Bob and I have been married 31 years. Like any couple, we’ve had our ups and downs. We met in college and got married six months after we graduated. We’ve lived in three houses, owned eight cars (two were minivans – yeah, we were those people!), had three kids, and two dogs. We’ve also weathered a few tough health diagnoses, two miscarriages, and some rough times that we really had to work through together.
We’re so enjoying the empty nest! Rather than the stolen moments and on-the-fly relationship that comes with raising kids, our empty nester marriage is so much more relaxed. The years of shared joys and struggles have made our relationship deeper and richer. We love being married. And we love being married to each other. Today I’m sharing five things we do (and really, have always done) to keep our empty nester marriage fresh and fun.
1. We Take Care of Each Other
Early on in our marriage, I was talking with one of my friends at church and we were discussing a couple whose marriage we admired. My friend said, “The thing about Jim and Candace, is that Jim takes care of Candace, and Candace takes care of Jim.” It was a light bulb moment for me, and I came right home and told Bob about it. We committed right then and there to have that kind of marriage too. In this “me first” world, we choose each other over and above ourselves. It means that if we’re lying in bed and Bob forgets his socks (he always has cold feet!), I will jump up and get them for him before he gets up to do it himself. And it means that when I’m running late, he comes in and says things like, “What can I do to help you?” instead of “We’re late, COME ON!” This doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s a choice we make every day.
2. We Turn Toward Each Other
My parents have been married for 52 years. When Bob asked my dad for my hand in marriage, he also asked him for marriage advice. (So smart, right?) My dad told him that we should always choose to turn toward each other in our marriage. He said to think of marriage as if we were joining hands and making a small circle. Eventually, we would have kids, and our circle would expand. He said that when tough times came (and they would), we should always consciously make a choice to turn toward each other, instead of turning away from one another as we might be tempted to do. When things have been painful, or there has been conflict, we’ve remembered that advice and made the conscious choice to look toward the inside of the circle, and never turn away and face the outside of our little circle. This hasn’t always been easy in times of pain or frustration, but we’ve done it.
3. We Say Thank You…ALL THE TIME
Bob and I must say thank you to each other at least eight to ten times a day. I’m not even kidding you! Like, it might be a little weird! I thank him for taking out the garbage. He thanks me for putting away his clean clothes. I thank him for picking out which Fitness Blender exercise video we’re going to do in the morning. He thanks me for the dinner I made. (Even if it’s just a salad!) When Bob thanks me for something, it not only lets me know that he appreciates what I do, but also that he simply notices what I do.
If you want to make your marriage better starting today, try thanking your spouse for all kinds of normal, everyday things. You’ll be amazed at what will happen! Those two little words really can change your marriage. For more on this topic, click here.
4. We Show Interest in What is Interesting to the Other Person…Even if We’re Not Interested
When our daughter was little, she had a lovey named Mimi. After months and years of “love,” Mimi got to looking pretty bad. (If your kids had loveys, you know exactly what I mean!) When Becca went outside to play with her big brothers, she always asked me to “take care” of Mimi while she was gone. I would gently take (well-loved!) Mimi and cradle her in my arms, and Becca would trot out happily to play. While Becca was outside, I “cared” for Mimi, because I knew how important to Becca she was. I ascribed value to (a pretty scary-looking) Mimi based on the worth she had to the little girl I loved, not based on how I felt about Mimi.
One day last week, my CPA husband brought home an actual balance sheet to show me a problem he was having at work. Just to be clear here, (I am a word person, not a numbers person!) I looked at the balance sheet, listened attentively to the entire situation, and even managed to ask a semi-intelligent question when he was finished. Also, when Bob wants to tell me his opinions about how the Dallas Cowboys can improve, I listen and try my best to ask him follow-up questions that will encourage him to tell me even more. (Even when he is doing this and pacing the bathroom floor while I am in the bathtub. Yes, this has actually happened—more than once!) Likewise, this sainted man reads every single blog post I write before it’s published, checking for typos, grammatical mistakes, etc. (Even when they’re called things like Tips for Aging Lips | What You Can do About Thinning, Lines, and Dryness.) Nobody has been a bigger cheerleader for Empty Nest Blessed than my husband.
We show interest in what is interesting to the other person — even when we’re not really interested. Why? Because of the value ascribed to those interests by the one who is interested in them. It’s just like with Mimi.
5. We Seek Out Laughter
Bob and I laugh a lot. We love to laugh. In last week’s post about inflammation and the ways to combat it, I told you about a study cited in Psychology Today that linked laughter to an anti-inflammatory effect that protects blood vessels and heart muscles from cardiovascular disease. Laughter lessens the body’s stress response, which is directly linked to increased inflammation!
We mostly laugh at ourselves, but we also seek out laughter. We share videos by comedians, such as John Crist, Michael Jr., or Scooter Magruder, or Jim Gaffigan. We DVR shows that crack us up, like The Goldbergs. Sharing laughter with someone is kind of intimate. And it’s just fun!
For more on marriage in the empty nest, you might want to check out some of my other posts on the topic. Just click any of the links below to head straight to the post.
During my last photo shoot, Bob popped home to get something and I spontaneously snagged him for these photos! Hahahaha! Does he look like he’s having fun? If we’d been planning it, I would have made sure we had coordinating outfits, but ya’ know, this is real life, people, and this was really the way it went down!
I’m wearing a colorful open front cardigan that I’ve loved this year because it goes with everything in my closet! It runs large, so consider ordering a size down if you order. (If you want to see a photo of me standing up with it on, check out this photo from my Instagram.) Underneath the cardi, I’m wearing a stretchy long sleeve tee from Target’s A New Day Line ($8, folks!). I styled it with my fave NYDJ frayed hem jeans. They’re high-waisted, and they lift and tuck you in all the right places! On my feet are these terrific UGG waterproof suede wedge heeled booties. They’re sold out nearly everywhere, but I found a few sizes left at a couple of different spots. If you’re looking for them in your size, try here, here, or here.
I love it when Bob wears purple, and his merino wool sweater is 45% off right now! His flat front chinos are from Bonobos, which is his favorite brand. They’re called “Stretch Weekday Warrior Dress Pants” which I think is such a genius name! Right? The stretch in them makes them really comfortable as he goes through his day. He’s got them in about eight colors! I’ve talked about it here before, but if your husband isn’t wearing flat front pants, you need to help him make the switcheroo! Flat front pants are slimming (no matter what size his stomach is) and once the compliments start rolling in, he’ll thank you. (Which, is one of the five things I just shared with you, so yeah…!) His shoes are from a year ago, and I love the white sole! (So, hipster, right?) I’ve linked a similar pair.
With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, I think it’s a great time to sit down and take stock of your relationship. Are there some little tweaks you need to make to refresh and reboot? Good marriages don’t just happen. They take effort and intentionality. How do you keep your empty nester marriage fresh and fun? I’d love to know. Share your secrets in the comments, okay? Also, if you want a little something (or a big something) to surprise your spouse with this year, be sure to check out the Empty Nest Blessed Valentine’s Day Gift Guide! I’ve got unique gift ideas at all price points. You can click here to check it out!
Photos by Megan Weaver.