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Successful Aging: What happens when one partner retires and the other keeps working

Q. I am a real estate appraiser and recently married a retired man who also is widowed. I plan to continue working and do much of my work at home. Any tips on how to manage this working-woman and retired-man relationship? J.F.

Dear J.F.

Consider yourself a pioneer. You are part of a growing phenomenon that is part of the new retirement. Today, two-career couples often are retiring at different times.

Since the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, the decision of when to retire has typically been a male issue.

Here is the old model: A married man retires. If his wife is not working outside the home, she doesn’t retire. (Yes, her work is never done!) If she is working outside the home, she bases her retirement on her husband’s retirement date.

Enter the reality of 2018: There are now millions of women who work after their husbands retire. Historically, most couples assumed that they would retire at the same time. Experts indicate that boomer couples with two careers are the first generation that has had to deal with his-and-her retirements.

Do not be discouraged. We know the retirement decision for married women can be complicated. Many have postponed re-entering the workforce to be home with their children and have gotten a late start in achieving their career goals. Women may be making their mark as their husbands leave their mark.

Some studies show that when women retire first they may be quite unhappy. Some feel forced back into their domestic role. Several years ago, I gave a speech about retirement to a group of female CPA’s. One woman stood up and said, “My husband expects me to retire from accounting and move into the kitchen to bake pecan pies. I never liked baking and detest pecans.”

I spoke to a couple who have been married to one another for about three years. She continues to work at her home business. He is retired. Here is part of their division of labor. “Lenny does 99 percent of the grocery shopping; he puts away groceries and knows “our inventory” very well. This is perfect because I hate grocery shopping. He does 75 percent of the laundry and 50 percent of the cooking.” She added, “Our first argument was how to make a brisket.”

She reported her biggest difficulty was for her husband to understand that she is working, even though she is at home. “Lenny would interrupt me to tell me about something he read in the newspaper or about a book he is reading.” Fortunately for their good communication with one another, she was able to set the limits on her accessibility.

Here is her advice:

  • Lay out the ground rules about the importance of privacy and quiet.

  • Encourage your husband to be involved in things he loves to do.

  • Show appreciation for his support and contribution to the household.

Then I spoke to Lenny. His advice was profound and quite simple:

The key is to like and love the person you are with. Then everything else will follow.

Think before you speak and have compassion.

Be good to each other.

Here are some additional tips as suggested by Dave Hughes, the founder of Retire Fabulously. Go to bed together and get up at the same time; renegotiate household chores; have an honest conversation about income; encourage the retired mate to stay connected with the world and be patient with each other.

Women who work during their husband’s retirement need to understand why they continue to work. They also should have some idea how long they intend to work as part of their work – life – retirement plan. If such information is shared with one’s spouse, it will likely encourage support and understanding and help in planning for the future.

J.F., you are involved in a work in progress. For additional information, consider the book by Roberta Taylor and Dorian Mintzer, “The Couples Retirement Puzzle: 10 must Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing Life Together”(Sourcebooks, Inc. 2014).

Congratulations for thinking ahead, and best wishes for a terrific continued career and marriage.

Note: Helen Dennis will be off next week. Her column will return on Oct. 28. Send emails to Helen Dennis at, or go to SuccessfulAgingCommunity.

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