Made for More | 6 Things You Can Do to Strengthen Your Marriage

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
collage featuring photos of a married couple at various events

You were made for more, and your marriage was made for more too! It was made for more than just sharing stuff about the kids, more than just dividing up the to-do list around the house, and more than just going through the motions with a roommate. Today, I’m sharing six things you can implement today that will strengthen your marriage.

Statistics demonstrate a surge in the divorce rate for empty nesters. Experts have even coined the term “gray divorce” to describe the phenomenon. In some ways, this is surprising. You’d think that once the kids left the nest, couples would get back to all the fun things they used to do together before parenting ruled their lives. Unfortunately, the reality is that once the kids move out, parents realize they’re very different people than they were when they first married. Some parents realize that the children were the glue holding their relationship together, and they have nothing in common. They may have avoided problems or issues that needed attention, in order to keep the peace for the kids’ sake What’s the biggest warning sign? Withdrawal. One spouse may pull back from the relationship and devote the majority of their free time to work, a hobby, or even friends.

Bob and I have been married for thirty-three years. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs during that time. Bob’s a CPA, so if we look at the numbers—something he’ll do every chance he gets ????— that’s five pregnancies, three kids, three houses, two dogs, two chronic illnesses, one daughter-in-law, and one hip replacement. (Among other things!) It’s also hundreds of date nights, thousands of shared meals, and at least a million laughs.

Every once in awhile, someone asks us the “secret” to our marriage. As we’ve gotten older and been married longer, we’ve noticed people asking us more and more! We want to be able to answer well, so recently, we actually sat down and wrote out our “secrets.” Here they are.

1. Strengthen Your Marriage by Sharing Activities

Once the empty nest hits, you must be intentional about sharing activities. It will allow you to connect about something other than kids! If your spouse loves to golf ⛳, consider taking a few lessons so you can go with them! (Or do what I do and drive the cart, enjoy the outdoors, and tell your husband what great shots he’s making!) With the kids gone, Bob and I have enjoyed having time to share each other’s hobbies and interests. We’ve also loved finding some new, shared interests that we both enjoy. One of these is going to concerts! A few weeks ago, Bob took me to see Cher! (Don’t ask me why I like her, but I do! ????) Next month, I’m going with him to see The Eagles.

2. Strengthen Your Marriage by Saying “Thank You”

According to a recent University of Georgia study, the key ingredient to a happy marriage is spousal expression of gratitude. For the study, gratitude was defined as “the degree to which individuals felt appreciated and valued by their spouse, and acknowledged when they did something nice for their spouse.” The results found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you have a direct impact on your feelings about your marriage and your commitment to it. According to the study’s author, “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”

Start by making an effort to notice the good, kind, and thoughtful things your spouse does—even routine things like taking out the trash or locking up the house at night. Then say thank you. It will feel awkward at first, but you’ll be amazed at the difference it will make in your relationship. #itworks

3. Strengthen Your Marriage by Learning More About Each Other

We’ve already established that you and your spouse have changed since the day you said: “I do.” (Um, I should hope so!) Thankfully, there are more tools out there than ever to help you learn more about each other. These tools can help you understand each other, and appreciate each other, and they’re great conversation starters! Bob and I have loved learning about our Love Languages, our Strengths, our Enneagrams, and our Spiritual Gifts.

4. Strengthen Your Marriage by Laughing

Life’s too short to take everything so seriously! Lighten up and learn to laugh at yourself! In fact, experts say that a self-deprecating sense of humor is the key sign of a healthy self-awareness, strong leadership skills, and it’s also an effective tool for reducing anxiety! Bob and I make fun of ourselves constantly and tell each other all of the embarrassing things that we do and the ridiculous things that happen to us. Then we laugh like crazy. If you want to see this self-deprecation for yourself, be sure to watch my Instastories, because I constantly make fun of myself! (Click on the profile picture on my Instagram page to view them.)

5. Strengthen Your Marriage by Continuing to Date

Although it may seem counter-intuitive since you’re alone together most of the time now that the kids are gone, it’s important to keep dating each other in the empty nest. Even if you didn’t prioritize date nights when the kids were at home, you need to do it now. Aim for at least once a week. You’ll find that it gives you something to look forward to, and it builds those shared experiences we talked about previously.

