9 ways to avoid an empty nest marriage
It’s the time of year when children of a certain age leave home and head off for gap years, university, and a life beyond their parents.
But while the move can fill 18 year olds with excitement, it can leave parents whose kids have taken centre stage in their lives anxious about being left alone together.
A newly acquired empty nest can be the final straw for couples already at breaking point – the over-50s was the only age group which showed an increased number of divorces last year, the latest ONS statistics reveal.
But an empty nest doesn’t have to mean to mean the end of a troubled relationship. In fact, a study by Berkeley University researchers found the majority of parents rated their marriages as happier once the children had left home.
Family lawyer Sarah Platt from Kirwans says, “Many people who have suffered an unhappy marriage for years feel that when the children leave home they can reclaim their lives, and start to seek legal advice about divorce.
“While it can feel strange to suddenly find yourselves alone, a newly acquired empty nest can also provide opportunities for couples to reacquaint themselves with each other and with themselves, resulting in a happy marriage and a newly acquired lease of life for spouses too.”
Here, based on the experiences of her own previous divorce clients, Sarah sets out her top tips to avoid an empty nest marriage…
1 Talk to each other
Perhaps the most important point, this is the one which is most easily forgotten. Many parents find that their children are all-consuming, so most conversations centre around them, and around practical arrangements regarding them. Once they’ve left home, conversation can feel awkward and stilted. But by making a concerted effort to spend some time each day talking to each other about topics other than the children, the ease of conversation you once experienced as a couple can return.
2 Draw up a list of things you’d like to do together
Maybe it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, or it could just be a date at a pub quiz, the important thing is to remind yourselves of common interests, find new ones and plan enjoyable activities together that don’t involve the children.
3 Write your own ‘to do’ list
In between acting as a taxi service and earning money to afford the kids’ latest must-have outfit, most parents find that there’s very little time to even think about their own plans and dreams, let alone actually work towards them. An empty nest can give you the space to think about what you still want to achieve in life. And starting to pursue those goals will help you to feel happier – which should help your marriage to be happier too.
4 Think about relationship counselling
Many people often avoid counselling, fearing it could bring up issues they find easier to keep buried, but counsellors are experts at helping couples work together to get over a sticking point in their marriage. Contact Relate for more information.
5 Socialise again
That’s with other people; not just with each other. Joining groups such as the U3A can open up your world and enrich your life. You’ll soon be so busy you’ll forget you’re supposed to be missing your children.
6 Plan holidays
We all need something to look forward to, and often holidays to far-flung destinations are put on hold when the kids are at home. Allow yourself to feel excited about all the places you can visit together, whether in the UK or abroad, and start making dates to travel.
7 Don’t throw yourself into work
When one all-consuming activity (i.e. looking after the kids) comes to an end, it can be all too tempting to throw yourself into another one (i.e. work). But doing so can leave your partner feeling isolated and drive you further apart. Instead, strive towards a healthy balance between work and home.
8 Get fit
Many studies have shown that the best way to combat depression and anxiety is to engage in regular exercise – and for adults the recommended amount is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Most gyms will draw up activity plans that you can follow, and committing to exercise will not only help you to feel most positive during this difficult time, it will also set a great example to your children as they navigate their way through university.
9 Give yourself time to grieve
Although it’s important to embrace your new-found freedom, you will also need to accept that you’re both suffering a huge loss. Mums who have been the primary caregivers can feel particularly redundant during this period, but you should congratulate yourself on instilling in your children the confidence to step out on their own – and try and do the same yourself.