Most couples, when first married, aim a lot of attention to their relationship. Then… the kids arrive. Out of necessity and choice, the focus shifts dramatically. Children inspire and require new approaches in every aspect of your life. You and your partner will likely find yourself building your day-to-day choices around the needs of your offspring. Then… the kids leave.
Before you know it, they’ve moved on. They might be going away to college. Or perhaps, they have simply decided it’s time to strike out on their own. Another dramatic shift is upon you and it helps to ponder this shift in advance.
Reminder: You Are Still a Parent
First and foremost, never forget that empty nest syndrome does not negate your identity as a parent. Of course, much will change. But your job is not done. You can make a strong case that it’s never done. Parenting is a lifelong commitment. Your kids will visit. They’ll ask for advice. They may lean on you in times of stress. An empty nest is a loss but do not let the grief overshadow the reality that your role is shifting but your identity hasn’t changed. Your “job description” is different but you remain a parent.
4 Ways You Can Prepare Your Relationship for Empty Nest Stress
1. Feel What You Need to Feel
A huge chapter of your life has ended. It’s not reasonable to assume this doesn’t require a major adjustment. So, honor your feelings, e.g.
- Cry when you need to
- Understand that you and your partner will adjust
- Expect some uncertainty
- Communicate with each other as often as possible
2. Recalibrate Your Perspective
You may lose some sleep worrying about your child out there on their own. In addition, you might look at your spouse and recognize that both of you have changed immensely since your pre-children days. Translation: You will have some tough days. Give yourself and each other space to ease into your new roles.
3. Reimagine Your Lives
Think about how time-consuming being a parent is. Ponder all the opportunities you had to pass up because you had to focus on the kids. Well, guess what? It’s never too late. You have “free time” again and the possibilities are endless.
- Interests & Hobbies: You may want to return to old favorites Just as likely, some new interests may have developed. It’s okay to put your own needs first and explore the opportunities.
- Friends & Socializing: After decades of hanging out with other dance classes or soccer game parents, you can now create a whole new social circle. Making new friends is an excellent way to address any emptiness you feel. It’s also been found to have a very positive effect on your overall health.
4. Reconnect and Rekindle
Your marriage — especially intimacy and your sex life — has taken a back seat for many years. You both have a lot of catching up to do. Suddenly, you may be home alone together a lot. See how that feels. Talk about it. Accept the reality that some disconnection is likely at first. Don’t panic when this happens but also, do not ignore the need to do some work, e.g.
- Discover new hobbies and interests together
- Make sure you both have independent lives and social circles
- Talk openly about your needs in terms of sex and intimacy
- Ask for help
Couples Counseling Can Be the Best Preparation
Empty nest stress is real and deserves your attention. Committing together to therapy is an ideal way to prepare for this monumental life change. If you and your partner are on the verge of or in the midst of such a change, I’d love to hear from you soon. Please read more about couples therapy and let’s connect soon to schedule a confidential consultation.
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