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!