This story accompanies The 25-year-itch: Empty nesters and the second half of marriage.)
David and Claudia Arp, founders of Marriage Alive and authors of The Second Half of Marriage (Zondervan), don’t fault couples for feeling drained when the last child leaves home.
“You’ve just survived the adolescent years,” Claudia says. Plus, says David, “The tendency is to get busy and avoid facing the challenges of this new stage of marriage.”
Drawing on their own experience, they encourage couples to conduct an “Empty Nest Checkup.” Talk about your marital assets and liabilities. Make a plan to jump-start your marriage. Then:
Celebrate. You’ve made it through the active parenting years. Plan a fun date or a vacation.
Resist bolting. Don’t make immediate decisions about your future. You may feel a sense of loss or insecurity. Try saying to each other, “Things are changing now, and that’s OK.”
Forgive. “You may need to let go of past disappointments and unrealized dreams,” David says. “Accept each other, with your strengths and weaknesses. You’re simply not going to change each other.”
Reinvest in your relationship. “Interestingly, a gender shift takes place at this time of life,” Claudia notes. “Men become more nurturing. Women, who generally have been more responsible for the kids, become more expansive and may choose to go back to school or start a new career. It can seem like they are moving in opposite directions but on a continuum they are actually moving closer to the center. If they realize this, they can capitalize on it and refocus on each other.”
The Arps’ surveys indicate that for couples in the empty nest transition, marital satisfaction can begin to rise again and stay that way if they risk growing in the relationship.
This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 8, page 32).
Image: Tim Foley