The empty nest phase of a marriage can be rewarding as well as challenging for a married couple. This is the time when the last child heads off to college, the military, or a job in another town. In essence, your child is leaving the place that has been their home for 18 plus years, the family nest. While it is obviously a big change for your adult child, it is also a big change for you and your spouse. It can be a wonderful and joyous time for some couples, and for others it is stressful, sad, and lonely.
The Impact Of An Empty Nest On Your Marriage
For many couples this is a time to celebrate all that you have accomplished as parents. You’ve raised healthy and happy children, who know how to navigate the world reasonably well. They have good critical thinking, decision making, and communication skills. They can ask for what they want and are beginning to find their way in life.
Many couples take this time as an opportunity to travel a bit more, except unfortunately now you may need to find a dog or cat sitter for your little four-legged ones. This can be a time to have sex in the living room if desired, or to stay up late to celebrate life and love together and then sleep in until noon. Well, maybe until 8 or 9am.
It Can Be A Challenging Time
For other couples, this is a very challenging time, sometimes referred to as being the Empty Nest Syndrome. While it is not a clinical diagnosis, it may feel like a death that is happening in your life or your partner’s life. It is the end of one chapter and hopefully the beginning of another.
It should be a joyous time, and it might not be. Many couples we work with find this to be a challenging time because they thought that getting married and having children was “what it was all about!” They did not even consider what their marriage would be like after the kids left their nest.
The Impact On Your Relationship If You Don’t Feel Connected
Unfortunately, if you have had a marriage of “divide and conquer” for many years, you may not feel like you know each other very well. While you may have had the common goals of raising physically and emotionally healthy children, you may have not stayed connected with each other as a couple.
Couples need to spend time doing fun and interesting things together while the children are still at home. They need to prioritize their marital relationship and bond, not just be co-parents together. If not, they run the risk of feeling lonely and distant once the children are gone.
The Impact Of An Empty Nest On Your Wife
For many couples taking care of children from monitoring their daily life to building a close relationship has been what your wife has prioritized in the family system. She’s the one who got up in the middle of the night to feed or comfort your child. She’s the one who drove them to all of their extra-curricular activities, and helped them with their homework.
Obviously, many fathers are super involved as well, but typically men are more responsible for making money to provide for the family and women are more responsible for child rearing. For women it is particularly challenging to see the kids leave the nest.
3 Ways You Can Help Your Wife (And Yourself)
Understanding the challenge that your empty nest may be bringing to your wife is the first step in knowing what to do about it. The challenge for your wife therefore is her feeling as if her need for closeness and purpose is being met now by you more so than the children.
- First of all it’s useful to have 110% empathy for this change in the family system and in her life, and to understand how it might affect her logistically and emotionally. Emotionally, she is probably feeling the loss of her very important job as Mom and that her purpose in life and identity is transitioning rapidly.
A sense of sadness and loneliness is normal, but usually challenging.
Logistically, means that it is important to focus on what are some of the things you can do together as well as apart: find some new hobbies or reinvigorate some old passions; consider some special interests such as traveling together, cooking or gardening projects, bicycling, tennis, or golf. Maybe it is time to talk about retiring and perhaps downsizing your home situation.
- Ditto for yourself: have some empathy for your change in life too. You may downplay how this empty nest situation might affect you personally, don’t. Show yourself some understanding and begin thinking about ways to reconnect with yourself and with your wife emotionally and logistically.
- If your sex life has taken a back seat, time to kick it back into high gear and have some fun. The house is yours. You deserve it. Enjoy it.
If you have not had an active sex life since before the kids were born, now is the time to prioritize your physical and emotional connection. Many couples at this stage of life are able to find fun ways of being playfully sexual together. You may find that you are now able to be more fun loving and less serious about your intimate relationship. Hopefully you feel more comfortable in your own skin and in your commitment together as a couple. This should be a relaxed and joyous time.
A Couples Retreat Can Strengthen Your Relationship
These conversations might not be so easy; they might be quite challenging especially if you’ve never had them before. Many couples avoid talking about sensitive topics like sex and aging and let them go until it is too late. Consider a Marriage Quest retreat to help with navigating these tricky, and important, topics.