For many couples with teen children, there’s a big change on the horizon. They know it’s coming, but they might not understand how it can affect their marriage. As the kids grow up and leave the house, it might feel like another honeymoon is coming – and in a sense, it is – but if you aren’t aware of some of the potential challenges, it can be a very trying time for your relationship.
With the right attitude, though, your “empty nest” can be the beginning of a satisfying new chapter of your marriage, full of growth as a couple, new frontiers, and some of the best years of your life!
In the beginning though, the first few months or years after your kids are out of the house can be a period of difficult transition. It’s completely disruptive to the way you’ve likely lived your life for the past 18+ years, and many couples struggle to rediscover their marriage outside of their roles as parents.
Because this can be such a difficult time for so many people, and because it’s an all but inevitable part of raising a family, we’ve put together some tips and potential troubles to help you prepare for your own empty nest – or if you’re already making this transition, to help you make the best of it.
1. Make Friends
It can be tough for couples to reconnect when they suddenly have the house all to themselves. It feels too big, too quiet, and there might even be a sense of awkwardness hanging over the whole situation. To help reduce those feelings, spend time with other empty-nested couples!
Spending time with others in a social situation (especially if they are navigating similar challenges) can be a great way to temporarily take your mind off your transition, or even talk with others about how they are dealing with their empty nests. Above all, it’s about re-finding your identity as an individual and as a spouse, not just seeing yourself as a parent.
2. Focus On Your Partner
This is a time of growth and reconnection, and the perfect opportunity to make up for any ground you may have lost as a couple by focusing on raising kids. If you feel like you’ve grown apart, now’s the time to start growing back together!
Just start with time spent – eat meals together without the TV or your phones, go for walks, just talk to each other. Reconnecting as a couple has to start with connecting as people.
This newly “free” life of yours might be perfect for adventure and new experiences, especially if it’s happening in conjunction with retirement or increased work stability… But it’s also perfectly fine to rest a little!
Your time and your home are more in your hands than they likely have been in a long time, so go to bed early if you like! Take a nap, relax, recharge, take advantage of not having to play parent. As you settle into your new nest, you can find time and energy to have adventures or take on new projects – but there’s no huge rush!
To create this new chapter of your life, you’re going to need some energy. Don’t feel bad about resting up!
4. Start Fresh
Whatever happened over the years, this transition is the perfect time to forgive and forget, starting your “new” life as empty nest parents off on the right foot! Forgive each other for fights or past behaviors, and agree to make the coming years as loving and stress free as possible.
It might be a tough conversation, but talk to each other about failed expectations, about problematic behaviors that each other have… Get the thorny stuff out of the way and make an agreement to leave the old, bad things behind. Find out, in all of its ugly detail, what hasn’t been working – and get rid of it.
Congratulations! If you’ve made it to having an empty nest, it means you’ve successfully completed your most intense duties as parents – and that’s something worth celebrating! Maybe that means taking a trip – just the two of you – to somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. Maybe it’s just a chance to take some time relaxing and not doing much of anything! However you choose to enjoy yourselves, make sure you do something to celebrate the milestone.
6. Embrace New Roles
As couples grow older and their lives change, it’s perfectly normal for some of the “gender roles” to change too. Women may be more likely to seek independence and adventure now that the kids are grown, while men may find themselves more inclined to roles of nurture and support. If this is happening in your marriage, embrace it! This is a new chapter for the two of you, and if part of that chapter is redefining some of the dynamic between you and your spouse, so be it!
It’s healthy – and should be encouraged – to allow your marriage to adapt to your changing wants and needs. As long as you keep each other on the same page, there’s no reason you can’t both get exactly what you want out of the relationship – even if that’s different than it used to be.
7. Resist Making Hasty Decisions
You might be ecstatic (or a little terrified) about your newly empty nest, but don’t let that emotional edge push you into making a decision you might regret. If the house feels too big, give it some time before you decide that you want to move. Don’t just rush to the pet store so you have something to care for. Don’t burn through your savings on a trip around the world just yet…
While you may feel like there’s some sense of immediacy to “find” your new life, there’s really no hurry. If you give yourself a little time to get used to the kids being out of the house, you might find that you don’t actually need to make any of those big decisions – or if you do, you’ll be much more clear headed about them.
8. Cultivate Your Love Life
One of the biggest advantages of an empty nest is the ability to really focus on the physical part of your marriage. With no kids around (and with it, none of their friends, schoolmates, etc.), the house is all yours – to romp around wherever and whenever you like!
Take advantage of this simple fact, and put sex, intimacy, and playful romance back at the forefront of your relationship. It will help you reconnect, strengthen the bond you share, and likely help you face your empty nest with confidence.
9. Accept Reality
Things are different – and they will be from now on. The kids are growing up, you and your spouse are getting older… It’s just not going to be the same as it used to be, and it’s important to come to terms with that. This is the time to reevaluate your marriage and bring it back to the top of your priority list. It’s also the time to start forming more “adult” relationships with your kids – they aren’t so little any more, and the kind of connection you have with them will continue to change as they develop into grownups of their own!
Accept and embrace these realities, and the transition into this chapter of your life will be much easier to manage.
It might be scary, or at least a little hard to get used to, but your empty nest can be the beginning of one of the greatest periods of your life. Stay positive about these changes, use the tips above, and focus on building your marriage into the best it has ever been!