“For an increasing number of long-term marriages, it’s no longer a case of ‘until death do us part,’ it’s a matter of until the children depart from the family nest,” writes Rachel Browne in a Sydney Morning Herald article, “Parents wait until children go, then do the same thing.”
Suddenly finding your busy life full of activities attached to children, and a home in a constant state of noise, and endless tidying of the kitchen bench, and clothes and towels lying on the floor — to a life of a quiet tidy house, can be a shock and a mixture of relief and sadness. As you rattle around in a house that can seem too big, you wonder, what do I do now?! You can also look across the table at your partner and say, “Who are you?”
If you have dedicated the first half of your marriage to parenting and nurturing your children, it is time now to go and discover yourself, your marriage and how you can impress the world!
The empty nest years can be longer than the first half of marriage years, and they can actually be more rewarding and enjoyable, because couples now have the freedom to change and to seek the fulfilment of their hopes and dreams.
However, the empty nest years are not without challenges. The key is to start preparing for these years as a couple while the children are still at home. Then when you wake up one day in a quiet tidy house sitting across from this stranger in your life, you will be somewhat prepared.
I will list a few challenges for you to consider — I am sure you will be able to come up with more ideas of your own.
- Let go of the past — the disappointments and the expectations that were not met, and resolve to make the next years of your marriage the best. The disappointments could be the dreams you always had that didn’t come to fruition and the expectations that you may have had of each other. Come to a place of accepting your partner’s greying hair or lack of hair; the extra kilos you may be carrying and the slower body you are living in.
- Move from a marriage that is focused on children to one that is focused on each other. Be careful not to fill your once ‘child-filled’ time with church and community activities. Instead, make the change to a more personal relationship with each other — balance is essential!
- Build and sustain strong communication between each other and discover how to safely and honourably share your hopes, dreams, feelings and joys.
- Allow anger and conflict to strengthen your relationship, not crush it. There may be unresolved issues that have lain dormant through the years. With help, find ways to work through the anger in positive and life-enhancing ways.
- Develop a strong friendship with each other. Find creative ways to help nurture this friendship.
- Bring back romance and rekindle your sexual relationship. Heath issues may have caused changes in your body; however, it is still important to be romantic and enjoy each other.
- Adapt and modify — as the roles with adult children and aging parents are changing. These relationships certainly will affect the marriage relationship, so it is wise to make any adjustments and choose how you will move forward with these relationships.
- Contemplate your spiritual journey, work on your relationship with God, and with each other and together serve others. As we age, we can become more fascinated with spirituality — what is the meaning of life? So this is a wonderful time for partners to talk about how you view life and what matters, and what these ponderings mean for your marriage.
It is never too late, even if you are already sailing the waters of the second half of marriage, to look at these challenges and work with them. Talk to your partner and start making any changes you may need to make, and look forward to an enriching and empowering second half of marriage!
Originally published at Mum Daily. Photo by Gustavo Fring.