At some point in your parenting life, usually, when your youngest child finishes high school, the house becomes quieter –even cleaner and tidier than usual! Having a busy home was the norm before, but now this young adult has moved away for exciting times in college, ready to spread their wings and live on their own. This kid has just left the nest! The nest you and your spouse built for years!
And now you go back to where everything started; just you and your spouse alone with no kids. You may feel tremendously sad and frightened about all these changes, and chances are that you only find comfort with a box of tissues.
You may have started to experience some marital problems too, because after all these years parenting was the main role you had as a couple, maybe the thing that still bonded you together. In the midst of adulting, working and parenting, you both lost track of each other. This phenomenon is called “the empty nest syndrome”.
But, I’m a positive person so I would like to call it “the new beginning” phase.
GOING FROM FULL HOUSE TO EMPTY NEST
I know it’s not easy to go from a full house to an empty nest. Just looking at the statistics from The National Center for Family and Marriage Research indicating that couples are twice as likely to divorce when they are 50 years old or more because of the empty nest syndrome. This data can give us an idea of how hard it can be.
Some couples realize that they were together all these years because of their children. And now that the kids left home, the couple may feel lonely and kind of lost. The marital problems that were once left aside now may have nowhere to hide.
A NEW BEGINNING AS A COUPLE
It’s never too late to work on your marriage, if you BOTH have the desire to make it work.
Here are 6 things to consider in this new phase of your marriage:
Be intentional and have each other’s needs in mind. Start by revisiting the memories you have about your spouse’s history. Also get curious about your spouse’s fears, hopes, special interests, and goals. It helps to do this on an ongoing basis so keep on asking new questions and try to store the answers consciously in your mind. This process helps to have valuable information so you know what to do to make your spouse feel loved and understood.
Become vocal about things that you admire and love about your spouse. Say thank you as much as you can and why what your spouse did matters to you. Once in a while mention something that you admire about your spouse. We get used to the great qualities our partners have and don’t mention them enough, resulting in only having intimate conversations about things we want to fix in the relationship.
Focus on increasing your bids of connections. This process consists of a wide range of gestures, looks, questions, comments, and activities between you and your spouse, that can improve the way you connect as a couple and promote intimacy.
Have a new project together. Parenting is a project and a common goal in a marriage. Once that is done--kind of done, as the work never ends, find a new common interest or project to work on. Some examples are: Learn a sport together, to dance, redecorate the house, workout together.
Pick up on a new hobby or activity, or go back to something that you have not done because of being busy with the kids. For some moms, this is going back to work or volunteering, if they had been stay at home moms. For others, it is going back to dance classes or even going back to school for a graduate level degree. The sky is the limit.
Expand your social network. Kids take up a lot of time and emotional energy. As they get older and they become more independent, we need to fill up that void more than just expecting everything from our partners. Work on finding new people to befriend both on an individual basis as well for couples dates nights.
These are just a few ways you can reconnect through your stories. Remember to talk about how your love story began. It might be a good idea to get those old DVDs from your wedding day that are forgotten in the attic or just listen to your favorite music from back when you were dating!
Don’t forget to create new memories. Now you have more time to explore new things together like trekking, biking, or planning that romantic trip that you were postponing for years. Running out of ideas? Read my post: “50 Romantic Ideas for Dating Your Spouse” to spice things up and have fun together. This is the time to do those things you enjoyed as couples before you became parents.
So, embrace this new phase. Being an empty nester is about repurposing your romantic relationship and being open to experience a new type of freedom that you may have forgotten after all those years of parenting. Nevertheless, if you find it hard to begin this new chapter of your couple’s life, you may find couple’s counseling helpful so don’t hesitate to look for this or other options to make your relationship work.
Your therapy friend,
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