Your dates don’t have to be expensive or elaborate! Bob and I have a date night every Tuesday night. We usually go to dinner at In-N-Out Burger and then to a $5 movie night at the Cinemark near our house. (What can I say? I’m a cheap date!) If we don’t do that, we’ll go somewhere a little nicer for dinner and then come home and watch a few episodes of whatever we’re currently bingeing on Netflix. Regardless, we carve out that night to put aside everything and enjoy relaxing together. (Again, I always document these dates on my Instastory, so be sure to follow me on Instagram to see what we’re up to!)

6. Strengthen Your Marriage by Traveling

Anyone who’s traveled knows that planning the trip is half of the fun! Whether your budget allows for a Caribbean cruise, a trip to a luxurious beach resort, or a long weekend at a nearby hotel, it’s essential to take the time to get away together. Trust me. When you do it, you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it more often!

Stuck for ideas about where to go? Try browsing a discount travel site like Avoya Travel, Priceline, or Travelzoo. I especially like the “Get Inspired” page on Travelocity. One of the best vacations we’ve taken as empty nesters was a trip to Walt Disney World!

Whatever you do, GO. You’ll thank me later, I promise. 

If you have serious issues in your marriage that go beyond these tips and suggestions, please seek out a good counselor, a pastor, or another qualified professional. It takes courage to ask for help, and it demonstrates a commitment to your relationship to seek out an expert if you need one.

How’s your marriage doing? Many couples say that it takes intentionality and effort to rekindle their marriage as empty nesters. You don’t need to settle for a mediocre marriage in this season of life. You were made for more, and so was your marriage! What are your empty nester marriage “secrets?” What have you done to strengthen your marriage in the empty nest? I’d love to know!

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Suzy Mighell

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18 Comments

  1. Such a great post, Suzy! I’m so glad that you loved your trip to Disneyworld! As a travel agent, I love seeing empty nesters enjoying the resorts and amazing restaurants at Disneyworld! I also enjoy booking river cruises and cruises for empty nesters. Such an easy way to travel the world. The empty nest is a great time to experience new places!

    1. Shannon,
      What you do is such a blessing to so many empty nesters!
      Anyone need help planning travel? Shannon is an empty nester herself, and an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, and she can make your Disney Dreams come true! She also plans lots of other kinds of vacations, can help you find the deals, share special opportunities, and give you great advice. And best of all, her services are completely free! You can check out her website here: https://www.vacationsbyshannon.com/
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Shannon!
      xoxo
      Suzy

  2. You will love the Eagles…a couple of years ago we did our “year of concerts” and tried to see all the groups we loved “back in the day”. It was so much fun. Another fun one is Adam Lambert and Queen. We also try to see all the great musicals. Just saw “Beautiful, the Carole King Story” and it was wonderful.

    1. Lisa,
      I think your “Year of Concerts” is a great idea!!! Bob is super excited about The Eagles and Queen is on our list!
      We saw “Beautiful” when it was on Broadway, and I so agree… it was incredible!!!
      Thanks for sharing!
      xoxo Suzy

      1. I guess I should have added going to all the football games we can!! Heading to New Orleans this weekend to cheer for my Clemson Tigers…hopefully to a win. Have to go while they are doing well.
        So many fun things to do. I love the sharing of ideas. Maybe you can take all the ideas from readers and put them in a column in case all do not read comments.

        1. Lisa,
          Have a great time in New Orleans this weekend! Thanks so much for your suggestion!
          xoxo Suzy

  3. Thanks for some great ideas about keeping our empty nest marriage fresh and strong. My husband and I began ballroom dance lessons to prepare for our daughter’s wedding and have kept going because they are an hour a week of pure couple time. It’s amazing what you learn about trust (lead/follow), communication, and willingness to laugh at your mistakes. We also love to travel together. While we did take a large trip for our 25th anniversary, mostly we take short getaways to visit quirky sights (like the US Atomic Testing Museum and the Mob Museum in Las Vegas, the Air Force Armament Museum near Destin, FL, or taking ghost walking tours in Charleston or Savannah). And I was amazed at how much a short brisk walk together around the neighborhood after dinner can improve a mundane or even a bad day.

    1. Theresa,
      Your ideas are fantastic, and most of all I love that you’re intentional about taking time together. I so appreciate your insight about what you’ve learned from ballroom dancing. That’s brilliant!
      I’m so grateful to you for sharing your wisdom! Thank you!!!
      xoxo Suzy

  4. Suzy, we love history and traveling. We are currently trying to visit different presidential libraries. It’s a lot of fun for us besides learning new things.

