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Rosalie Tyrrell, 69, didn't want to retire. Ever. An administrator at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital for 33 years, Tyrrell was a self-described workaholic. "I loved what I did and the people I worked with," she says. "Retire? Who would I be without my professional identity?"
Her attitude baffled her husband, Luis Puccio, now 57. In 2008, when his consulting contract — with the computer software company he'd formerly owned — expired, Puccio was abruptly thrust into retirement. For the next few years, Puccio worked odd jobs but felt adrift and ready for a change. "For me, it was obvious," says Puccio. "Even Rosalie's financial guy said we'd saved enough. Why does she insist on getting up at 5 a.m. for a 90-minute commute when we could be renting a condo in Florida?"
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He didn't hide his feelings. "Lou called me at work and pestered me about coming home early or taking Fridays off," Tyrrell recalls. "I had a career — and I didn't want to leave it."
Tyrrell and Puccio could be the poster children for Out-of-Sync Retirement Syndrome: As 76 million boomers march toward what was once a generally agreed-upon "retirement age," many are poorly prepared for the conflicts unleashed when one partner retires and the other continues to toil. "Retirement can magnify preexisting problems in a marriage," says social historian Stephanie Coontz. "The decision to stop work forces you to reevaluate what you both want — and you may discover the gaps are wider than either of you thought."
Research shows that marital stress increases during the initial two years of retirement, especially when the husband retires first. "Jobs, like kids, can be buffers in a relationship," Coontz says. "Once the structure of work is gone, unresolved issues rise to the surface."
Boomers in particular may struggle with this transition. "In the past, most couples took it for granted that when one of them retired, the other would, too — and they usually faced only the husband's retirement," says sociologist Phyllis Moen, author of Encore Adulthood: Boomers on the Edge of Risk, Renewal, and Purpose. "Two-career boomers are the first generation that has had to deal with his-and-her retirements."
Indeed, fewer than 20 percent of all couples quit working in the same year. And a recent study found that 38 percent of retired couples disagree on the lifestyle they want to lead.