Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning

Crucial Conversations for Accountability

Retirement Impasse

Dear Authors,

My wife retired early and I intend to retire next year. We currently live in Tucson, and have agreed on the following:

  • We don’t wish to continue living in Tucson year round.
  • If we live in Tucson only part of the year we can’t afford to keep the home we have lived in for thirty years.
  • For the past two years we have looked at alternative places to live, and we have come to an impasse.

I would like to live in the small town of Eagar in the White Mountains of Arizona because I have been visiting the area to hunt, fish, and camp since before we were married, and I love it there. My absolute favorite fishing lake is only 20 minutes away. My wife feels it is “too rural.” (The rural nature of the town is one of the main attractions for me.)

My wife would like to move to Payson, AZ—which does absolutely nothing for me. There are fishing lakes within a half-hour of town, but I know nothing about them and don’t have any “connection” to them. It is considerably larger than Eagar and it is only one hour from Phoenix, which means that the town is overrun with Phoenicians every weekend and all summer.

To “Start with Heart,” my fondest wish is for our retirement years to be happy ones—for both of us; but it seems that we can’t get past the basic point of where we will live. I feel that I don’t even know what the crucial conversation is, much less how to start it. Any suggestions would be most welcome.

At an Impasse

Dear Impasse,

Conflict. Irreconcilable differences. These are the toughest crucial conversations; they require our best thinking and our best skills. You and your spouse are making life changing decisions which not only affect your situation, but also your most important relationship: your relationship with each other.

As we begin, consider this important caution: in every word and action create and maintain mutual respect. It’s very easy when wrestling these tender issues to be hurt or frustrated and resort to sarcasm or cutting remarks and slide into the varying degrees of silence. Don’t. Be respectful; be slow to take offense. Get your heart right before you open your mouth. Ask yourself what you really want. I’m guessing that you want to agree upon the place you will live in a way that builds a loving relationship. You want to live in a place that will make you happy. You want to live in a place that makes your wife happy. And you want a loving relationship.

Now, with these purposes clearly in mind, let’s take a look at the impasse. You want to live in a rural setting; your wife wants to live in a more urban area. It seems like your disagreement is about strategy. Suspend this difference for a moment and examine the purposes behind your strategies. Purpose is what you really want. Strategy is how you will go about getting what you want. One way to get to purpose is to sincerely, respectfully ask “why?” Try to understand why a given strategy is important to the other person.

To get to your purposes, let me ask some “why” questions of you. Of course I don’t know your responses, but this could serve as an illustration of the skill.

  • Why do you want to live in Eagar?
  • Why is “rural” important to you?
  • What does rural mean to you?
  • Does rural mean elbow room between you and your neighbor?
  • Does rural mean you can see cows from your porch?
  • Does rural mean an absence of something? Traffic jams? Fast food chains?
  • Why is fishing important to you?
  • Would any great fishing spots do, or does it have to be a certain spot? Why?
  • Does family factor in? Why or why not? Friends? Community?

Now use the questioning approach to understand your wife’s purposes.

As the questioning process gradually reveals your purposes and your wife’s purposes, look for which purposes are mutual. Are some different but not necessarily conflicting? Perhaps you want acreage so you can have horses. She might want to be close to shopping and restaurants. Different purposes for sure, but not necessarily conflicting or incompatible.

Next, brainstorm possible strategies that will enable you both to realize the purposes that matter most.

For example, suppose you want elbow room between homes, no traffic, a place for horses, and frequent fishing. And let’s say for example that your wife’s purposes are to be close to shopping, close to friends, not isolated, and active in her church.

Once the purposes are understood, a number of different strategies could possibly work. For example:

You buy a home and some property outside of Payson. You get your horses; she has a short drive (20 minutes) to the things she wants. Two weekends a month you go fishing wherever you want (you’re retired, remember?). How about a small cabin by your favorite lake? How about explore some new fishing holes?

Now, this may not be a reasonable solution to your dilemma, but the point is the process. Use the process to clarify what you both really want (purpose). Never argue about strategy; be creative, brainstorm, explore possibilities. Always look for strategies that will enable both of you to get what you want.

If you have to face conflicting purposes, stay in the creative mode. Look at the time frame: short term/long term. “We live in Payson until the grandchildren are in school, then move to Eagar.” Or try six months in Payson, six months in Eagar. (This option works for thousands of “snowbirds” in Arizona and Florida.) Be willing to try an experiment together and see what you learn. Be flexible.

Look for a common goal or value that transcends your competing purposes. Maybe something like proximity to family trumps both shopping and fishing, so you end up moving to Snowflake, Arizona instead of Eagar or Payson.

Not all conflicts can result in an ideal solution; however, if we take the time to get clear about what’s important and sincerely work the process, we can work together to seek a mutually satisfactory result.

Best Wishes,

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