Carolyn Hax: A couple’s thoughts about 401(k) don’t match

Carolyn Hax: A couple’s thoughts about 401(k) don’t match


Ever since then I’ve been rethinking the plans my husband and I have for retirement. He’s a big fan of socking away as much money as possible now and retiring in our 50s. I am no longer willing to put off life for a future that may never happen.

I don’t want to go crazy, but I want to start spending on things we can enjoy now — some home improvements, a dream vacation or two, nicer bikes for those vacations since we’re cycling enthusiasts.

My husband says I’m overreacting and need therapy to deal with my “residual trauma” rather than “derailing our lives.” I think he’s the over-dramatic one since I’m only talking about going from saving 38 percent of our income to about 20 percent. What do you say?

— Don’t Want to Put Life on Hold

Don’t Want to Put Life on Hold: I really don’t like the implications of your husband’s “you’re overreacting and need therapy” response. Even if he’s right that you’re seeing things through “residual trauma” — and he probably is — a mind changed by trauma is no less legitimately changed than a mind changed by, say, an education or accrued experience or a spiritual awakening.

You see things differently now. And that’s valid.

In fact, I’d argue it’s more valid because it has the ring of deep emotional truth.

So please start by stating to your husband clearly that, yes, the loss of your mom was traumatic for you, and, yes, you are seeing things through that lens now.

And then say, yes, you do expect your life partner to respect your viewpoint, even when it differs from his and even when it’s significantly different from the one you used to share with him — and even when it’s grief that got you there. You hope he’d consider this as “rerouting” your lives before he jumps to “derailing.”

That’s your major obstacle, so put your energy, attention and patience there, in communicating the validity of . . . well, in communicating your validity.

And if he sticks to the therapy line, then say you’d like to go to therapy with him. Because that’s the next step for a couple who were thinking as one but are now thinking as two and who are not agreeing on even the right first step toward thinking as one again.

There’s room in a well-lived life for both of your views, of disciplined saving toward a goal combined with an acceptance that the life you live between now and that goal might be the only life you’ve got. For example, saving 29 percent.

But you can’t get to 29 percent if you both aren’t open to respecting both views.

I’m sorry about your mom.

Re: On Hold: Here’s hoping he doesn’t double down on “overreacting and need therapy.” Because I don’t think I could stay married to a guy whose go-to response when I talked about something important to me was to treat me like a defective toaster.


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