For many couples, marriage is mostly about the kids.
Well-meaning moms and dads spend so many years completely devoted to the task of raising their children that they often forget to be husband and wife. It’s a situation that may be manageable while the kids are still at home and there’s enough work to “float” the relationship along – but it can become unbearable after the kids move out.
That’s what puts empty-nest marriages at higher risk for dissatisfaction – and even divorce.
Sociologists have even coined the term “gray divorce” to explain how divorce rates since 1990 have doubled for people aged 50 and older. For the first time in our history, more Americans that age are divorced than widowed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We know that, in Christ, there is hope. That’s why I want to share some practical marriage advice from our licensed counselors.
I first want to address those couples currently living out their child-rearing years. The empty nest may seem far away when you’re neck-deep in sippy cups and Legos, but now’s the time to start safeguarding your marriage.
By getting into a healthy ME—WE—US weekly rhythm of weekly life.
- ME: Having a slot in the week for “ME time” is important because taking care of yourself helps keep your marriage healthy. When you fill up your own cup, you can pour into your spouse and kids. “Love your neighbor as yourself” – time for you is also good for your family.
- WE: Intentional “we” (or couple) time helps nurture emotional closeness so you can also genuinely maintain your physical intimacy in a mutually satisfying and uplifting way. Take a time or two a week to “talk business” – but also to enjoy your spouse and have fun together. When the kids are young it might have to be as simple as having coffee together on the back patio – the important thing is for a couple to connect, relax and laugh together.
- US: Here’s where “all of us” – the entire family – spends group time together. It’s a time to create a collective family identity and get to know each other.
Taken together, the ME—WE—US way of doing family life will help stave off the “drift” that would otherwise happen in relationships. This way, when the kids leave the nest, you’re already connected. At that point, you’ll find a new rhythm where “US” involve community, church and (hopefully!) time with your adult children and grandchildren.
But what if you’re already in the empty nest stage and you are struggling? What if you’re only now discovering that you’ve drifted apart over the past 20, 30 years?
There’s still hope. Here’s what our counselors advise:
1. Think biblically about what you’re experiencing.
Lamentations 3:16-24 models how to deal with pain. In the first half of the passage, we see how the author is honest about the pain he’s feeling – “my soul is bereft of peace.” Likewise, we also have to acknowledge and lean into pain.
In the second half of the Scripture, we see how the author looks beyond the trouble and sees what is true – “I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”
In a marriage, it’s normal for one spouse to be better at one or the other. The Bible tells us to do both.
2. Talk about it.
You’ve both gone through a big life change, so chances are your spouse is feeling a bit of a tug, too. Go through it together.
Husbands, realize that most wives connect best when they’re face-to-face with you. Take her out to dinner and look at her eyes when talking about what she’s experiencing.
Wives, your husband may prefer to connect side-by-side, when you’re doing something together. You might want to bring up the topic on a drive or while you walk together. If your husband is reluctant to open up, stay away from asking him a more pointed question like “How do you feel?” Instead, ease into the conversation by asking, “What’s changed now since the children moved out? What is different for you?”
You may also want to talk about this transition with a friend (of your same sex) that has already experienced what you’re going through, a pastor, or a counselor.
3. Be proactive.
Sit down together and create a list of different activities for you to enjoy together – you can take a class, go out on a date or two a week, or even plan to save up and go on a cruise! These activities may help you recapture the spark that drew you together in the first place.
Now might also be a good time to have some “ME” time – volunteering, finding part-time work, taking up a hobby.
Here at Focus, we want to help you during these life challenges. If you want to speak with one of our counselors, please contact us online or call us at 1-855-771-4357 to arrange a time with one of our counselors.
You may also want to consider participating in Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored marriage intensives, which help marriages on the brink of divorce. Learn more about our personalized, intimate programs at the Hope Restored website.
Are you currently in this season of life? What has worked – or hasn’t worked – for you and your spouse? Please let me know in the comments section. By doing so, you’ll be ministering to those currently in need.