You’ve shipped off all the kids to college, and now that they’re gone, you and your spouse or partner may start to notice a vacuum in your lives that you weren’t exactly prepared for.
Without your kids at home to bring you together every day as parents, you may find yourselves at a loss: You’ve been so used to relating to each other as parents that you’ve lost sight of how to relate to each other as a couple.
The empty nest can be disconcerting, often lonely, but it also gives parents the chance to rediscover one another. As the two of you adjust to life without your kids, going back to spending time with just each other, here are six tips to help you bring new life to your relationship.
For the past 18 or 19 years, your life has revolved around your kids. Now, suddenly, it’s just you and your spouse, and you may find that you’ve drifted apart or that you no longer have much in common. Take this opportunity to get to know each other all over again, and make a commitment to shift your relationship back to being about each other instead of about your kids.
2) Let go.
Part of getting to know each other a second time around may mean addressing painful relationship issues, like past hurts and disappointments. Holding on to bitterness, anger, or resentment will eat away at your relationship, especially without your kids there to distract you from your feelings. Instead, try to talk these things out so you can come to an understanding and get to a point where you can let them go and forgive each other. Addressing the issues together, listening without judging, and admitting fault where you need to can help you both heal and move your relationship forward.
Without your kids around to divert your attention and fill up your time, you could suddenly notice a lot of dead air around the house. You and your spouse may have been so busy talking to and about your kids that you may have forgotten how to really talk to each other. Work on re-establishing communication: Start up meaningful conversations, ask questions, make an effort to turn off any auto-pilot responses, and listen. You may find yourself reclaiming both your best friend and lost ground that’s been missing for years.
4) Make time for each other.
When you’ve been together for eighteen-plus years, raising the kids who are now in college, it’s easy to fall into a routine where things become predictable and you’re so used to one another that you’re both looking past each other, even when you’re face to face.
One way to break out of the marriage rut is to go back to when things were new and start dating each other all over again. Pick one night a week and designate it your date night. Make it one of your highest priorities, and don’t let work, chores, or anything else get in the way. Focus on developing your friendship, really paying attention to each other, and having fun together again: Have a romantic candlelit dinner at home or at a nice restaurant, learn to tango, visit a museum, take in a concert or play, work out together at the gym, go hiking, go for a long walk in the park — anything that lets you spend time together doing something you both enjoy.
Experiencing a new place together for the first time can help bring you and your spouse closer together. After college bills and parent loans, you may not have the budget to jet off to an exotic location, but you can try to arrange inexpensive getaways closer to home. Start taking long weekends together to the mountains, the beach, a nearby bed and breakfast, or a town or city within driving distance you’ve always wanted to see. If you’d like to venture farther and go overseas, start planning and saving now for a trip in the next year or two.
Look for opportunities to serve others through local civic groups or national organizations. Besides allowing both of you to give back to your community, volunteering can help strengthen your relationship through a common purpose and by giving you a joint sense of fulfillment.
For more tips and advice on how to cope with empty nest syndrome, especially as a couple, try these additional websites and publications:
Books & Articles
- Empty Nest … Full Heart: The Journey From Home to College by Andrea Van Steenhouse (2002)
- You Know You’re an Empty Nester When … : A Hilarious Look at Life After Kids by Dianne Sundby (2005)
- Empty Nesting: Reinventing Your Marriage When the Kids Leave Home by David Arp et al. (2001)
- 10 Great Dates for Empty Nesters by David Arp and Claudia Arp (2004)
- “When to Sell the Empty Nest” by Daniel Kadlec, TIME magazine (Nov. 13, 2006)