According to statistics, if you survive the first 7 years of marriage you have made it through one of the most difficult phases of holy matrimony. The problem is that surviving the first decade isn’t a ‘tell all’ that speaks volumes for a successful marriage. For many folks, the real ‘issues’ of the marriage rear their head when older couples deal with the first case of empty nest syndrome. This seems to solidify the fact that many people wait until the children are grown up before acting on their impulses to divorce. Sure, waiting till custody is no longer is an issue makes things easier in the time being for you, your spouse, and most importantly the kids. But how on earth will the marriage survive once the children move out?
With an empty nest often comes the vivid realization that you also have an empty marriage. Tending to family tends to take the immediate attention off of the faults in your relationship. In fact, it is easy to sort of co-exist with your partner when you are amidst the hustle and bustle of raising a family. Long periods of time without sex, without intimacy, without communication can simply be written off as part of the price you pay for having children. But in the long run, the ties that connected the two of you together become extremely broken and extremely difficult to reconnect.
Suddenly the kids are gone and the two of you are sitting across from one another in a living room filled with financed furniture that has finally been paid off. And you might wonder just ‘who’ that person is. You also might find that the swift end to your years of keeping up appearances for the sake of the children is gone, and you might not even really like the person sitting across the room from you. With no distraction of the kids to interrupt you or smooth things out, divorce can feel imminent. And divorce can feel like a relief.
The key to longevity in marriage is not something that can be pinned down to one or two things. However most certainly, communication is essential. When you are ultra focused on raising kids and providing a successful environment for them to grow, it is easy and often necessary for parents to put their own desires and needs on the back burner. Still, every couple has their breaking point. If you can be mindful of your communication throughout your marriage, and not let a windfall of little things turn into a major discovery of complete incompatibility when the kids move out, your chances of a successful marriage are much, much better.
Many couples reach the empty nest empty marriage discovery and realize they don’t really know went wrong. Sure, there were inklings along the way, realizations that the two of you haven’t connected, had couple time, been intimate or even talked but you simply shifted those concerns to the bottom of the to do list. For couples that reach this point with a certain amount of disappointment and who still love their partner, the relationship can actually become better than it ever was before. Of course, getting to that point where the two of you feel connected again is not as easy as the simple desire to do so. In fact, you might find that it is as difficult as reconnecting with a perfect stranger. But it can be done.
Obviously, there are many major life changing moments in life that sort of define your future. Finding yourself along with your spouse after the kids have grown up is one of those. It can be very uncomfortable, especially if the marriage was riddled with animosity and discontent. And you will also find that you can make decisions more clearly, because there are fewer factors and more importantly, less people involved in your immediate decision. What will you do?
There is no one way to guarantee that your marriage will survive when the kids grow up and move out of the familial home. The divorce rate for couples who have been married 25+ years hovers at around 30%, which is pretty substantial when you consider the work and effort it took to keep the marriage together this long. Do you throw those years away and move forward with your own life now that it is a real possibility? Or do you work to rebuild and add upon the marriage that you once dreamed of having?
One interesting statistic from the book, The Second Half of Marriage, shows that couples who are willing to date their spouse again and work on the rebuilding often benefit in a wide variety of ways, including emotionally and health wise. The book reports that couples who strive to deepen the marital bonds often find themselves in a much better and more fulfilling marriage than they ever dreamed of having. But of course, this takes work and only you and your spouse can decide if there is something worth working for.
The 1999 movie entitled The Story of Us, is definitely worth watching for couples who are approaching the empty nest years. This movie is about a couple who contemplates divorce after reaching the epiphany that their marriage is in shambles when their kids go to summer camp and leave them alone to their own devices. While the movie wasn’t a blockbuster hit, it does delve deep into the very common issues that couples face later in life. You realize when breaching subjects such as this, that there is never truly a time in your marriage when things become easier or obvious. Marriage takes work. From the very beginning to the very end, there are numerous personal sacrifices and tons of effort that must be put forth in order to have a truly happy and successful marriage. Will yours be one of them?