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Reflections: Transition Through Retirement

How does a couple prepare for retirement?

By Glenn Mangurian BS, MBA and Joanna Cain, MD

What does it mean to be prepared for retirement? What role does my spouse or partner or close friend have? Many couples just wing it and expect things to more or less work out. If this is your plan, expect bumps.

The psychological, social and financial shift from a life of work to a life of leisure is perhaps one of the most complex transitions that couples will ever encounter, yet one for which few couples sufficiently plan. Many wrongly assume that if they have a financial plan, everything else will naturally fall into place. Not true. Roles and purpose, which were largely shaped by work status and careers, will be immediately redefined. Active income may diminish as one or both spouses stop earning a paycheck. Freed from the fixed schedules and demands of work, couples can find themselves with the greatest amount of free time that they've ever had!

Successfully navigating through these changes with your spouse/ partner/ friend holds the potential of strengthening and enriching your relationship and causing your life to blossom in wonderful ways. However, it can also create surprising new tests and challenges.

Here are four questions couples might discuss before they retire (and then again while retired):

What matters most?

The biggest mistake couples make in preparing for retirement is not updating what matters to them at this stage of life. Take an inventory of how you spend your time. What can they do without? Do you have a bucket list?  What will be the meaningful work you do together or individually? How does your vision align with your spouse /partner/ friend? Discussing—and compromising—on your joint retirement lifestyle vision is an important and often forgotten step in retirement preparation.

What roles will you each have?

For those of us in medicine and science it is tempting to transition our “leadership” in the work role to the new “home” environment but let’s share a truth—that doesn’t work.  Also even the “leadership” you took before retirement in the relationship may change as one or the other has more time to put towards managing an area of your joint lives.  What will each person take the “lead” on in this new retirement landscape?

Can we afford the lifestyle we want?

You’ll need to understand how much your retirement lifestyle will cost. Then, you need to calculate if you are financially independent to life that lifestyle. Transitioning from regular income to managing savings and assets requires a purposeful investment strategy and ongoing budgetary decisions and building an effective team to  manage money wisely throughout the ups and downs of the retirement years.

How much time together, time apart?

Many couples imagine being joined at the hip when they're no longer working. A more satisfying approach may be “parallel play.” That idea, of course, clashes with the traditional view of retirement, where togetherness has been seen as normative. Balancing time together with your partner will require learning, negotiation and patience.  You know the saying – “Absence often does make the heart grow fonder.” Couples often enjoy each other more after they have had some time apart.

These aren’t easy questions and you are not likely to get the answer on the first try. 

Reflections on Your Preparedness as a Couple

  • When it the right time for you to start these discussions?
  • Which questions are likely to be harder than the others?
  • What additional questions do you or your spouse/partner/friend have?
  • What about this transition in relationships is unique to science and medicine retirees?

Glenn Mangurian (MBA, UMass Amherst) is a semi-retired business consultant new senior citizen.  He spends his time consulting and teaching leadership as an adjunct faculty at UMass Amherst and Lowell. He is currently a consultant to the UMass Chan Office of Faculty Affairs.

Joanna Cain, MD, FACOG is a Professor and Vice Chair of Ob/Gyn and Director of Faculty Talent Management at UMass Chan Medical School.  As a former Department Chair, hospital administrator, and gynecologic oncologist she has experienced many transitions both personal and with patients and faculty.


Glenn Mangurian (MBA, UMass Amherst) is a semi-retired business consultant new senior citizen.  He spends his time consulting and teaching leadership as an adjunct faculty at UMass Amherst and Lowell.