Advice & Features Articles

The Happiest of Times?


The ‘Empty Nest’ Leaves Time to Talk and Play with Your Spouse

By Jeff Anderson / Contributor

I don’t understand. I was looking forward to this. I don’t have to go to basketball games anymore. No more recitals or school concerts. PTA is in my rearview mirror, and I don’t have to worry about coming home to find a teenage party spilling out onto my lawn. I’ve raised my kids, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job. At least I’ve done my best, and soon they’ll be out on their own. Isn’t this supposed to be the time we’ve been looking forward to?

Yes, it is.

But I feel empty. I feel alone. I don’t know my spouse anymore. We don’t have anything in common, and there’s nothing to talk about. It feels like we just sit around watching TV or staring at the walls. How could this be?

What were things like before the children came?

We talked all the time. We talked about the future. We talked about dinner and where we were going to go on our next vacation. Being together was enough all by itself and the sex was great!

The children have graduated and gone. It’s supposed to be a time when you and your spouse experience the freedom you’ve been looking forward to for at least eighteen years.

How could one of the happiest times of your lives—the time you’ve actually been dreaming of ever since your children discovered puberty—be so empty?  Why have the divorce rates among older couples doubled in the last 20 years?

Before children, you shared some common interests, and, more importantly, you shared some common values.  Family was one of them, and it probably still is, though it looks different now. The human condition is marked by growth.  Our families grow, our interests evolve and even our values change over time.  Now here’s the thing:  if my wife and I grow in different directions, by the time our youngest is in college, we won’t know each other anymore.  Whether you’ve got a newborn at home or your little one has been gone for a few years, you can build and rebuild a happy marriage.  The key to this is talking.  If you grow, as you inevitably will, how will you know the direction your spouse is growing unless you feed your marriage with often and honest communication?  Playful and serious, about important things and about nothing at all, with your eyes, with your voices and with your bodies.  The way we know people best is by talking with them and developing our understanding of them over time.

What if your communication muscles are out of shape? They can come right back into line with a little effort.  Sometimes a good counselor can help develop the basics.  Sometimes we just need to push ourselves a little bit to start.  You probably know your spouse’s interests, but you might find out why they love what they love.  You might find that you can love their interests (or at least tolerate them) because you love your spouse.

You were happy before children.  You can have a happier and more fulfilled marriage now by talking about your newly developed interests and joyfully playing as often as you can.

Editor’s Note: Jeff Anderson is a family law attorney, a husband and a dad to two teens.  His bio can be found on page 9.  To reach Jeff, email him at jeff@ondafamilylaw.com or call 972.248.8383. ondafamilylaw.com

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