COUPLES: HOW MUCH “SPACE” DO YOU NEED IN RETIREMENT?T

Bill and Cathy (real people, but not their real names) thought they had a great retirement plan.  Then reality struck—on Day One.

Bill’s career had him travelling all over the world for long periods of time.  They were used to being apart, and loved the reunions.  As retirement approached, Bill and Cathy knew they would need a lot of “space,” a lot of time apart to “do their own thing.”  They knew that too much togetherness could cause friction and resentment.  They didn’t want that.  We’re talking about a couple very much in love, the kind of couple who hold hands when they go walking.

So they had a plan.  They would build a retirement home in two wings, with the kitchen right in the middle where the wings connected.  Most of Bill’s “stuff” would be in one wing, and most of Cathy’s would be in the other.  They could even see each other across the gap and wave, without intruding on the other’s activities.

“The plan was that we’d get together for breakfast, go do our own morning thing, get together for lunch, be apart for the afternoon, and get together for dinner and talk about our days,” said Bill, telling me the story.

“Sounds perfect,” I said, “since you know you need a lot of ‘space.’”

“Nope,” said Bill.  “On Day Two I packed my lunch!”

What can we learn from Bill and Cathy’s experience?  For one thing, many spouses (especially wives) report that their retired partner (usually the husband) tends to tag along with them, riding their coattails, and generally crowding them.  The result is irritation and a desire to get away.  We all need to assess how much “space” we’ll want in retirement, versus togetherness.  There’s a happy balance there and you need to find it.

Another lesson:  we all need to get a life in retirement.  Tagging along on someone else’s life won’t work.  Start thinking now about how you can build a retirement life that’s fulfilling, that makes you want to get up in the morning, and that doesn’t depend on riding someone else’s coattails every day.

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