I have recently been reading quite a bit about how much stress and strain the empty nest can put on a marriage. In fact, this is the time that many marriages end…couples no longer feel the need to stay together “for the sake of the children.”
I have always been a believer that children, while in high school, start to become so much more independent for a reason. Not just because they get involved in activities, have social lives, or are preparing for college, but also in order to give parents a taste of what it will be like when they do go off to college or their first job. It’s a way to begin the inevitable separation that will soon take place. Dale and I were always glad that our kids were so involved, but we often commented that we rarely saw them when activities and school events were in full swing. That made it easier on us when each went off to college. Then, seeing less of them while they were in college prepared us for the inevitable move away from home. It is a process. With each step of that process, Dale and I seemed to get closer, rediscovering our freedom and remembering when it was just the two of us against the world, pre-kids. For some couples just the opposite happens. In an article written for The Spruce, entitled, Empty Nest Syndrome in Your Marriage, Sheri Stritof addresses this problem:
“Sociologists and researchers have looked for reasons why divorce can happen after so many years, and one explanation that has popped up is empty nest syndrome. A couple has been comfortably — or maybe not so comfortably — coexisting for years, nestled into a busy home with their children.
Then, one by one, those kids sprout wings and take off. What’s left?
Couples may realize that their children were all that kept them together. In their absence, marital [problems] may begin to glare. Those problems may have always [been] there but they went unacknowledged. In other cases, problems begin rearing their heads for the first time.”
So, what can be done? Here are a few suggestions from the same article:
“Take advantage of the time you and your spouse now have alone together to talk about things that might potentially become problems in your marriage. Try to find your common ground again. It was there, once, before you had kids. Take steps to rediscover it.
- Explore your hopes and dreams for the future. The future just became now.
- Discuss your expectations, both big and small. Talk about how you want the next year to go, as well as what you expect from tomorrow.
- Vent about the sense of grief you’re both feeling at having “lost” your kids.
- Talk about financial changes. What are you going to do with the extra money that’s now available in the family budget?
- Discuss current and potential health issues, including menopause and andropause.
- Explore the possibility of downsizing. Do you really need all that house? Where do you want to live for the rest of your lives?
- If you downsize, what happens if one or more of your kids want to or have to come home due to divorce or job loss? Will they be coming home alone, or will they be bringing your grandchildren with them? Consider decluttering and simplifying your life instead without actually moving.
- Talk about day-to-day life and make adjustments to avoid getting in each other’s way and on each other’s nerves. Establish boundaries and respect the ones your spouse may set. It may have gone unnoticed during years in a bustling household, but now it’s probably going to be pretty apparent if one of you is habitually late coming to breakfast because you wanted to read the newspaper first.
Empty Nest Coping Tips
There are many things the two of you can do to prevent empty nest syndrome from taking a toll on your marriage.
- Seek counseling if your empty nest feels like it might be causing problems in your marriage.
- Accept that this kind of grief can hit men just as hard as it hits women. Empty nest dads may feel a sense of regret over things they didn’t do and time not spent with their children.
- Don’t put this on your kids. Limit how often you call them and avoid guilt trips, especially during holidays if you find that they just can’t make it home.
- Develop a flexible mindset and be open to change.
- Make a list of things you’ve never done but have always wanted to do — there just wasn’t time before.
- Make some short-term and long-term plans on how you want to spend your money and time.
- Schedule “date nights.”
- Don’t rush into volunteer roles, travel, taking classes, moving or emptying out a kid’s bedroom. Let the dust settle first and explore what you want to do most — ideally together.
Marital burnout doesn’t happen to all empty-nest couples. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that developing problems in your marriage after the kids leave is inevitable. Couples who don’t dig up old, forgotten issues, who continue to respect and love each another, and who communicate well with each other often get through the empty-nest stage of marriage just fine.” Read the full article here:
I think the goal here is to prepare. It is inevitable, those little birds are going to fly from the nest eventually. So ask yourself if you are ready for it, and perhaps more importantly, is your marriage ready for it? It is a big change, it requires some adjustment. But if you are like Dale and I, it is just another phase in this thing we like to call our adventure! As we have turned our focus from our kids back to us as a couple, we have remembered how much fun it has always been to be together…after all we have been a couple since we were 16 years old! So, bring it on! We are excited about this new phase! We are literally counting down the days until retirement and planning our adventures! Please, come along for the ride!