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Getting What You Both Want After The Kids Are Gone - Relationship Advice

Updated on March 16, 2011

Dear Veronica,

I have been reading your Hubpages and I find myself in a situation where I need some advice like yours. My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We married young and had our family young. The last of the children is now out of the house for good and we need to downsize. Neither of us wants this house. Money is tight and we have a lot of debt. We are in our early 50’s now and we are thinking about our retirement. But we have nothing in common. We got married before we each knew what we wanted. I know you write about this a lot. We did what we were supposed to do. We got married and got a house and had children. I don’t know if we ever really discussed it back then. I don’t think we really wanted it but we just did what was expected of us. My mother never said to me you don’t have to get married and have kids, you can go to college you can be a doctor or lawyer, you can do anything you want. The moment we were dating my mother started asking me when are you getting married, when are you having children. The same with his family. We never discussed things. Once we had the life we were supposed to have it was too late. We didn’t even discuss it then. I think we both knew the other wasn’t happy but we dealt with it. My husband worked at jobs he didn’t like because he had to. He never did things he wanted to do. He never even told me about the things he wanted to do. He just did what he had to do. It was the same with me. I did what I had to do and didn’t think about what I wanted to do. There were many good memories over the years. We love our children. We gave them a good life. It wasn’t until they were going to college that I even realized all of this. I heard myself telling them advice I wish I got. I told them not to rush and they have their whole lives ahead of them. I told them to have careers. I heard myself telling them do not even think about getting married until you have everything you want in life. You have to figure things out first. So now our family is grown and out on their own. We are trying to get excited about this time where it’s just us. We talk about moving someplace new. I want to go in one direction and he wants to go in another. I want to move to the city and rent an apartment and experience life. He wants to move to the country and get a small place maybe even a farm. We don’t agree on anything. The thing that confuses me the most is we don’t fight. We have nothing in common we don’t agree about anything but we don’t fight. We just realize we’re strangers. I feel like I want to salvage what’s left of my life now that I’ve done right by my commitments. I feel guilty but I just don’t care if my husband is with me or not anymore. He’s never done anything wrong to me. I feel guilty for wanting to put myself first now. I'd love to hear what you think.


Dear Jen,

I posted your entire note to me hoping it will serve as a lesson to young people wanting to rush into marriage. Thank you for articulating your experience for future readers trying to become wives before they’ve become people.

At this point in your life, you deserve to spend time focusing on yourself. If you want to live in an apartment in a big city, perusing the things you want to do, I believe that you should. Just as I think your husband deserves, after decades or working jobs he didn’t like as you acknowledged, to live in the country doing what would make him happy, like trying to have a small farm.

Ok. Let’s take things a step at a time. Do the steps you can do together first.

Since you stated that there’s debt and not a great deal of cash, the two of you need to work together as a team so that you can accomplish these goals.

Start liquidating. You and your husband can work together to do this. Start purging your stuff. This is not only economically smart and move-conducive, it is also amazingly liberating. Find consignment shops or second hand stores, or antique stores in your area. Flea markets that rent tables, town-wide yard sales, having your own big yardsales, are all great ways to get through a ton of your stuff. Clothes, kids toys, bikes, exercise equipment, camping gear, furniture, sports equipment, holiday décor…. let it all go. Bring jewelry and collectibles to specialty shops, put major appliances and tools on Craig’s List.

This is going to serve several purposes. A clean, organized, sparsely decorated house without a lifetime of crap packed into the garage and closets is going to sell faster and for more than a fully packed house will. Then you have the issue of packing, and what you can even fit into your little city apartment, or what he can bring to the country. Paying movers, etc. Plus you have to deal with who gets what. It’s better to sell it, and put all the money towards paying off your debts. Go ahead and sell the dining room set, it’s better than figuring out who gets it or how you’ll move it. Go ahead and empty out rooms. Sell it all. You need a new start. You need to excise and let go.

This is also a great exercise in clearing out the clutter and getting down to what’s really important. What you discover may surprise you both.

I guarantee you, going through every single thing in the house and parting with most of it, is going to inspire a lot of communication. It will kick up memories, it will rekindle some things and flush out others.

When the two of you are done plowing through and getting rid of all your acquired stuff, you will find yourself in a different frame of mind. If the kids want something, they have to come and get it. You’re both on the move now, you can’t be expected to be a storage service. Period. Then put the house on the market.

Right now it’s hard to separate the feelings you have about how life went, with the specific feelings you have for your life partner. It may be time to part ways but it also may be time to rediscover each other.

Put the house on the market. Do any repairs you can together. Some things like painting, fixing the yard, and cleaning, are all relatively easy and inexpensive. Working together on these projects that will serve the two of you with your dreams and plans will be healing. Right now you don’t really want to hear about your husband’s country living dreams. But after you’ve sold off every non-sentimental thing in the house together, you may be open to listening. Share what you want, listen to what he wants.

I don’t know your finances enough to know if selling lots of stuff and the house will pay off all your debts. I also don’t know what your work situations are. But I’m hoping at this point, when all is sold and you’re ready to start again, that you continue to take things step by step. At this point, it might be possible for the two of you to both get what you want. Finding a small cabin or cottage in the countryside a couple hours out of a major city, and finding a studio apartment in that city, might be affordable. Maybe you could start out spending 3 – 4 days a week in the apartment, and 3 -4 days a week in the cottage. Trying to do it together is a step along the way.

If you want to stay in the city more, and he wants to stay in the cottage more, that’s ok and that may be the next step. You may go weeks without seeing each other, or you may decide to only “live” together on the weekends. Take it a step at a time and see. You may discover after a while that the city is just too hard at this point in your life. He may discover the quiet and isolation that was attractive about the countryside was a nice break, but that it’s too much for him every day. I think it’s important that you each at least get to try what you think you want, and I really think you can do it simultaneously without rushing into any final decisions.

Anything could happen from here. You could wind up loving the countryside. You may decide as a couple to compromise on life in a small town, or little ranch someplace. You may rediscover what you really loved about each other, and get to know this stranger that you’ve been married to for half your life. And yes, you may also decide to part ways so he can peruse what he wants, and you can finally get what you want. 

While taking these steps, make sure he knows you’re on his side. Just because you want what you want, doesn’t mean you deny him his dreams too.  You can start out together and see where you wind up. On your way to being “you,” you should be open, communicative, and supportive. Good luck to you both.

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  • susannah42 profile image

    susannah42 6 years ago from Florida

    Relationships are so complicated. Thanks for sharing this information.

  • profile image

    Jen 6 years ago

    Thank you so much Veronica for answering my email. It never even crossed my mind that maybe we could have what we both want. I think your right and it is worth a try. For some reason I thought if I chose to be happy and get my apartment in a nice busy city that it would have to be alone. I thought it was get divorced, or not ever be happy. I dont know why but I did. Now I see there are many other options. At first I thought selling things would be too time consuming and it is easier to walk away. But then I talked about it with my daughter and then with my husband. We started clearing out stuff this weekend. You were right it was kind of therapputic. My husband and I talked more this weekend then we have in a long time. We are going to take this a step at a time like you said. First things first and that means cleaning out this old house from top to bottom. Then we will see what happens but I like the idea of trying to both be happy at the same time. Who knows, maybe we can do it. We had some good talks this weekend. I hope we can. He liked the idea of having a little place in the city and a little place in the country and coming and going to both as we please. As far as jobs sorry I didn't tell you in my email. My husband can work from home online. I work for a big chain store and I think I can transfer most anywhere. Or I can look for something new. I feel open to trying something new. Thank you so much for this gift, Veronica, I see things in a more balanced way now. God Bless You.