One study reveals that in the U.S., couples with children under 10 enjoy an average of 208 minutes of family time daily. But what happens when the laughter and chaos of children leave your home, and you’re left facing the silence of an empty nest? You’re suddenly dashed into the world of empty nest syndrome, a transition that can be both disorienting and challenging for couples.
This significant life change can be the tipping point for many, leading to an identity crisis, emotional challenges, and marital dissatisfaction. While this phase is challenging, it doesn’t have to signal the onset of a gray divorce. Here, we explore healthy ways to cope with empty nest syndrome in marriage, ensuring that this transition strengthens rather than strains your relationship.
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome in marriage refers to the emotional and psychological challenges that couples face when their children leave home. It’s a significant life transition marked by feelings of sadness, loss, and uncertainty.
As parents, you’ve likely built your daily routines and even aspects of your marital relationship around your children, with your identity deeply intertwined with your role as caregivers. When children grow up and move out, it creates a void that can leave you and your partner feeling disoriented and unsure of your purpose. You’re left to redefine not just your days but also your relationship with each other.
How Can Empty Nest Syndrome Impact Your Marriage?
Empty nest syndrome can significantly impact your marriage in the following ways:
With children at home, conversations often revolve around their needs and activities, acting as a common ground for communication. Once they leave, you might find it challenging to engage in meaningful conversations with your spouse, as the usual topics are no longer relevant. This can lead to a communication gap, where you struggle to find new common interests or topics of discussion.
Your identity as a couple has likely been intertwined with being parents. Your children’s departure can lead to a loss of this shared identity, making it difficult to understand your role in each other’s lives beyond parenting. This identity shift can create feelings of uncertainty and may lead to questioning the purpose and direction of your marriage.
Increased Focus on Marital Issues
Any underlying marital issues overshadowed by the demands of parenting might come to the forefront. With more time to reflect on your relationship, previously ignored or unresolved conflicts can emerge, sometimes leading to increased tension or disagreements.
Amidst these changes, the phenomenon of gray divorce becomes more prevalent. One article explains that empty nest syndrome can cause gray divorce because the undistracted atmosphere can reveal that your romantic connection has diminished over the years. The shift in dynamics can make you realize that you no longer share the same goals or feel as connected as you once did, leading to a separation in later life.
8 Ways To Help You Cope With Empty Nest Syndrome In Marriage
Saving your marriage from the challenges of empty nest syndrome involves deliberate actions and mutual effort. Here are strategies to help you and your partner navigate this transition together:
1. Open Communication
Encourage regular, honest conversations about how you feel about the empty nest syndrome in your marriage. This might involve discussing insecurities, fears, or even unfulfilled dreams that have resurfaced. It’s important to listen actively and empathetically, creating a safe space for each other to share.
2. Rediscover Each Other
Use this new phase to rediscover what brought you together in the first place and what you were enjoying doing before you became parents. Engage in shared activities that both of you enjoy, like cooking classes, dance lessons, or hiking. Revisiting old hobbies or exploring new interests together can reignite the joy and excitement in your relationship.
3. Set New Goals Together
Take time to brainstorm and set new objectives that you can achieve together. This could range from home renovation projects to planning a dream vacation. This process is about more than just achieving goals; it’s about creating a shared meaning and a vision for your future.
According to Dr. Gottman’s research, creating shared meaning involves establishing rituals, roles, goals, traditions, and a sense of purpose that are unique to your relationship. Working towards these common goals and embedding this deeper connection into your daily lives can strengthen your bond and give you a sense of purpose and achievement.
4. Focus on Quality Time
Without the distraction of parenting duties, focus on spending quality time together. You can plan regular date nights, weekend getaways, or simple activities like evening walks or movie nights. This uninterrupted time together helps to maintain a deep emotional connection.
5. Seek New Hobbies or Interests
Diving into new hobbies or interests can be both exciting and fulfilling. It could be as diverse as gardening, painting, learning a new language, or volunteering. These activities provide new topics for conversation and shared experiences that enrich your relationship.
6. Rekindle Romance
Transitioning to empty nest syndrome is the best time to rekindle the romance that might have taken a backseat during parenting. Small gestures of affection, surprise dates, or intimate conversations can ignite the spark and enhance your emotional and physical connection. Remember, romance doesn’t have to be grand; often, it’s the little things that count the most.
7. Support Each Other’s Individual Growth
Supporting each other’s personal growth strengthens mutual respect and understanding. For instance, you can encourage your partner to pursue their own interests and hobbies. It’s important to find a balance between being together and having individual space.
8. Adjust to the New Dynamic
The empty nest phase is a major transition, and it’s okay to take time to adjust. Be patient with each other and allow room for mistakes and learning. Understand that this change affects both partners differently and requires mutual support.
Ask Help From Certified Experts
Navigating the transition of empty nest syndrome can be challenging for any marriage. During this time, seeking expert help from a relationship therapist can be incredibly beneficial.
A professional therapist provides a neutral and supportive environment where you can openly discuss the changes and challenges you’re facing. They offer insights and tools tailored to your unique situation, helping you understand and address underlying issues that might be affecting your relationship.
At The Relationship Place, we have professionals who specialize in guiding couples through life transitions, such as adjusting to an empty nest or rekindling long-standing partnerships. We have a therapy program specifically designed for older couples aged 50 and above, focusing on your unique needs and helping you find renewed connection and fulfillment in this stage of life. Scheduling a consultation today can get started on a more enriched and connected life in your later years.