If you have a significant other, make sure you’re prepared for any conflicts that may arise when one of you stops working before the other.

By now you’ve probably had a few discussions about retirement with your better half and covered many of the crucial elements of transitioning into retirement. But have you come to a firm agreement about timing? What if one of you must stop working a few years earlier than planned, due to a layoff or a medical concern? A recent AARP article, “Advice for Couples Who Stagger Retirement” (May 2016), examined the challenges a couple may face when one is retired and the other is still working.

Boomers are the first generation for whom two-career couples are the norm—making them trailblazers of a kind. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for women to stay in the workforce for longer, often to make up for time spent out of it raising children. This may be out of choice but may be due to economic factors, which can cause alarm for a partner worried their retirement savings won’t last long enough. Research shows that newly-retired couples, whether one or both of them have stopped working, tend to experience more relationship tension due to the change in their day-to-day rhythm.

Couples with an appreciable age difference are especially likely to stagger retirement dates. A recent Nola Times-Picayune article, “Retirement planning for couples with an age gap” (May 2016), offered advice to couples at different life stages which can be applied to any pair planning to spend their golden years together:

  • Plan as early as possible. Planning for the unexpected better prepares you to handle whatever life throws at you. Work with a financial advisor to make your goals happen, including having enough income to retire at, or around, the same time as your spouse or life partner.
  • Hold off on Social Security You’ll receive a bigger monthly payment if you wait until full retirement age to collect Social Security. It’s important that the older spouse avoids taking benefits until age 70, if possible, to ensure the maximum Social Security amount for the surviving spouse in the event of death.
  • Take healthcare coverage into account. If one half of a couple decides to retire before Medicare eligibility kicks in at age 65, you’ll need to have enough savings available to purchase health insurance.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate.

In the end, both partners need to be prepared to compromise on when retirement will happen and how it will look. Working together towards a common goal is the key to a happy and financially stable retirement.


This material is for informational purposes only and the statements made above represent TIAA's interpretation of social security provisions. It is presented with the understanding that TIAA (or its affiliates, distributors, employees, representatives and/or insurance agents) is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advice.