Marriage and the Empty Nest: Five Strategies for Rediscovering Your Spouse
By America’s #1 Love and Marriage Experts.
Okay, the children have all left home. You and your spouse are finally alone after two decades of marriage. Now what? How do you cope? What lies in store for the two of you?
These are questions faced by millions of married couples worldwide each and every year. If you are lucky, it is something you will have to deal with some day.
You get married, your children are born, they grow up, and they leave home. Nothing unusual about all that. But the truth is, it is a significant event in the lives of married couples with children around the world. No matter where you live on planet Earth, married couples with children will eventually have to deal with the empty nest.
So, how do you deal with it? When your children leave home, how does that affect your marriage? What are the potential pitfalls? What good comes of all this? What are the negative and positive impacts?
Just understand this – having your children leave home is a scary proposition. It is painful. It hurts! The good news – you are not alone!
We have traveled the world in search of great marriages – forty-six countries on six of the seven continents of the world so far. And all of the successfully married couples we have interviewed report the same thing to us – they missed their children when they left home, they had to learn how to cope with it, and their marriage was affected by it – some in positive ways and some in negative ways.
So what can you expect and what should you do to deal with the empty nest syndrome?
When the children move on – go to college, get married, get a job – and your nest is empty, the impact on your marriage can be substantial. The relationship between you and your spouse can change, and often does. Some call into question the very nature of their relationship with the one they love.
In this day and age, the extended family is less and less prevalent, and less and less important. In previous generations, the extended family gave us more flexibility when it came to the empty nest. Clearly, this is no longer true. The empty nest today is much more impactful than it used to be.
Always remember this – it is natural for a mother and father to feel sadness when the children leave home. There is no debate about that. It is natural to feel weepy. It is natural to feel irritable. And for sure, it is natural to feel lonely.
Someone once said, Parenting is terminal. We are not so sure about that. Charley’s father (rest his soul) used to say that no matter how old he got and how old Charley got, he was always Charley’s father. He worried about him and his safety no matter what. He worried about Charley each and every day.
Honestly – and trust us on this – parenting is NOT terminal! Parents are always parents, no matter how old their children. Successfully married couples around the world have reported this to us during our three decades of research. When your children leave home your nest is empty, but your children are always your children.
With all this said, the question of the day is this – what are the five strategies for discovering your spouse again when your nest is empty?
Here is what we have learned over the past 30 years from our thousands of interviews with successfully married couples around the world. According to the successfully married couples we have interviewed, empty nesters need to adhere to the following advice:
1. Empty nesters need to take stock of their relationship now that the children are out of the house. In other words, they need to set goals for their relationship, plot a direction they want their marriage to go, and start thinking about where their marriage is and should be 5, 10, 15 years down the road.
Why is this important? Well, the two of you have devoted so much of your time to your children over the life of your marriage that is time to start thinking more about the life you want for yourselves. Frankly, married couples often need to rediscover their relationship with each other. And the simple truth is, if you are lucky, you will spend the rest of your natural born life with your spouse. The quality of your relationship must be good if your marriage is to survive and thrive, post-children.
2. If your marriage is a typical American marriage, the chances are very high that both husband and wife work outside the home. The great danger for empty nesters is that they often throw themselves even more into their work, often at the expense of their spouse. Our advice – based on the advice of thousands of successfully married couples around the world – don’t make this mistake!
Your careers are important to you but plunging your heart and soul into your work as a way of compensating for the absence of children in your home will only cause stress in your relationship with your mate. Not a good plan! Don’t do it.
3. Rekindle the romance and passion of your relationship that is often put on the backburner when you are raising children.
Plan for lunch or dinner out. Meet in some clandestine place from time to time for some good old fashion passion. Take a spontaneous trip out of town. Go to Disney World – just the two of you! And remember this highly important point — rekindling passion for each other takes action! And practice! Get in the habit again of engaging in passion with each other. You will be surprised at how easy it will be to fall in love all over again with your spouse. Practice, practice, practice!
4. The health of your spouse is of paramount importance to your marriage, especially in the empty nest. The two of you should plan some kind of daily exercise routine. For example, we ride our bikes in the area parks and trails 5 or 6 days a week AND we walk our dog, Louie, every morning.
It is also important to eat healthy foods – salads and fruits in particular. When you exercise and eat healthy, you have more energy, you will be healthier, and you will live longer!
5. The final piece of advice goes like this – the worst thing you can do to your spouse or yourself as an empty nester is to hover over each other all the time. Just as you need alone time with children, you need it as empty nesters.
As you have heard us report in our writings and in our recent book, Building a Love that Lasts (Jossey-Bass, 2010), there is a fundamental predisposition in every human being to have time alone. Everybody needs time to be with their own thoughts, with their own hobbies, with just themselves. Empty nesters have more time to be together, but couples often forget that the need to be alone is just as strong and just as important when the children are gone. Respect that need for privacy and aloneness in yourself and your spouse. You will both be better off for it.
Living in an empty nest is not all that bad. Couples have been doing it for centuries! Make the most of it. Follow the simple rules espoused by those who have been there, done that, and been successful at it. You won’t regret it.
Simple Things Matter in love and marriage. Love well!
By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz
For more tips to enhance your relationship get the Doctor’s best-selling and multiple-award winning book Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage (Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book
2009 Nautilus Book Awards Winner for Relationships