An Empty Nest ~ Now What?
After years of observation, I have come to the conclusion that there are many reasons why empty nester couples might have a hard time adjusting to life with each other after their children leave home. I have read that the divorce rate for couples who split soon after their children are gone is 16% higher than couples who break up during other phases of their lives.
One: Having children early
One of the reasons I've noticed cause break ups in empty nesters is related to the amount of time they spent together before having children, whether dating or in marriage. Some couples begin their families after only knowing each other for days or weeks. No matter how much they "connect" in that short period of time, there is no way two people can fully learn about and appreciate another person's every-little-thing, including idiosyncrasies, habits, and temperament. If the time isn't invested up front, there may be a higher risk of falling out of love during the child rearing years. This may then cause the couple to feel like they no longer really know each other after their children leave.
Two: Ignoring the little things
Some couples either get so involved in the lives of their children or are such poor communicators that they don't talk about all the little things that come up along the way that may put a short strain on their marriage. When two people are tired, it is easy to sweep issues under the rug and pretend they are not there. Unfortunately, small issues add up and eventually become a conglomerate of larger issues. One empty nesters are left at home and have to face each other on a daily basis with their children as a buffer, the larger issues crop up. Since they were never resolved when they occurred, it could become overwhelming to the point where couples cannot deal with it.
Three: Lack of memories
Many couples are extremely busy when they are raising their children. If they have a large number of children who fall within a small range of ages, they are constantly on the run. The children of today have very busy lives, learning to play instruments, participating in team sports, and doing their homework. Their "ride" is their parents until they can drive, if they're even lucky enough to have their own car. In the end, the parents dedicate their lives to carting their children around and supporting their children the best they can. These are the couples you hearsay, "We haven't been on a date without the kids since before they were born."
When couples don't take time for themselves, they may end up finding that after their children leave home, they no longer have anything in common. Even worse, they find they don't have any memories to even talk about that didn't involve their children.
How might couples prevent the uneasiness that might crop up soon after being empty nesters? A few things come to mind.
- Build time into the spousal relationship before the youngest child leaves home. Spend some "alone" time getting to know each other again and making some memories that can be expanded upon during the empty nester phase.
- Don't rush into marriage or having children. Get to know each other first. What does a bum day look like for your loved one?
- Sprinkle in occasional "date nights" throughout the child-rearing years to keep the relationship romantic. It gives couples a chance to continue to get to know each other.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate.
- Communicate some more.