The years fly by and the anticipation of the inevitable “empty nest” can create uncertainty and anxiety about your relationship. I have witnessed marriages dissolve because there is no longer any feeling of connection or tenderness.
Is it too late? Is the love gone forever? Is empty nest the end of an era or the beginning of a freedom that brings with it a chance for more depth in relationship than ever before?
If there are children in the mix, there is a bond and a history that can’t be erased; a comfort level with one another that is hard to establish in a new relationship. I am going to assume you don’t want to throw out all the years leading up to this point of life-after-kids, have not endured years of abuse, and you value the relationship and the history. You want to enjoy living out the rest of your years together in a way that brings joy and adventure, not just endurance and tolerance. It’s never too late if you value the history you share; the commitment to one another and to your family.
1. Make Time
Having a serious talk about your relationship is never easy. But it is essential to moving forward. If you can’t lay the cards on the table and talk like adults, get a counselor to mediate. This should not be a time to fight. Discussing why you feel a disconnect should not be accusatory or hateful. A good counselor can help tremendously if you have trouble communicating or articulating.
2. Work to Regain the Romance
Schedule some trips together. Quit using work or the kids or your important meetings as an excuse. Your relationship should take precedent. Life-after-kids can be the most amazing season ever. Begin date nights. Watch the movies, Date Night, Hope Springs and The Mirror Has Two Faces. No doubt you will see some similarities in relationships-gone-stale. Take a cruise. Take weekend road trips. You will find excitement in planning together, a rekindled connection in the anticipation.
3. Focus on the Positive
It’s there. You might have to reboot your brain a bit but if you start listing the positives in your marriage, family and spouse, you might begin to look at the overall picture with new eyes. It is easy to fall into the habit of seeing the worst in a person, letting those little irritations undermine your love and respect. I have actually asked myself, “Do I really think Dan would purposely set out to make me angry or to be hateful?” I know the answer is no. Why would he deliberately try to undermine our relationship?
4. Find Common Interests
Take a class together. Don’t settle for “We have nothing in common!” Dan and I are polar opposites in many ways. We have spent years working to find things we can do together. Gardening, dancing, home projects, rides in the country, discussing a book we are both reading. The list is endless when you don’t have to worry about anyone but the two of you.
5. Find New Friends
If you don’t have any good couples you like to hang out with, find marriages you would like to emulate. Organize game nights or a dinner club with couples who have strong, healthy marriages and watch what they do. Do NOT spend all your spare time with your grown children and their families. They need to work on their own issues without your hovering and “hiding out”. You need to make time for the two of you.
6. Reach Out and Touch
It thrills me, even after over four decades of marriage, to have Dan put his arm around me or hold my hand. When we walk, when we are in a group or alone in the car….Dan and I touch a lot. It may sound hokey but that small gesture of “I care” does a lot to create intimacy in a relationship. And the more you touch, the more easily you close the gap that occurs when you have disconnect. You’d be surprised how holding hands can open up a floodgate of conversation.
7. Remember Your History
Take time to look through family photo albums and videos and reminisce about the events you have experienced together. Remember why you fell in love and talk about what you still admire in one another. Any good relationship takes work. It never just happens. But the result is so worth it. Those years after the children are gone should be some of the happiest of your life.
What are you doing now to prepare for the Empty Nest season of your life?
What example are you showing your children about marriage, family and love?
Are you “hiding out” from your marriage by overly immersing your energies into being a parent? Can you own responsibility for rekindling the romance instead of waiting for your spouse to initiate?
In her new book, Be Your Finest Art, you will find more ideas about how to be a better communicator and listener and how playing games creates great memories and family time. This book is full of color and art and is a unique and beautiful gift for that special someone as we approach St. Valentine's Day or just to say “I love you.”
She has also authored four children’s books, which my kids LOVE. She and Dan have three grown children and twelve grandchildren and lots of years living the entrepreneurial roller-coaster life of adventure!