Will My Marriage Survive An Empty Nest?

By July 9, 2018 No Comments

Have you seen these statistics?

  • Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate roughly doubled since the 1990s; among those 65 and older, the divorce rate roughly tripled.
  • Among those who divorced in the past year, about one-third were in their prior marriage for at least 30 years; 12% were married for 40 years or more.

This data from a report by the Pew Research Center doesn’t specifically tie the divorce rate to children leaving the nest, but the numbers certainly beg the question. Why in the world would a husband and wife split up after decades of partnership? Why would they do the hard work of raising children together and then decide life would be better apart?

I can tell you one of the most common reasons why. Somewhere along the way they forgot the first priority of marriage: a healthy partnership between husband and wife.

Empty nesters in my office

The Pew Research statistics are no surprise to me because they reflect what I’ve seen come into my office at The Marriage Place. While we of course see many (many!) younger and middle-age couples, we also see a good number of couples who have moved beyond the child-raising years. These marriages have endured the loud-and-crazy years of young children who want what they want when they want it, the angst-filled years of teenagers doing all kinds of things to find themselves, and the gradual slip-sliding away years of young adults who need to make their own way in the world.

''When anything comes between you and the one to whom you committed your love, even if it's a normally ''good'' thing, then something's gone awry.'' Click To Tweet

The presenting reasons for potential divorce among empty nesters are not necessarily different than those of younger couples. The underlying difference, however, is many of the empty nesters ignore their issues (or at least quietly let them fester) for years while focusing their collective efforts on the kids. Once the kids are raised and gone, these couples finally realize — or decide to admit — they simply don’t enjoy one another much anymore.

Regardless of their immediate crisis which brings them to counseling, the reality is they’ve often let other forces come between them for many years prior. Sometimes they are negative forces like workaholism or affairs or substance abuse. But in my experience, it’s often the good things that get in the way. Things like raising kids, doing satisfying work, volunteering at school or church, or both– there are a multitude of good things out there.. But when anything comes between you and the one to whom you committed your love, even if it’s a normally “good” thing, then something’s gone awry.

Danger signs

Could your marriage be at risk of an empty nest divorce? I’m speaking right now to those who still have children at home, since there are still actions you can take before you’re in the child-free zone. (If you’re already there and what I’m saying resembles your life, hurry and contact us now. Don’t wait.)

To assess your risks, take the short quiz below SEPARATELY. I recommend making yourself do it in less than one minute, because your gut responses will be the most telling.

1 In a normal week, not counting time sleeping, how much time do you spend together as a couple, without kids or other people? Less than an hour At least one hour 1-2 hours 2 hours or more
2 When is the last time you had casual, no-agenda time together of at least 30 minutes? More than a month ago More than a week ago A few days ago Yesterday
3 When did you last have sex? It’s been months. It’s been weeks. It’s been days. It’s been hours.
4 Besides sex and sleeping, what is an activity you do together, alone, on a regular basis?

Together, look at your answers and evaluate. If you 1) have more responses in the two left response columns than in the right, or 2) don’t have any answers for question #4, you need to take action.

This is obviously a subjective exercise you can game in all kinds of ways. But if you take it seriously – even if it’s just one of you – it can help assess if you are at risk of losing intimate connectedness with your spouse and need to work to reclaim the focus of your marriage.

Whatever stage of life you’re in, if you’re realizing you’ve taken your focus off your life-mate, it’s a good time to realign your vision. To do so often requires setting aside time for intentional conversation. You can of course do this on your own, but many couples report that the accountability of a counseling appointment is extremely motivating. The Marriage Place counselors and coaches have specific techniques for helping you focus on one another again. Click here to get started.

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  • Mike says:

    Empty nest comes from a life of putting the kids first and not reatining a sence of couple’s relationship —- if you only live for you kids your entire life and forget who youpartner is and have not invested in them emotionally for year then YES empty nest is a very real depressing thing – BUT if you have done it right an dput yoru pouse first instead of the kids you will find that when the kids leave your spouse an dyou now have time to really have fun again and enjoy those laters years becasue you KNOW who they are

    • Kim Bowen says:

      Hi Mike, thanks for your comment. You are right. It’s easy to get lost in the child rearing years and lose what made the two of you special as a couple. I wish you and yours a fun and enjoyable empty nest! Warmly, Kim.