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Aging

For Couples, a Happy Retirement Requires Shared Goals

Interdependent partners were more involved in planning decisions.

Key points

  • Cognitive interdependence is a mental state reflecting a sense of interconnectedness and collective self-representations in the relationship.
  • Cognitive interdependence is associated with having directly involved a partner in retirement planing.
  • People who saw their goals as more aligned with a partner's reported easier transitions to retirement and greater well-being.
Marcus Aurelius/Pexels
Source: Marcus Aurelius/Pexels

Many nations are finding themselves in the middle of a "retirement boom". In the UK alone, 1 in 4 adults are going to be over the legal retirement age of 65 within the next 20 years. As more and more people head toward this exciting milestone, there has been a renewed interest in understanding what leads to happy and healthy retirements. New research suggests that part of successfully planning for retirement depends on how directly involved your partner is in your retirement planning decisions and whether or not you share the same vision for the golden years.

The challenges of retirement

Although retirement touches many aspects of a person's life, most of the advice available to help people navigate this period focuses on financial planning. But retirement is seldom a solitary adventure. Indeed, romantic partners not only influence when each other decides to retire, but should also play a crucial role in shaping retirement goals and facilitating these goals along the way. Some couples, however, are not always as aligned in their visions of the future as they might think. For example, a 2015 survey of over 1,000 couples found that nearly half of respondents disagreed with their partner’s assessment of how much they needed to save for retirement, despite also reporting that they were well-prepared for retirement.

Hand-in-hand into the golden years?

In a series of studies, we aimed to understand how a sense of interconnectedness with a partner may influence how people anticipate and experience retirement. In this study, it was believed that cognitive interdependence—a mental state that reflects a sense of interconnectedness and a collective sense of the self-in-relationships—would influence how people engaged with their partners before retirement, with consequences for their post-retirement experiences.

Among soon-to-be retirees, those who were highly cognitively interdependent felt their partners were more instrumental to their pre- and post-retirement goals. They also believed that their post-retirement goals were relatively aligned with those of their partner. Importantly, people who were more highly cognitively interdependent also reported that they had directly involved their partners in their retirement planning already, and anticipated easier transitions into retirement. Soon-to-be retirees relatively high in cognitive interdependence also appeared to respond to acute concerns about their relationships (e.g., reminders of how their goals might not align with their partner's goals and feelings of ambivalence about the retirement) by wanting to involve their partners in their retirement planning to a greater extent.

Among recent retirees, people who recalled being highly cognitively interdependent before retirement had directly involved their partners in their retirement planning, felt their partners were highly instrumental to their goals now, and felt that their goals in retirement were relatively aligned. Furthermore, goal alignment in retirement was associated with greater ease of retirement and feelings of well-being.

Leveraging your social capital for happier future dividends

Partners can be an important social resource, providing people with opportunities for support and instrumentally facilitating their goals over time. The findings from these studies highlight one way in which partners can help each other navigate retirement. First, they suggest that people who are more cognitively interdependent—and therefore see their partners as highly interconnected with their sense of self—seemingly involve their partners more directly in their retirement planning, even when they are worried about what the future might hold. They also suggest that taking the steps needed to align your goals for retirement can lead to easier retirements independent of an interdependent outlook. So if you have been shying away from a potentially difficult conversation with your partner, finding a way to behave more collectively and align your visions for retirement now may pay dividends in the next phase of your lives together.

References

Lamarche, V. M., & Rolison, J. J. (2021). Hand-in-hand in the golden years: Cognitive interdependence, partner involvement in retirement planning, and the transition into retirement. Plos one, 16(12), e0261251. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.02612…

Centre for Ageing Better. (2021). Boom and bust? The last baby boomers and their prospects for later life. Retrieved from: https://ageing-better.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-11/boom-and-bust-report-the-last-baby-boomers.pdf

Henkens K., & Van Solinge H. (2002). Spousal influences on the decision to retire. International Journal of Sociology, 32, 55–74. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15579336.2002.11770249

Fidelity Investment. (2015). Couples Retirement Study Fact Sheet: Disconnects on Retirement Expectations, Social Security and Income. Retrieved from: https://www.fidelity.com/bin-public/060_www_fidelity_com/documents/coup…

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