When husband and wife BOTH retire

Categories: Nation/World

Working out a new life situation isn’t always a smooth ride

March 28, 2014, edition
By Louise McNulty
Catholic News Service

As the retirement years approach for a husband and wife who both have jobs, an important consideration is whether to retire at the same time.

17husbandwifeDavid Mordarski, director of Older Adult Services for Catholic Charities in Cleveland, Ohio, said it sometimes is an advantage for couples to stagger their retirement times. Perhaps one spouse needs to continue working awhile because of the job’s health care benefits, for example.

A disadvantage of staggered retirement, he continued, is that “the couple is not as free to do things together” like traveling. Their “freedom and togetherness” are restricted.

Sometimes, though, circumstances dictate decisions. This was the case for Joseph and Dorothy Crago of Allentown, Pa.

He was a sales manager for a large company that was preparing to go out of business, so he chose to retire several years ago. She, a physical therapist, was finding her workload increasingly difficult, so retirement sounded attractive. However, her husband developed medical problems, and she stayed at her job two more years to maintain medical benefits.

Mental prep as vital as financial

While finances must be considered, there is also a real need to prepare psychologically for retirement, said John Hennelly, president and CEO of The Village at St. Edward in Fairlawn, Ohio.

“There is a role change, not so much as a couple, but the change of not being in the work force,” he said. Because society often defines people by their work, and since men especially derive much of their identity and self-esteem from their jobs, the transition to retirement can be difficult, Hennelly said.

“Also, in a traditional marriage where a wife has worked at home,” he added, “she might wonder how she can deal with not being on her own schedule. She might wonder what she’ll do with someone underfoot.”

Hennelly said that a couple should discuss and prepare for changes in advance because it is important for them “to recognize the importance of maintaining each of their individual interests while planning things to do together.” Couples might sign up with a local senior volunteer program or take a college course such as history or genealogy to enrich their lives, he suggested.

Mordarski agreed that couples need individual as well as shared interests and responsibilities. “If one person is incapacitated or passes on and everything was done together, it’s harder to rebound,” he said. He cited a couple whose social life centered on the husband’s childhood friends.

When her husband died, the wife felt awkward in the group.

On the other hand, if one spouse handles all the finances or social planning there will be a void when one is left alone, Mordarski continued.

“Couples want to ensure that each can continue activities and responsibilities as a single if necessary.”

A husband and wife who worked out many of the retirement kinks are Russ and Lois Kacmarynski of Butler, Ala. He was an engineer supervising major construction when he retired more than 10 years ago. She had been a stay-at-home mother to their seven children.

When they’d discussed his retirement, Kacmarynski said that his wife had no problem with him being home, but worried whether it was what he really wanted.

Not without bumps in the road

Almost immediately after retiring, Kacmarynski regretted it, and he was delighted when offered the chance to return to his job on a modified basis.

“I found out quickly, though, that having an uncertified position wasn’t the same,” he said. “Once you bite the bullet, you can’t go back and relive your life — it can’t be done.” So he reretired after six months. And with time on his hands, he attended church more often and soon got involved with the building of a parsonage at their small, rural parish.

Enthusiastic gardeners, the couple often work side-by-side outdoors. They visit each of their children twice a year and were looking forward to spending time with a daughter and her family in Italy.

What qualities will couples need to make their retirement successful?

Dorothy Crago offered some very practical advice on this: “Don’t worry about the small stuff. If your spouse does something for you — even if it’s not just the way you wanted it done, just say ‘Thank you.’ And, you must have a sense of humor to keep things rolling.”