After all the many years of tending to your children’s needs, teaching them life skills, and doing your best to make sure they have what they need to be successful, it can be a big shock to your lifestyle and relationship when the last child leaves home – permanently. You are now an empty nester.
Some people welcome this new chapter in life and others dread it. Regardless of your feelings about it, there can be dramatic changes once the children who have taken so much of their parent’s time and focus leave the home to start their own lives. Suddenly, married couples have their lives and relationships back to themselves, and many aren’t sure what to do next or how much they like it.
Marriages Struggle When The Nest Is Empty
When you first got married all your focus was on each other and the life you were going to build. Fast forward to grown children, established careers, and a home full of memories and experiences, and you can now see, and hopefully appreciate, the life you and your spouse built. In getting from where you started to where you are now, however, it’s very likely that the focus shifted. And equally as likely is that the shift in focus didn’t include nearly as much time and attention to your marriage and spouse as it should have.
It’s not surprising or unusual for couples whose children have grown and flown away to struggle to find happiness in their new normal. The sudden absence of what was a substantial part of daily life can make a couple question their relationship, themselves, or even trigger a midlife crisis in one partner.
The term “empty nest” was coined as a description for the loneliness and depression that many women felt once their children had left the home. Many women who had centered their lives around being a mother and homemaker suddenly found themselves without a “job” and sense of purpose. Although times have changed somewhat in that more women now work outside the home, what hasn’t changed is that the time spent raising a family can often mean the way a couple relates to one another is very different once the children are grown.
Once kids are gone many couples are suddenly left with a lot of time on their hands and feeling like strangers in their own marriage. The amount of distance that can grow unnoticed for years is substantial and finding a way to close the gap can be difficult.
Some of the most common marital problems associated with empty nest syndrome are as follows:
• Shining a spotlight on the deficits of your partner. Without the busyness of children to take your attention, it can be too easy to over evaluate the shortcomings of your spouse. Doing this will only make you each unhappy and resentful. Unless it’s a dangerous or significantly detrimental problem, this is a better time to work on yourself and your personal levels of tolerance and acceptance. After all, your spouse is probably struggling too.
• Deciding that the relationship isn’t worth the work. Many couples feel the gap that’s grown between them is just too much to overcome and decide to call it quits. However, separating or divorcing once the kids have gone doesn’t need to be the only answer.
• Looking for someone else to fill the void. Boredom or lack of affection in a marriage can make a person decide to stray and have an affair. This can be especially common after the kids have gone and one partner realizes the other feels more like a roomate than a spouse.
• Overspending to feel immediate gratification. It’s also not uncommon for people to want some kind of immediate gratification and feeling of change to offset the loneliness. Over indulgent spending through new clothes, new decorating, or even personal changes can be destructive and cause major problems to financial security and retirement plans.
How To Make The Best Of Empty Nesting
Empty nesting doesn’t have to be a time of loneliness and isolation. In fact, it can be a great opportunity to reenergize and renew your relationship. Rather than trying to fill the void left by your children, try filling it with a new approach to each other.
With the kids gone you and your spouse now have the freedom you did as newlyweds and perhaps with more disposable income (although maybe not if you’re paying for college). You can take on new adventures together, spend time getting to know each other again, and be intimate whenever (and wherever) you want to.
If your relationship has been strained or just fizzled over the years, intentional time together can feel awkward. But you fell in love and enjoyed each other once – there’s no reason you can’t bring those feelings back again.
This is also a great time to take time to enrich yourself. Hobbies and interests that have been put on hold while family time and responsibilities took precedence can now be enjoyed. And they may be even better if you can enjoy them with your partner.