Learn How To Maintain a Healthy Marriage When You’re Entering the “Second Half”
Are your kids getting ready to leave the house and venture out on their own? Or have they recently left and entered the next phase of their life? If so, you and your spouse are approaching or have just entered the empty nest phase of marriage. This transition is not one to fear, but it’s one to prepare for just like you prepared for getting married or prepared for adding a baby to your family.
We’d like to help you embrace this new marriage season. We know that becoming an empty nester will likely stir up a range of emotions—excitement, sadness, fear, relief, pride, and hope, to name a few. You may feel like you’re on a seesaw, one day you’re reminiscing about the past and the next you’re dreaming about the future, all while trying to reconcile with the present. It’s not easy, but we believe this phase of marriage can be extremely rewarding.
So, how do you handle becoming an empty nester? What should you and your spouse do to maintain a healthy marriage when you’re entering the “second half?” We’ve got 12 tips to help you start the empty nest years strong.
1. Rest. Really, rest.
It’s likely you and your spouse haven’t realized how much adrenaline you’ve been running on in recent years. Or if you did, you felt like there was nothing you could do about it. You’ve been juggling careers, homework, extracurricular activities, family commitments, and more, so now, it’s time to give yourself permission to rest. Sit on the porch, and read a book after dinner. Take a bath. Go to bed at 8 p.m. Give yourself a pat on the back because you’re no longer coordinating multiple schedules. Slow down, settle in, and renew your stamina.
2. Resist filling up your time.
Inevitably, when your kids fly the coop, they’ll leave a void. Your day-to-day is no longer filled to the brim with their plans, and after a few weeks, you may feel the urge to take on new commitments. Though these new commitments may be good, we encourage you to resist the temptation to quickly fill up your time again. Enjoy your empty schedule a bit before committing yourself to new responsibilities.
3. Do the things you put off due to lack of time and energy.
We encouraged you to resist filling up your time with outside commitments, but you can certainly spend time doing the things you “always wanted to do.” Organize old photographs. Start a garden. Redecorate a room. Travel. What are some ways you and your spouse would enjoy spending time together? Tackle those!
4. Remember that this is a time of transition.
Transitional time can bring out insecurities you have that are just below the surface. Don’t be afraid to work through those while also remembering that this time of transition won’t last forever. It may take time, but you’ll settle into the empty nest phase.
5. Don’t be afraid to grieve.
It’s not uncommon to feel a sense of loss or regret during this time. Don’t be fooled—the empty nest phase hits men just as hard as women. Dads may experience regret over things they didn’t do and time they didn’t spend with their children. You’re not alone, and it’s OK to grieve what once was.
6. Don’t fear the silence.
We’ve heard spouses say things like, “It’s weird. So many of our conversations were focused on our kids. Now, I look at my husband or wife and wonder who they are. What are their passions? I don’t have a clue.” You certainly wouldn’t be the first to feel this way. Don’t run from the silence. Instead, use this time as an opportunity to relearn one another. Ask new and old questions, and get to know who they are again.
7. Enjoy each other’s company.
Instead of feeling like two ships passing in the night, you now have extra time to plan romantic dates. Reminisce on “young love,” and go out of your way to plan special dinners or activities your spouse enjoys. Schedule get-togethers with friends. Learn something new like swing dancing. Enjoy the freedom you have to embrace each other’s company.
8. Stay connected to your children.
You can continue to connect with your children even after they’ve left home. Send care packages to your college kids. Have them over for dinner, or go out to dinner together. Continue to enjoy family activities that you’ve always done like going to baseball games or the movies. You can enjoy their company, and they can enjoy yours, without being overbearing or desperate.
9. Keep laughing.
Lean on your sense of humor in this time of uncertainty. Laugh at yourselves as you continue to figure out what’s next. Reminisce about the good old days. Laughter will certainly help you get through any tough times ahead.
10. Make no immediate changes, but ask for help if you need it.
If you’re currently dissatisfied in your marriage, you may reach the empty nest phase and begin looking for different options. We know that change can be stressful, but just because you’re unsure about the future, don’t make a hasty departure from your marriage. Before you make changes, give yourself time to gain perspective.
If you and your spouse would describe your marriage as one that is in crisis, we offer Marriage Intensives. Additionally, if you and your spouse are experiencing signs of withdrawal, alienation, or negativity, seek counseling to help you cope with entering the empty nest years.
11. Keep Christ at the center of your journey.
As you enter this season of transition, it can be easy to veer off course, but do your best to focus on who and what matters most in your relationship. Calibrate your marriage compass by continuing to keep Christ in the center.
Parenting takes a lot of time and energy. Your goal over the past 18+ years has been to get your children to the place they are now. That is something you should be immensely proud of, so celebrate! Certainly, you celebrate your children, but celebrate yourselves. You did it!
You’ve been working toward this time in your marriage for years. With the passing of each marriage season, you and your spouse have found yourselves one step closer to the empty nest phase, and now, you’re here. Use these tips—keep them handy to refer to—as you work together to lay a strong foundation for the second half of your marriage.