Once the children grow up and move out of the house, you can expect your relationship with your spouse to change. It is a turning point in the marriage, one in which you will experience changes, negative and positive. It is up to you and your spouse to decide how you let this moment in your lives alter your relationship.
Relationship Identity Crisis
When you and your spouse are alone together, you may have a “now what?” moment. It can be a "make or break" period, according to Marriage at Midlife: Counseling Strategies and Analytical Tools by Douglas L. Kelley and Vincent R. Waldron. You may not realize how much having the kids around played a role in your identity as a couple. You may start to grieve your title as co-parents and having the kids to bond over, and you may question your relationship now that you do not have parenting to bond over. Kelley and Waldron emphasize that changes in the marriage may have already started to happen before the kids moved out, and you may not have realized it until afterward.
Supressed Unhappiness Surfaces
The child-shaped hole in your life may lead you to realize that you are unhappy with your spouse. In How’s Your Marriage?: A Book for Men and Women, Dr. Michael F. Myers notes that men are hit harder than women with empty nest symptoms. Some men do not realize how unhappy they are with their wives because they looked to their children to fulfill most of their needs -- such as companionship, conversation and affirmation. The children are a distraction, and it is not until they leave the house that the man starts to notice the cracks that have been forming in his marriage.
More Quality Time
Although changes in your household may be scary, one of the positives is quality time with your spouse. Many couples reported happy marriages and improvement in relationship satisfaction after their children left home, according to the study Contextualizing Change in Marital Satisfaction During Middle Age published in the Psychological Science journal in 2008. The amount of time couples spent together had not changed, but the amount of quality time they spent together had increased.
More quality time without the kids also means a chance to rediscover and renew your relationship with your spouse. In this phase of the marriage couples get to learn who they are without the children, which can make the relationship new and exciting. Some couples may renew their vows after the kids have left as a way to show that they are committed to moving forward in their relationship.
- Psychological Science; Contextualizing Change in Marital Satisfaction During Middle Age: An 18-Year Longitudinal Study; Sara M. Gorchoff, et. al.
- Marriage at Midlife: Counseling Strategies and Analytical Tools; Douglas L. Kelley Ph.D. and Vincent R. Waldron, Ph.D
- How’s Your Marriage?: A Book for Men and Women; Michael F. Myers
- Psychology Today: The Loss of Passion in Marriage
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