When one spouse works and one's retired

Allen Schwartz retired and restores family photos for Allen Schwartz retired and restores family photos for fun while his wife, Leona, enjoys her job as a recreational therapist. (Jan. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Sharon Duffy uses her extended leisure time to take ceramics classes, read and crochet. Since retiring in September, Duffy has traveled to Florida twice, for seven weeks each time.

Such is the life of someone like Duffy, 63, whose decision to go from employee to retiree was prompted by a few things -- the loss of her sister in a car accident seven years ago, her father's death in 2011 and her feelings of burnout. "I wanted to live life before I die," said the Lynbrook resident, who was a bookkeeper at a freight-

forwarding company.

But Duffy's newfound sense of joie de vivre is tempered because her husband, Bob, can't share her long getaways to their second home in North Fort Myers because he still works.

"We speak every day, but there's a guilt factor, with me being able to enjoy the luxury of life," while Bob has to stay up north where the weather is "so miserable, cold and dank," Sharon said.

Her husband, however, insists there's no resentment on his part. The promise of a comfortable pension, eventually, keeps Bob, 66, working as a real estate appraiser for the Nassau Assessment Review Commission. "I'm happy that Sharon has the stress lifted off her," he said. And during his "alone time," he focuses on his coin-collecting and astronomy hobbies.

After years of waking together to an alarm clock, then racing out the door to leave for their jobs, many Long Island couples are confronting a striking shift in their domestic lives. One spouse, courtesy of retirement, has lots of free time, while it's the same old grind for the mate who keeps working. There are no statistics on households with married couples where one works and the other is retired, but it's a scenario playing out throughout Long Island as more and more baby boomers leave the workforce.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Experts say a partner's retirement can impact both spouses' lives, for better or for worse. Retired partners have more time to pursue hobbies and getaways alone. And while the retired spouse is away, the working mate can indulge personal interests, which can also be rewarding.

Of course, there's always the chance the employed partner may resent the retired spouse's ability to take extended vacations, as well as the bills those escapades generate. On the flip side, retirees with a working spouse may feel like live-in housekeepers, compelled to shoulder increased chores because they have more free time.

"With the breadwinner having a certain amount of power in the relationship, we find that working wives treat their retired spouses differently, and men can feel emasculated," said Rob Pascale, 58, a semiretired research psychologist in Garden City and author of "The Retirement Maze" (Rowman & Littlefield), which deals with the emotional and psychological issues of retirement.

A plethora of developments can push one partner to retire before the other is ready, including a futile search for employment after a layoff; the promise of a healthy pension; medical problems; or an employer with a mandatory retirement-age policy. Meanwhile, spouses are apt to continue working because of their employer's health care benefits; their high level of job satisfaction; or financial considerations, such as car loans and home mortgages or a desire to sustain a certain lifestyle.

Husbands and wives also might retire at different times if they are several years apart in age, or one of them works in such fields as law-enforcement, where people typically start their careers in their 20s and can retire with a pension after 20 years of service.

@Newsday

John Roubicek and his wife, Pegi Orsino, who are both 61, are seasoned veterans of the he's-home-she's-working experience. Eleven years ago, he retired after more than two decades as a Suffolk County deputy sheriff. Orsino continues to work as the executive director of Smithtown-based RSVP, or Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Suffolk, a position she's had for eight years.

"We have time to travel together, but we can also take separate trips because he has the essence of time. So, when I have a grant coming up or a contract I need to write, he can go with my blessing," Orsino explained. When her husband travels, she uses her solo hours to whittle wood, listen to music or watch any TV show that strikes her fancy.

However, she admits the transition wasn't flawless. The first year her husband retired required some adjustment on her part. "I did have to work a little bit about having a chip on my shoulder when I came home and [saw that] he read all the papers and investigated what he had read on the Internet," Orsino said.

Her husband describes his retirement as "everyday is Saturday -- sleeping late but still having errands to do and bills to pay." But the Bellport couple has found equilibrium in their daily lives, with each addressing whatever household chores haven't been done.

"I love coming home and having the bed made and the pajamas ironed -- he irons and vacuums better than I do," Orsino said. She makes dinner and lunch for both of them and doesn't hesitate to get behind the lawn mower. And she doesn't envision retiring just yet. "I graduated with a four-year degree at age 40 and had been a stay-at-home for 14 years," she said, "so I still have the energy because I haven't been working in the field as long as other people who graduated at 22 years old."

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Allen Schwartz of Dix Hills retired by default in 2011. A corporate merger had brought an end to his longtime career as a customer service executive in the semiconductor industry in 2005. In the interim, he completed a two-year temporary assignment with the U.S. Census Bureau in 2010, but seeing no employment on the horizon, he abandoned his job search for good. Meanwhile, his wife, Leona, has continued working as a recreational therapist at a Ronkonkoma adult day program, serves as director of a chorale group and gives private vocal lessons.

Schwartz, 68, said he wouldn't think of asking his wife to retire. "She gets real joy" out of her work, he said. "I don't want to interfere with that."

At his wife's suggestion, he has been volunteering two hours a week, since November, at Literacy Suffolk, which helps adults and non-English speakers learn to read. Last month, he became the volunteer coordinator for RSVP's Community Computer Connections Program, which refurbishes used computers and gives them to families in need. The position requires about 20 hours a week. And he still has time for a new hobby -- repairing old and damaged family photos using Photoshop.

"It's definitely a shift for me," Schwartz said. "When you come to the point where you don't have activities, there are a lot of hours in the day."

Leona Schwartz, who holds certificates in gerontology and recreation therapy, has no plans to call it quits anytime soon. "It feels good to be doing what I'm doing," said Leona, who prefers not to reveal her age.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

After being a stay-at-home mom for nearly two decades, she re-entered the workforce about 17 years ago. She still does the cooking, but that may change soon.

"I never showed Allen around the kitchen," she explained, but she recently began teaching him some basics, including how to make pasta al dente.


Rules to retire by

When one partner retires before the other, an otherwise harmonious relationship can become stressed. But experts say there are ways spouses can minimize, if not avert, the impact.

Here are some suggestions.

--Manage expectations by establishing ground rules for how time will be spent together and apart, including whether separate vacations are amenable to both parties.

--Reduce the possibility of growing apart by participating in some of each other's hobbies, but give one another the space to pursue individual interests.

FOR THE RETIRED SPOUSE

--Stay productive and active. Find something you enjoy doing and volunteer as a museum docent, an after-school mentor or Little League coach. Take adult education classes, cultivate new hobbies and join organizations that dovetail with your interests while providing a social outlet.

--Don't put pressure on your spouse to retire, particularly a wife, which could trigger resentment.

--Assume more of the household chores to allow for quality time together after work and on weekends.

FOR THE WORKING SPOUSE

--Remember, your mate didn't retire to become a live-in valet or maid for your household.

--Urge the retiree to seek professional help if signs of depression appear.

You also may be interested in: