There’s a growing epidemic spreading its way across the nation with a bullseye aimed directly on couples whose kids have flown the coop.
No, it’s not health issues, retirement money worries, or employment challenges.
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University reports that divorce rates for couples over 50 years old have more than doubled in recent years.
More than doubled.
When the pressures of raising a family wane, why do our marriages implode?
After years of marriage, do we just lose interest in our partners? Do we “fall out of love”? Did we focus more on being parents rather than lovers? Did we drift apart and now don’t know how to find our way back one another?
In my practice as a love and relationship coach, I’ve found the smoking gun.
As women, the day we give birth we learn directly or indirectly that our needs, dreams and desires for ourselves and our own lives need to go onto the back-burner.
We place our lives on hold and pour all of our time, love and energy into our kids.
We sweat, sacrifice, lose sleep and drain our bank accounts so they can thrive.
After all, that’s a parent’s job.
And that job is a wonderful one that, even through its ups and downs, brings incredible joy.
The problem that parenthood brings to a marriage often only surfaces after the kids are grown and long gone.
All that giving to our children and submerging ourselves in their well-being leaves little room to invest in our own well-being, and even less in that of our marriage. We place our focus on our children and place ourselves and our marriages on auto-pilot.
Like anything that gets ignored – our marriages deteriorate over time.
We wake-up one day as empty-nesters, when our children have left the home, off happily building lives of their own lives and wonder who this partner is staring at us from across the table. We don’t feel like we know who he is and we’re almost certain he doesn’t know us; the person – the woman – the wife – that we are today, so many years later.
Hell, we may not even know who we are any longer.
Now, facing a life without the daily whirlwind and worries of children, we get the sense that we want to reconnect with our spouses, but we don’t even know how or where to begin. It feels awkward and even a little scary.
So, what’s the answer?
The time to prepare for the empty-nest blues and strengthen your marriage isn’t after the kids leave; It’s well before they step foot out the door. And what you need more than anything is clarity:
1. Clarity about who you are now and how you want to feel. This is the time for you to begin acknowledging your own needs and dreams and desires and understanding who you are today, so many years after walking down the aisle. This is the time for you to understand how you want to feel in your life and begin to cultivate that in how you spend your time. Do you want this next phase to feel safe, secure and peaceful, or would you rather feel excited, spontaneous and adventurous?
2. Clarity about who your spouse is now. Become curious about your partner again. Just as you have changed over the years, so too has he or she. Learn what they are looking most forward to in the second half of their lives. Ask about their dreams, their fears, the needs they’ve also subjugated over the years that they want to revisit. Connect, be vulnerable, share your heart and listen deeply.
3. Clarity about what you want your relationship to look like together in this second half of your life. There is no going back to the relationship the two of you had before kids, that was far too long ago and you’re no longer the same individuals. Now, it’s time to get clear about the type of relationship you will want to create moving forward. Maybe you will want the same things from your most intimate relationship in this next phase of your life; maybe you won’t. But a healthy, loving, lasting relationship needs to make space for both of your needs and desires.
The empty-nest blues don’t have to wreak havoc on your life and put your marriage in the danger zone. There is a way to take your marriage off of auto-pilot before the kids are gone and open up space to reconnect with both yourself and your spouse so that this next phase of your life feels connected, loving and lasting.