HELP FOR THE FAMILY | MARRIAGE
When the Children Are Gone
Couples often face their greatest challenges after their children have grown up and left home. The empty nest can leave them feeling like virtual strangers. “I counsel many people who don’t know how to reconnect to their spouses,” writes family expert M. Gary Neuman. “Now that the children are gone, [the parents] have very little to talk about or to share.”a
Does that to some degree describe your marriage? If so, you can get back on track. First, though, consider some factors that might be to blame for the distance that has developed between you and your spouse.
WHY IT HAPPENS
For years, the children came first. With good intentions, many parents put their children’s needs above the needs of their marriage. As a result, they become so accustomed to the roles of dad and mom that they lose their connection as husband and wife—a fact that becomes readily apparent once the children are gone. “When the kids were there, at least we did things together,” says a 59-year-old wife. But after the children left home, she admits, “we were on separate tracks.” At one point she even said to her husband, “We are in each other’s way.”
Some couples are unprepared to adapt to this new phase of life. “For many couples, it is almost as though they are in a new marriage,” says the book Empty Nesting. Feeling that they have little in common, many husbands and wives retreat into their own separate pursuits, becoming more like roommates than marriage mates.
The good news is, you can avoid the pitfalls—and even enjoy the benefits—of this new chapter in your life. The Bible can help in that effort. Let us see how.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Resolve to accept the change. Concerning grown children, the Bible says: “A man will leave his father and his mother.” (Genesis 2:24) As parents, your goal was to train your children for that moment, to help them develop the skills they would need to function as adults. Viewed in that light, your children’s leaving home is something of which you can rightly be proud.—Bible principle: Mark 10:7.
Of course, you will always be a parent to your children. Now, however, you are more of a consultant than a supervisor. This new relationship allows you to maintain a close bond with your children while giving primary attention to your spouse.b—Bible principle: Matthew 19:6.
Share your concerns. Talk to your mate about how this life transition affects you, and be ready to listen to your spouse’s feelings as well. Be patient and understanding. It may take time to strengthen your connection as husband and wife, but doing so is worth the effort.—Bible principle: 1 Corinthians 13:4.
Find new things to do together. Talk about goals you would like to pursue together or interests you would like to explore as a couple. Having raised children, you have gained much practical wisdom. Why not use that to help others?—Bible principle: Job 12:12.
Reaffirm your commitment. Think about the qualities that attracted you to each other. As a couple, think back on the history you have shared and the storms you have weathered. In the end, this new chapter in your life can be a good one. In fact, with cooperative effort you now have the opportunity to improve the quality of your marriage and rekindle the love that brought you together in the first place.
a From the book Emotional Infidelity.