I’ve mentioned many times that one-third of my clients are women on their own. This gave me insight that made it possible to write When the Picture Changes. Generally, women live longer than men and women are more likely to be on their own in retirement.
But over the past two years, several of my male clients have lost their spouses. I’ve noticed that they face different challenges than women in adjusting to life on their own.
I don’t think men ever picture themselves in this position. We seem to carry with us the assumption that we’ll be the first to go. I think women are more likely to have thought about the future and to recognize that at some point, well into the future, they may have lost their spouse. Men, not so much.
My experience with women is that they often need to learn a new set of skills, mostly to do with tasks around the home. This is something I deal with in my book. Women often need help with a home or car repair. Or, as I realized many years ago, with investing and planning. These were practical things that their spouse took care of and which women needed to familiarize themselves with or seek help with.
Men, on the other hand, seem to me to be less affected by tasks. Despite the stereotype that men don’t know as much about cooking or using the washing machine (and the truth to that in many cases), it’s not their biggest challenge. If it’s not their strength, they fumble through it without it causing them a lot of stress. However, I find that men are less prepared to spend time on their own. There is more of a gap in terms of companionship. They miss having someone with whom to eat dinner, watch a movie, walk the dog, travel etc.
Women miss their spouses too. There is no doubt about that. But perhaps they have built broader and stronger social networks that make the companionship gap narrower and easier to fill. They keep themselves busy with new tasks and challenges. Having to take care of things that were their spouses’ area of concern fills their time and their headspace and creates a grieving process that is different from a man’s and in my view, more effective.
I can help women with the challenges they face. I can help them gain confidence in making financial decisions and support the process with analysis and trusted advice. I can even help them come up with a plan to ease the stress of maintaining their home by encouraging them to build a network of trusted professionals and use their wealth to ensure these are taken care of for them. If they feel compelled to give up their home before they are ready because it is difficult to maintain, we can make room in their budget for handymen, maintenance crews etc. In other words, if you don’t feel comfortable cutting the grass, or repairing a faucet, just pay someone to do it.
But the companionship gap that men seem to face is more difficult to address.
I included a message in my book for women who still have their spouses and haven’t taken an active role in the family’s finances. I encourage them to get involved now and to start building confidence in their ability to make financial decisions. I suppose the message for men is to at least reflect on the possibility that you may not be the first to go and to consider how that loss would affect you most in your day-to-day life.
The demographics of an aging baby boom gave me the idea of writing a book for the coming widow boom. As much as statistics say that women outlive men. There is some percentage who don’t. I’m not sure I have the skill set to write a book for the men who are left behind. But they deserve our support as well.