How’s your empty nester marriage? Has your marriage changed since your nest emptied? It’s only normal that it would! When I asked one of my friends how her marriage was doing in the empty nest, she told me that she and her husband were really enjoying this time. They felt like they were teenagers again and they’d rediscovered flirting! While I was so happy for her, I know that lots of empty nester marriages struggle. Couples who glossed over their problems and issues while the kids were in the nest often find that they can’t ignore them anymore, and they struggle to overcome years of neglect. Even if your empty nester marriage isn’t in crisis, know that a huge change in circumstances like the kids leaving is bound to have an impact. In fact, my older friends tell me that retirement can even exacerbate the strain on a marriage, so wise couples need to be intentional about strengthening their relationship once their nest empties. Today, I’m sharing five tips that have helped our marriage weather the transition.
1. Embrace “Comfortable,” But Don’t Get Sloppy
Ellen McCarthy, the author of the 2015 book The Real Thing, was a feature writer for the Washington Post who spent four years covering weddings, love, and relationships. Among the most meaningful lessons she learned while on the love beat? A good relationship is one in which we’re comfortable. In fact, she shares that of the roughly 200 couples she interviewed during her time on the job, a solid 70% to 80% spoke of their relationship as “comfortable,” “easy,” “effortless,” or “natural.” She notes that this is in sharp contrast to what we’re taught to look for in a romantic relationship: “We look for sparks, chemistry, desire, and an immediate sense of knowing.” Instead, she found that the ability to stop self-monitoring — which she defines as changing our behavior so it pleases the people we’re with — may be a hallmark of strong long-term relationships.
2. Give and Show Respect
Everyone deserves honor and respect. Never, never, never belittle your spouse in front of other people. (That includes your kids.) In his extensively researched book, The Language of Love and Respect: Cracking the Communication Code with Your Mate, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs makes the case that men need the respect of their wives just as desperately as wives need their husband’s unconditional love, and they won’t communicate effectively until they see that she listens for the language of love and he listens for the language of respect in their interactions.
3. Stay Interesting: Keep Learning & Growing
In his book, Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis, Dr. James Dobson takes a different approach to marriage crisis — one that doesn’t necessarily require the willing cooperation of both spouses! He makes the case that maintaining a healthy degree of independence by continuing to learn and grow is the key to rekindling romance, renewing your relationship, and drawing your partner back. Even if your marriage isn’t in crisis, this book is still a fascinating and helpful read.
4. If it Interests Them, it Needs to Interest You
When the kids were around, the two of you always had them as a point of mutual interest. With the kids out of the nest, it’s typical and normal (and wonderful!) that hobbies and interests that you may have set aside when the kids were at home come back into your lives. My husband loves football. He knows a lot about football. He plans his weekends around football. When our sons were at home, they enjoyed football together. But once the kids were gone, I wanted to understand and learn more about his passion for the game. In Dallas, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott recently hosted a football camp for women at a nearby school. Many NFL teams throughout the nation offer classes like this! Check with your local team for availability. In the meantime, read this tutorial for help understanding the basics of the game, then take it one step further and ask your husband to explain things you don’t understand. Trust me, he will love this. 🙂 Likewise, Bob’s made a huge effort to support me and take an interest in Empty Nest Blessed! He’s not only my CPA, but he’s also allowed himself to be photographed many times and he lets me talk to y’all about him a lot! He’s also a big fan of my gift guides. When I published my Graduation Gift Guide last April, he found at three items on it he just couldn’t live without, so he placed a big ole’ order! Hahahaha!
5. Remember, Recreate, and Relish
Remember and intentionally bring up the things that initially attracted you to your spouse, and talk about how you’ve seen each other — and your relationship — grow and evolve during your time together. My best tip: If it’s a little awkward and embarrassing to say, you should probably consider saying it. Last week I told Bob that I missed him when he was out of town, when he was at the office, and even when he was in the next room. After 31 years of marriage, it felt kind of weird to actually say that out loud to him, but I was thinking it and knew how much he’d love hearing it. (He did!)
Make an effort to relive and recreate some of the activities you enjoyed doing together before the kids came along. Bob and I went to a concert together one of our very first dates. Once we got married and had kids, we couldn’t afford to do that kind of thing. Now that we’re empty nesters, we’ve made it a point to go to lots of concerts together! We’ve seen everyone from Neil Diamond and Billy Joel to Toby Mac and Mercy Me!
Relish the fun times! Keep things playful, and make each other laugh. A few weeks ago, when Bob wasn’t paying attention, I changed my contact name in his phone from “Suzy” to “Hot Wife.” Now, every time he calls me, he says he just starts laughing!
Like any relationship, your marriage needs nurturing in order to grow and evolve. If your empty nester marriage is in crisis, please reach out for help to your pastor, a mentor, or a good counselor. The empty nest years can be some of the best for married couples, but you need to be intentional about addressing issues and working to strengthen your relationship. Need some more inspiration? Click any of the links below to read previous articles I’ve written on marriage in the empty nest.
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Photo by Megan Weaver.