… they’re also two separate people
Here’s my somewhat unconventional advice to newlyweds.
Make a circle with each hand, using your thumb and fingers. Move your hands together until the circles overlap partially. You’ve created a Venn diagram, as shown below. It’s named after the person who first used it, 150 years ago, to illustrate an aspect of logic. Most young couples recognize the name.
Think of one circle as representing your interests, and the other circle as representing your partner’s interests. There’s an overlapping area, in addition to the outer parts of the two circles. When you first met, you probably went all soppy over the things you enjoy in common. And more and more of your lives will be spent in that overlapping area of your Venn diagram.
Typically what happens is that you have children, and gradually they take over that area, perhaps even to the extent that the two outside areas no longer have anything in them. And that’s dangerous, because one day the children leave (yes, they really do!), and sometimes couples find that they no longer have anything in common, and that can lead to instability in the relationship or even divorce.
So, on each anniversary, when you hold each other close and express your love in whatever way suits you, the most romantic words you can tell each other are these: “Honestly, all the parts of our Venn diagram are healthy.” The overlapping
we’re-a-couple part as well as the two parts that say you’re different individuals.
Our son tells me that the Venn diagram is still remembered by the friends who attended his wedding. (Yes, that’s what the father of the groom told the guests. I had promised him that I wouldn’t use PowerPoint and wouldn’t say anything about him, to which he very properly replied, “Anything you say will embarrass me anyway, so go ahead and say whatever you like.” He also adds that he and his wife now find the Venn diagram useful to classify their attitude to vegetables!)
This isn’t wisdom that occurred naturally to me – my mind isn’t that creative – but a friend mentioned it when we were chatting at the 40th anniversary of our university matriculation, and I’ve thought of it gratefully ever since. (Tony Parsons, if you ever see this, thank you for your insight!)
I use this notion of the Venn diagram often when I’m asked to talk to a group about retirement, because (other than during Covid) partners are typically used to spending much of their day apart during their adult years, and the togetherness that typically follows retirement can be unexpectedly difficult to cope with. And invariably it’s the Venn diagram that turns out to be the most striking thing that people remember, and the subject of most of the subsequent questions.
So in the next blog post I’ll focus on specific aspects of how and when it applies in retirement.
A couple is not only a couple. You’re also two separate people. And your daily lives should reflect not just your joint interests, but also your separate interests.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.