    1. Gina,
      That’s fantastic! How original! Thank you so much for sharing!
      xoxo
      Suzy

  5. Thank you for sharing, love your posts! My husband and I share some of these same ones; especially the consistent date nights, continually sharing our thankfulness, and traveling together. We schedule several 3 day weekend about 5-6 times per year, where we go somewhere close by that we’ve not visited before to explore and spend quality time together. A couple of things we add, for our date nights we take turns bringing “getting to know you better questions”. We google or look at Pinterest for Date night/marriage questions. They range from funny to sexy to serious questions, we mix it up. We’ve been amazed at some of the things we’ve learned about each other even after so many years. It’s refreshing and fun! Another thing is send each other random texts just to let each other know they’re on our mind throughout the day. Love receiving and sending these. Nothing like knowing someone is thinking about you during a busy day. Thanks again for this thoughtful post and keeping us all better focused on what’s most important.

    1. Jennifer,
      What wonderful ideas! Thank you for sharing them with us. I’m so grateful! I’d never thought about those “get to know you questions!” I think I might just need to do a post about that! I’d love it if you’d email me some of your best ones! ([email protected]). Thank you!!!
      Big hugs from me and thanks again!
      xoxo Suzy

  6. Loved reading this post Suzy and can relate to it. We’ve been married over thirty years too and it is a journey. I don’t know many people who’ve been together for that length of time and haven’t had ‘stuff’ going on. Being best friends has been high on our list. Have a good week.
    Alison xx

    1. Alison,
      I couldn’t agree more! Build the friendship, and it makes the rest come a lot easier! I’m so grateful to see the fruit of the effort we put into our relationship paying off! (It isn’t just “luck!”
      Thanks so much for your kind and encouraging words!
      xoxo Suzy

  7. Hi, Suzy, thanks for this very practical article! My husband and I love to go on short getaways, but my problem is these departures from routine will often cause me to have a migraine. In fact the last several trips I have taken I have come down with a migraine every time. Now, it’s hard for me to even dream or even tentatively plan a trip because in my heart I know this will probably happen again.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Anne

    1. Anne,
      That is a toughie! No sense in planning a fun getaway only to have a migraine spoil it! (I get those too, so I understand.)

      I would try planning a “Stayaway” where you pretend you’re on a getaway, but you just stay home!

      We love to have picnics in bed, complete with a plastic mat, of course! Then you might think about using something like “Tabletopics” cards. (https://rstyle.me/+BlCJLZgwE2Mz-O7_KizAgw) to spur some good conversation and then get online and do some of those fun activities we’ve all been doing lately – like riding Disney rides, touring museums, or acquariums virtually. (See this post: https://emptynestblessed.com/2020/03/24/stay-in-touch/ or this one https://emptynestblessed.com/2020/03/20/joy-in-the-journey/) for some ideas.

      I hope that helps! So glad you’re working on your marriage! It’s so important.
      xoxo Suzy

  8. We just celebrated 25 years of marriage last month and I swear it’s getting better. As we’re aging, we’re changing into funny old people with little quirks so we’re definitely laughing a lot. We celebrated at the Grand Floridian for a week in Disney World and it was magical.

    While we were expecting our first child, a Lamaze nurse taught us what we considered to be the best piece of advice: take the utmost care of your marriage….it’s the only thing you had before kids and it will be the only thing after they all leave. We’ve intentionally gone on trips / date nights, retreats, whatever we needed to make us the priority right below Jesus and above the kids. We felt like the best gift we could give our kids was a prayerful, intentional, respectful marriage.

    1. Laurie,

      I loved your wise comment so much! Thank you for sharing that with me! I feel the exact same way! In fact, our relationship is richer and deeper now after nearly 34 years than it was in the years prior. We have so many shared memories and struggles that have drawn us closer and deepened our relationship, and we’re so grateful.

      The gift of a strong marriage was the most precious thing you did for your children. If you haven’t seen it already, they will hold your example up as they seek spouses of their own. How precious is that?

      Your precious words brought joy to my heart, Laurie!

      Thanks again for taking the time to share them with me.

      xoxo
      Suzy

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