Impact – Wealth Management


Preparing for a Happy Marriage in Retirement

You’re financially prepared for retirement, but is your MARRIAGE prepared for retirement?

As a financial advisor who specializes in retirement planning, over the last 15 years I’ve helped somewhere around 100 couples transition into retirement.  The decision to retire is obviously one of the most important financial decisions that you will ever make.  You will say goodbye to your income source and live almost entirely off of what you’ve saved.  That’s a huge leap.  But what I’ve found is that while most of my clients are on track to retire FINANCIALLY, far fewer people are ready to retire EMOTIONALLY.  Retirement is a huge life change that encompasses so much more than just finances.  

There are SO many emotional changes that occur when someone retires.  In my blog “How to Succeed in Retirement” I wrote about some tips for adjusting and preparing yourself mentally and emotionally, but just as important is preparing your MARRIAGE for retirement…

Help me because I’m going to kill him!

My grandpa was a third generation South Dakota rancher.  My grandma had been a housewife nearly all of her life… spending her days making sandwiches for the guys in the field, doing the wash, planting a garden, and all of the other things that were required to keep the home-front running smoothly.  

Grandma and Grandpa had been high school sweethearts and 40 some years later they still held hands and kissed under the mistletoe.  Throughout grade school I spent about a week at the farm with them over the summers and it was the happiest place on earth.  

For my entire life they had been the model of what a wonderful marriage looks like.  

I was about 17 years old when a heart attack forced my grandpa to retire early. So I drove out to the farm to see how they were doing. 

My grandma met me at the door.  Instead of her normal jolly welcome she said to me “Help me because I’m going to kill him!”  As I walked in the house I could sense that although my grandma was of course kidding, there was definitely some unfamiliar tension in the air.  

Throughout my visit there were subtle (and not so subtle) comments that made it clear, my grandparents were having a hard time adjusting to all of this sudden “togetherness”.  

Eventually my grandpa got up and and put on his cowboy hat.  “Where do you think you’re going?” my grandma said.  “To check the NEIGHBORS cattle” my grandpa said. My grandpa had lost quite a bit of weight during his stays in the hospital and his pants were a bit droopy as he walked to the door.  “For Pete’s sake, pull your pants up” my grandma sighed.  

Thankfully my grandparents eventually adjusted to retired life but their experience is far from uncommon.  

Nearly every time I help a couple transition into retirement I tell them “I know a few good marriage counselors if you need one.”… a joke, but we all know I’m not really kidding.  


In 2016 my husband and I made the decision that he would leave the workforce to stay at home and manage our household – baseball games, housecleaning, homework, etc. so that I could focus more on my career.  (He likes to joke that the secret to retiring early is to MARRY a financial advisor)  

Like any major life change, we both had fears and expectations going into it and to make sure that we were on the same page we implemented a system that we call “The State of the Union”.  

The State of the Union has been the perhaps the most valuable tool we’ve implemented as a couple.  It has helped us through a number of life changes – including a most recent change when we were forced to BOTH be retired for a year 🙂

Here’s how it works 

Step One

Write down your vision/expectations of what is going to happen when you make this change.  What does it look like?  Who cleans the house?  Who cooks supper? What does your typical day look like? This is super important because sometimes you’ll find that you have vastly different expectations.  (**My husband and I each had our own dedicated notebooks for this.  I strongly suggest that strategy.**)

Step Two

Now make a list of all of your fears.  We did this separately and then exchanged the lists. Do not skip this step.  It might seem unimportant now, but it is perhaps one of the most important steps for the future.  Make sure that you are very honest and vulnerable.  

Step Three

Set a date for your first official State of the Union.  We did ours quarterly initially but eventually moved them further out.  Now we have one once a year.  

Step Four


Prior to the quarterly State of the Union meeting, each of you should do a SWOT analysis.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.  I usually just grab a piece of paper and divide it into quadrants.  I label each of the quadrants. 

  • In the Strengths quadrant you write down the things that are really going well; things that you are really strong at as a couple. 
  • Under weaknesses you write anything you think you’re weak on, etc. (or the things that are driving you nuts).  
  • Under opportunities write down any potential areas of opportunity you can think of – like hiring a housekeeper, or taking a trip with friends.  
  • Under threats write down anything that you feel like is threatening your marriage… this could be the same as some of the things you wrote on your “weaknesses” list, but it’s a stronger way to state it.  Things under the “threats” quadrant are things that are vital to address quickly. 

Bring this paper with you to your State of the Union

Step Five


  • I strongly suggest going to your favorite restaurant, or somewhere where there are plenty of witnesses in case it gets heated (just kidding!!…. mostly)  
  • Bring your notebooks.  
  • Discuss your expectations.  Come to a mutual agreement on what is reasonable to expect from each other during this time of transition.  Compromise is obviously important.
  • Discuss your individual SWOT analysis.  
  • Review your fears list.  Discuss whether or not any of those fears are going away or getting worse.  This is super important because we have found that some of our worst fights are really routed in fears… as you inch closer to someone’s fear, fight or flight automatically kicks in… and neither of those are good options in a marriage! 
  • Make commitments to each other.  Chances are you’ve had some really good discussions and you’re ready to make some commitments… something you’re going to start or stop doing.  Review these commitments often AND at the next State of the Union.

Step Six

After the initial State of the Union meeting you will continue to meet quarterly.  Each time you will review your expectations list.  Is someone falling short of the commitments they made?  Make a plan to address it.  You will also review your updated SWOT analysis and take a quick look at the fears list.  Then you will review your commitments from last quarter and make new commitments for the upcoming quarter.

It’s Worth It!

It might sound like a lot of work, but I promise you that this was the most effective thing we’ve ever implemented.  For me, it really helped me not lash out in the moment when something was annoying me.  I just thought to myself “Well I’ll add THAT to the weaknesses list for the State of the Union” and angrily jotted it down in my notebook.

But then when the State of the Union rolled around I found that I had usually cooled off quite a bit and so I was much more emotionally prepared to talk rationally about the issue… a win win for both of us!  I also realized that sometimes it SEEMED like there were TONS of issues, but when we talked through them they just boiled down to a couple of things that were relatively easily fixed (or at least easy enough to work on).

I’m an advocate of all kinds of counseling, including marriage counseling, but The State of the Union can be a huge help, too.

There’s a lot of things to consider when it comes to retirement.  Be sure you’re working with a good financial advisor so you can focus on the important things while they take care of the financial planning for you.

Impact Wealth Management LLC is a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). We are based in beautiful Sioux Falls, SD and regulated by the State of South Dakota. Throughout this site, we went out of our way to present unbiased data believed to be from reliable and respected sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, and relevance are not guaranteed, and no responsibility is assumed for errors or omissions.