Marriage Quest, Israel and Cathie Helfand, Cabot Vermont, 802-563-3063

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When Your Children Leave Home
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Empty Nest

When Your Children Leave Home

Empty Nest is the stage of life for a couple when the last child leaves home and goes out on their own; often leaving home for college, sometimes into the world of work, or joining the military. While some children return to the nest again, many are gone for good. Either way this creates a shift in the marital relationship.

For 20 or more years the couple's priorities have been the children, finances, career goals, etc. Now Mom and Dad are home alone, once again as "just" a couple focusing on each other, retirement plans, personal medical needs, aging parents, and perhaps some personal-emotional exploration. For many people this is a time of deep thought, and sometimes is considered a "mid-life" or existential crisis. This is a time, a crossroad in a couple's life, to seek professional guidance in making sense of their feelings of fear, lonliness, sadness, or confusion.

While some people joke that "you haven't lost your child... you've gained a bathroom!" For some people who have been over-close to their children, this stage of life may feel like a death experience and they may go through a grief process. Experience dictates that if a woman's sole fulfillment comes from her role as mother this will be a very challenging time for her, and she and her husband are probably in a sad and lonely marriage as well. We help these couples rekindle pleasure, meaning, and purpose through their bond with each other.

Empty Nest is more challenging for couples whose marriage has revolved more around their children and their family than their marriage, themselves, and each other. In some situations there are spouses who have thought in the back of their minds that they should stay together "for the sake of the children", rationalizing that their marriage was good enough, and therefore staying there even though they were not happy and "in love". For these couples, approaching the empty nest could be very scary, depressing, and/or anxiety provoking. Here we face head-on in a positive non-judgemental way the question of whether this marriage can be what you want it to be.

Generally speaking, for couples whose early years, before they had children, were joyous and passionate their prognosis for a healthy adjustment to empty nest is much better. Couples whose decision to marry were more pragmatic and rational now come full circle and get a second chance to decide to continue the marriage or go their separate ways. The prognosis of marital satisfaction is our forté.

The truth is that for all couples empty nest is a challenge and marks a significant rite-of-passage for a couple entering what should be their golden years. There are many good opportunities that come with the kids being out of the house and a couple getting older together.

For most couples it is more about the adjustment to being alone together. Exploring what comes next in life: retirement, hobbies, work, contributing to their community or the larger society. Occasionally our work with couples is more focused on the decision to stay together or not... now that the kids have grown and are gone from "the nest".

We think it is useful to point out that couples in their 50's often report higher levels of sexual satisfaction at this phase of their lives than they felt when they were in their 30's and 40's. There is less demand from children and career building, less fear of pregnancy, and usually a better personal self esteem and an improved relationship confidence. When appropriate, we teach sexuality education suited to the age and life-stage of the couples we work with.

For most people, the older we get the more we are able to ask for what we want. This often leads to enhanced sexual experiences for empty nest couples. Fantasy and sex play is easier to explore in an "empty house" situation than with kids in the bedroom next door!

Congratulations for reaching the empty nest. Now you can get your marriage back again after a long and meaningful side journey... known as parenting. The truth is your next step as a parent is to back off as a parent and become more of a peer to your young adult child. Now is the time for you to be more of a friend and a good listener and your efforts in helping them "cut the umbilical cord" will enhance their future. If they no longer see you as "Mommy and Daddy" they will have a better chance of having a happy marriage, both emotionally and sexually.

It is time to let go of the kids, and begin to lean on each other once again as husband and wife, lovers, and best friends, to rekindle the joy, pleasure, and peace of mind that marriage offers.

Couples come to Marriage Quest, at this time of their lives, seeking marriage counseling in a quiet private setting, just the two them and the two of us, Cathie and Israel Helfand, experienced Marriage and Family Therapists and Sexual Therapists.

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