Soon the leaves will turn and colleges across the country will welcome new students who are eager to begin their college experience. Their parents? They will graduate to the empty nest.
The first emotion parents may feel is relief, but… this transition time can be risky.
The kids take their energy with them and parents are left to rattle around in houses that now may seem too big and too quiet. Many couples are able to manage this transition, but others become divorce statistics.
Our friend Amy told us, “I used to wonder why so many people divorced after thirty years of marriage. Then our last child left home, and we learned this isn’t an easy time. For the first time, we could finish a conversation and even finish an argument. My husband, Tim, was terrified!”
It seems like only yesterday we dropped our youngest son off at Wheaton College. We hate to admit it, but our empty nest did not get off to a great start. Right in the dorm parking lot, we had our first empty nest disagreement. The issue? What route should we take home? I (Dave) wanted to take the back roads and maybe stop at a B & B. You know, just kick back and relax a bit. Why hurry home? After all, no one was there waiting for us.
I (Claudia) had a totally different perspective. After surviving three adolescent sons, I wanted to go directly home and reclaim the house. Stop at a B & B? Maybe another time, but for now I wanted to be home in ten hours! I won. We sped home and into our fall flurry of activities.
Suddenly all the things we had delayed “until the kids left home” were now possibilities. In record time, we accepted too many conferences, writing projects, and speaking engagements.
The lack of privacy, the exhaustion, and the emotional drain of teenagers had taken a toll.
One morning staring at each other through bloodshot eyes over two cups of coffee, we realized something had to give–and we didn’t want it to be our marriage.
We agreed that we needed to regroup, reconnect, and come up with a better plan for our empty nest. Searching for but finding few resources, we conducted our own survey to identify and understand the major challenges in the second half of marriage. We use the term “second half” rather than “empty nest” because many nests aren’t empty or they refill with adult children, grandchildren and/or aging parents–which is a topic for other blogs.
We discovered if couples stay together through life’s transitions, marital satisfaction generally goes up.
From our survey we identified eight challenges that couples face in the second half. Even if you can’t even see the empty nest from where you are, it’s never too early to start preparing. Why not take a marriage checkup and see how you’re doing with these eight areas? Then choose one challenge to focus on this fall.
The Eight Challenges of the Second Half of Marriage
1. Let go of past disappointments, forgive each other, and commit to making the rest of your marriage the best.
2. Transition from a child-focused to partner-focused relationship.
3. Upgrade your communication and learn how to better express your feelings, emotions, joys, and concerns.
4. Learn how to process anger and manage conflict in creative ways to build your relationship.
5. Build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse.
6. Renew romance and energize your love life.
7. Adjust to changing roles with aging parents and adult children.
8. Evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer to each other and to God, and together serve others.
The empty nest years can be a time of incredible fulfillment, no matter what challenges you previously faced.
You can create a vision for the rest of your life together and you can make that vision a reality. However, you must be intentional. Trust us, little steps taken in good faith can make a big difference.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick:
but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy.
Proverbs 13:12 (NLT)
Claudia and David Arp, MSW, founders of Marriage Alive and 10 Great Dates