Hope for “Empty Nesters”

QUESTION: This year my husband and I became empty nesters, and we are not adjusting well. I find that I am missing our daughter every day, and moping around waiting for her to come home. My husband has thrown himself into his work. We don't fight, but we are more roommates than spouses. Some of our friends have already split up since their kids left, so it is worrying me. Is there hope for us to reconnect?

ANSWER: Of course there is hope, especially if there is a foundation to build on. But that is not where I would suggest starting.

Let me offer you a sports analogy: Think of a professional athlete in the prime of his career, forced into retirement by injury. It is not his choice. Most people would understand the grieving process involved in this situation.

We would also understand why it would take a while to reconfigure the next chapter in his life. There would be a lot of readjusting to do. We can also understand it would take longer for some than others.

Please cut yourself some slack in the next evolution of your life. It is no less difficult for you than a professional athlete. The devotion to your job may be equal to a professional athlete.

This is a not a problem you can rush into solving no more than you can keep pulling up a plant to see how well it is growing. Give your own nature time to heal and recover.

When you feel stronger, I hope you will begin to experiment with ideas about what will stimulate and interest the neglected parts of your personality.

Please give yourself time and loving permission to explore many different ideas that hold some interest. For example, think about things that you would do alone, with others, inside, outside, physically active, sedentary, intellectually stimulating, using your hands, traveling long distances and short, reading the things that one day you said you would get to, reconnecting with friends, and activities you would do different seasons of the year.

I highly recommend a book, “The Power of Style: The Women Who Defined The Art of Living Well” by Annette Tapert and Diana Edkins. Go behind the scenes and learn the amusing, instructive and sometimes painful tales of lives behind the legends. This book is full of gems about life, relationships, hardships, and character. It's an easy read with interesting photos.

As you reconnect with yourself, you will be in better condition to reconnect with your husband. You will feel and be more stimulating and interesting. Take your time in this endeavor to reconstruct your foundation with him as well. It will take more than simply doing things together but it will be a start. You will need to take some emotional risks by telling him how you and why you have put your relationship on the back burner. And then continue with why you want to reconnect with him. If you don't feel any butterflies in telling him these things then you're not stretching yourself. Lead the way on reconnecting. It's worth it.

Perhaps even one day you might say to yourself, “Drat, my daughter is coming home for several weeks. This means cooking, cleaning, worrying about what she is doing, and I have a ton of things I need to do.”

Good luck.
© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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