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‘It was difficult and I wasn’t happy with me’

The story of a couple and the stress on their relationship when one partner retired.
/ Source: TODAY

Lou Levitt and his wife, Sue, spent the first 23 years of their married life in Wilmington, Del. Lou spent 50 to 70 hours a week working as a successful CPA, building his nest egg.  Sue worked the same demanding hours for nonprofits, raising money for prep schools throughout the Philadelphia area.

"I didn't believe that I would ever retire; I mean really retire,” said Lou. “I'd like to work until the day I die."

The Levitts always knew "one day" they would settle in a beach community.  The sun, the surf and the active lifestyle appealed to them.  But it wasn't until July of 1999, that the day unexpectedly arrived.

“My wife decided to move to Tampa and take a job down there, with or without me,” said Lou.

“I came down to start this job and I went in hook, line and sinker,” said Sue. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is great! This is an awesome challenge.’ And I never gave it a second's thought.”

The start of Sue's dream job was waiting for her in Tampa, Fla. And, at just 60 years old, the start of a new retired life was waiting for Lou.

“How could I tell her no, she can't do that? It's like a once in a lifetime kind of thing,” said Lou. “My timetable had to be changed, and I hoped I wouldn't be caught in a rut for too long a period of time.”

A recent study by a group of Cornell University psychologists found that retirement can spark depression.  The study of over 500 married men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 found that men who retired while their wives were still working showed a higher level of stress and depression than retired men whose wives did not work.

“It was impossible.  It was traumatic and it was difficult and I wasn't happy with me,” said Lou.  “I wasn't happy with anything.  And I occupied my time doing things that were non-sensible and just passing the time with grace, so to speak. I didn't have anything to run to. I had times that there was just nothing to do.  And I would nap a lot; I would go to malls and just walk through the mall.”

“When he would tell me that he didn't have enough to do or he really wasn't so sure about this place, then of course I would immediately go around and find lists of volunteer opportunities and some kind of classes that were available,” said Sue. “I would expect him to take the information and immediately the next morning, get up and call and fix all of this.  But he didn't fix it.”

Lou spent the next year and a half questioning himself, doubting his decision in moving to Tampa and retiring too early in his life.

“I was at odds with myself, wondering if I did the right thing, and my only position was, it was the wrong time.  And life is timing and mine was absolutely pathetic,” he said. “And then I finally said, after about a year and a half, ‘Well, enough is enough.  I need to get back on track.’ ”

“I noticed a difference when he started working out,” said Sue. “He started going three times a week, and I saw a difference then because his energy level picked up. And then he started collecting some clients along the way, and it all began to fall into place.”

“I got back into accounting in a very slow, drawn-out fashion over the last three years and it has been very good,” said Lou. “I do it all by myself. It's me and that's fine and I like it that way.”

It's been five years since the Levitts "retired" to Florida, and during that time, their lives and their roles have evolved.  With Lou now working again, Sue finally took the plunge and retired in December.

“It was completely by choice,” she said. “I knew it was going to be weird, and I don't think I ever believed that I didn't have any purpose anymore. It's just the minute-to-minute panic when you don't have so many things to think about.”

“You need a great relationship with your spouse when you retire,” said Lou. “And it's nice when you both retire within the same time proximity.”

“I would have tried to have been more inclusive, so it wouldn't have been such a hard transition for him,” said Sue. “But you know what? For me, I wouldn't have changed anything. My life here has been pretty complete.”