Lately, my lovely wife Bonnie and I have noticed that our younger friends, who still have children at home, behave around us as if we suffer from some sort of contagious disease — call it “emptynestitis.”
“What do you do without kids?” they’ll ask, in equal parts fear and longing. Or they’ll say, “I can’t imagine not having my kids at home.”
No, you can’t. No one can — although there may be times when you dream of it. In that way, becoming an empty nester is like parenthood itself. One day it’s just the two of you, doing more or less whatever you want, and the next day, BAM! You’re a parent, with this helpless little life totally dependent on you.
Nothing can prepare you for that. Your life will never be the same—except for the fact that, one day, it will just be the two of you again. Nothing really prepares you for that, either.
Perhaps that’s why so many couples reach that stage in life and realize they no longer have much in common — and why, since 1990, the divorce rate for people age 55 to 64 has more than doubled. If you don’t want to be one of those people, here are some things you can do now, long before the chicks fly.
Prioritize your marriage. It’s hard, when your kids are young, to put your marriage first. Children literally need your full attention, which then gets diverted from other important things — namely, each other.
You just have to make the effort. Find moments to be alone together, getting a babysitter for the evening or even leaving the kids with Grandma and Grandpa for a couple of days. Take solace in knowing that this gets easier as the kids get older. Your challenge is to still WANT to get away together at that point.
Have fun. One of the best ways to keep the spark alive in your marriage is to have a routine that involves doing something fun together on a regular basis — even if you’re not actually leaving the house.
When the kids are small, that may just mean staying up on Friday night to watch a movie. Later, you might actually be able to go out for a few hours. Again, it gets easier as the kids get older. The point is to schedule some time when you both look forward to having fun together.
Don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Every marriage has problems, some having to do with the relationship itself but most just falling under the category of “that’s life.”
Our tendency, because we’re tired and busy and don’t like confrontation, is to avoid talking about those things. That’s a mistake because, left unresolved, they can fester for years and ultimately poison your relationship. Better to hash them out now than to let them become fodder for the blame game down the road.