Empty Nest? Get Your Marriage Back on Track

It’s normal for a newly empty nest to leave couples feeling lost and like they no longer share any interests. Here’s how to revive your relationship.

The stillness that descends after the whirlwind of raising children can be unsettling. Especially as you gaze across the empty spaces at the dinner table, at a partner you feel you once knew a lot better. This distance between you has been a safe place for your children, but now it’s time for reconnecting with your partner.

Richard Parry, a Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist, highlights the “seismic shift in the dynamics between a couple”, when children arrive and how the “needs of the children dominate the household, and leave the parents with very little resources to meet each other’s needs.” He warns that “resentment that has been kept in check by the demands of parenting, can come out when things ease up.”

Some look at the relationship that’s left and decide they want out, but many choose to put hard work into its revival. Here’s how to ‘rediscover’ your relationship:

  • Lay it on the table

A good place to start is to acknowledge the distance between you. “Choosing to bring up the fact that our marriage was in trouble, was about as nerve-wracking as proposing”, admits Mark Taylor, a 63-year-old Capetonian. “But if I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be happily married today”.

  • Talk

So much of your communication over the last 20 years has been focussed on family logistics, it’s easy to see how you have become unpractised in the art of conversation. Talk to each other about interesting topics, how life has changed and most importantly about your relationship, desires and needs.

  • Rewind

Dig out the photo albums from times before the children, and let the pictures of your younger selves stir up memories of what you loved about each other then. Dennis Covey, a fifty-something-year-old empty nester, says what helped to mend his relationship was “finding as many opportunities as possible, to have a good laugh together”.

  • Look forward

Make a list of all those things you wanted to do but just couldn’t because you were looking after kids – walking the Otter Trail, driving through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park or back-packing through India! Now, sit down together and plan an adventure.

  • Have fun

Embrace having less responsibility and more time… and of course each other. Recognise dull routines and throw caution to the wind by playing a board game instead of watching your nightly sitcom. Go on dates and, like you did when you first started dating, make an effort!

  • Get intimate

The busy parent’s self-preserving practice, of getting things done with as little time and energy expenditure as possible… may have rubbed off on your sex life. The house is now yours and it’s time to remember foreplay and get creative! 

Prepare yourself for some rocky roads but keep going, as studies show that marital satisfaction is often highest once the nest is empty. As Richard Parry puts it, “be okay with having some difficult conversations about how things are going in your relationship”, and if there are hurdles that seem too high, don’t be too proud to seek marriage counselling.






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