Now that our kids are gone, what can we do to revitalize our relationship? I thought our marriage was healthy and vibrant-that is, until the last of our three children left home. I realize now that it was the kids who brought life into the house, and that so much of our marriage was centered around them and their activities. Without them, my husband and I are lost. I have too much time on my hands. The two of us have nothing in common, and my husband is spending more time at work and with his buddies so that he doesn't have to deal with our issues. What should I do?
Before doing anything else, you and your spouse need to take time for a bit of serious soul-searching. Review the history of your relationship and ask yourselves some honest questions. Are the problems you're describing really a new development? Or, upon reflection, does it seem to you that they've been there all along? Perhaps they were simmering just below the surface, but were obscured and held in check by all the "busy-ness" that goes along with raising kids-soccer games, ballet lessons, orthodontic appointments, school conferences, band practices, etc., etc. Is it merely the emptiness of the "empty nest" that's troubling you, or is that emptiness forcing you to face up to struggles and conflicts that go back to the very beginning of your marriage?
It's not unusual for couples at your stage of life to find themselves in this position. In some cases the alienation has grown so deep that mom and dad are actually waiting for their kids to leave so they can bail out and get a divorce. If you want to avoid this, you'll have to examine the internal dynamics of your marriage. Then decide what it's going to take to restore balance, wholeness, passion, romance, and mutual love to your relationship.
Is one of you domineering or controlling? That can be deadly when there's no one else around to act as a buffer between you. Are there attachment issues you've never had time to address? If so, it's critical that you go back to square one and hash them out. Have you forgotten how to communicate? Good communication is vital to any relationship at any phase of development. What are your expectations of one another now that the parenting role has come to an end? Are you simply grieving the passage of a significant phase in your lives-not an unhealthy thing in itself-or are there negative factors that need to be identified and rooted out before you can move forward?
If after pondering these questions you come to the conclusion that you are grappling with problems that run deeper than basic "empty nest" issues, we would urge you to seek out the help of a professional Christian marriage counselor. It's important that the two of you go to counseling together. If your husband absolutely refuses to participate, you shouldn't hesitate to initiate the process on your own.
If, on the other hand, your inventory leads you to believe that you're still on relatively stable ground, we'd suggest that there are some practical things you can do to shore up your relationship and give yourselves a new lease on life. The first step is to agree that you have a problem that requires attention. If you honestly feel that you "have nothing in common," try to discover some new interests that you can explore together. Naturally, this will take some effort. But if you're willing to expend the energy, you may find that the quest itself becomes a unifying and revitalizing experience. Here are a few simple strategies you may want to implement:
- Make an intentional effort to improve communication in your marriage. A counselor can help you in this area. As a part of this process, you may want to explore the possibility of attending a marriage enrichment class at your church, or signing up for one of Dr. Emerson Eggerichs's Love and Respect conferences.
- Get involved in social activities, a church fellowship group, or a ministry project (such as Habitat for Humanity) that you can tackle together. You can find some excellent suggestions in this regard in David Platt's book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. This resource is available through the ministry of Focus on the Family and can be ordered by visiting our Online Store.
- Connect with other "empty nesters" who are facing similar challenges.
- Consider the possibility of mentoring a young person in your community who is separated from his or her mother or father and who desperately needs the influence of older, wiser, and more experienced Christian friends.
- Take up a hobby or recreational activity (for example, golf) that the two of you can learn to enjoy together.
If you feel you need professional assistance, our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified marriage and family therapists in your locality who specialize in this area. They would also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can contact our Counseling Department for a free consultation at this number.
Gary Smalley explains how to increase love, respect and affection for those in our family, and shares how to regain lost respect.
Thriving in the Empty Nest Years (broadcast)
Rekindling the Romance in Your Marriage (broadcast)
Marriage Alive - The Web site of Dave and Claudia Arp, a husband and wife team who strive to help couples build better marriages and families.
Couple Checkup - An online marriage assessment to assist couples in discerning their strengths and growth areas.
Love and Respect - This ministry offers materials, articles, and conferences designed to help those already married to enrich their relationship and for those considering marriage to prepare for the journey together.
Keeping Romance Alive