How couples can solve their retirement puzzle

Retirementor, Dorian Mintzer, co-author of The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle: Must-Have Conversations for Creating an Amazing New Life Together, was interviewed by Richard Eisenberg, Money and Word Editor for Next Avenue. This article was featured on Forbes.Com, and covers essential topics for courageous conversations between couples on retirement.

Next Avenue: Why do you call it a “retirement puzzle” for couples?

Mintzer: There are money, health and wellness, and lifestyle choices and the timing of retirement. You need to puzzle it out with your partner.

How are you and your husband puzzling it out?

We’re an example of The New Retirement. A “traditional” retirement probably isn’t for us, at least not for a long time. My husband has phased out his job and will work as long as he is able. He has broadened his interests and does more cooking more than I do now. And he’s become a great travel planner. We both have our bucket lists and we’re doing more of those things now.

Are couples talking about their plans more than in the past?

I think they aren’t talking as much as they ought to. Sometimes, they just don’t know how to have the conversations. I still get calls from people saying: ‘My spouse and I aren’t on the same page; we need help.’

Why are couples afraid to talk to each other about retiring?

Thinking about it means thinking about getting older. A lot of people are in denial. It takes some courage to have some of these conversations.

What do you recommend to get couples to plan together?

It’s like a dance. One partner can start with ‘I’ statements like: ‘I’ve been thinking that I’ll be turning 55 and I don’t know what’s next. I really want to talk with you about it.’ Let it be a five- or 10-minute discussion at first. Then you can come back to it later.

It’s less important what you’re retiring from and more important what you’re retiring to. Remember: You’re not retiring from life. In my case, I haven’t done art or music in long time; that’s what I want to retire to — more time for the creative parts.

You say it can help for a couple to talk with financial advisers but not only about their investments and expenses. Why?

It’s important as you’re beginning to think about your years ahead to sit with financial advisers and clarify your hopes, dreams, goals – so, you can get on the same page as far as possible about how you want your money to work for you in retirement.

You say that a retirement coach can be helpful if one partner doesn’t want to talk about the topic or if there’s disagreement.

A retirement coach is a neutral third person to explore alternatives and show you that you’re not alone.

What’s a difficult issue for couples as they talk about money and retirement?

The whole notion of what’s enough. That’s a hard conversation to have. For some spouses, no matter how much they have it feels like it’s not enough.

Couples need to create a shared vision. What are the three steps you mention?

A shared vision takes into account what each spouse wants and needs in retirement.

The first step is for each to create your Individual Vision List of goals you want to achieve, dreams to fulfil, experiences to have. Then, prioritize the ten most important ideas on your list. The second step is sharing your vision lists and listening to each other. Try to appreciate what each other wants. The third step is creating a shared vision based on both lists. Maybe first it will be more of what ‘I’ want to do, then more of what ‘you’ want to do. Figure out a flexible timeline.

When researching for the book, you talked to “wise elders” — ones who’d been retired for a while. What’s a good piece of advice that they offered?

Don’t overplan your retirement, because curveballs come along.

Should couples retire at the same time or at different times?

Some couples like retiring at the same time because they can be playmates for each other. A lot of others say they prefer do it separately, so one of them can deal with the transition and get their feet on ground. I’ve seen it work both ways.

You write that it’s sometimes hard for David when you’re working and he wants you around.

That can happen a lot in relationships. He has Friday through Tuesday off and on Friday and Monday, he’d like it if I was more available to play. Now we have a little routine that’s been fun. We start our day together reading the paper and drinking coffee and we usually have dinner together.

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