to do together, as well as the things you'd like to explore separately.
Then, start filling in those blocks! Some couples don't realize just how little time they've been making for themselves until they go through this exercise. Moreover, as you may have learned when setting better New Year's goals, we're much more likely to do something when we plan for and schedule it versus waiting around for the mood to strike. Whether it's something as small as a daily reading hour or as big as a solo vacation, give yourself and your spouse room to grow as individuals and your relationship will grow as well.
3. Plan together for your dream retirement.
You probably don’t need a link to back up this stat, but yes, money is still the number one source of friction between couples. Unsurprisingly, money battles tend to peak in our 50s and 60s, just as many people are seeing retirement on the horizon for the first time or transitioning into their new lives on a fixed income.
In my experience working with retirees, the size of a couple's asset pool is rarely the issue. Usually, the couple has fallen into a familiar routine where one spouse has spent decades handling finances. When it's time to recalibrate the household budget in retirement, the other spouse often has very different expectations for how that money should be spent and what life in retirement will be like.
That's why at Keen Wealth, we encourage couples to participate in financial planning and advisory meetings together, regardless of who is or isn't working. Call up my team and we can help facilitate a constructive dialogue about money where we identify differences as well as commonalities and incorporate both person's goals into a comprehensive financial plan.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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