Ellyn Bader

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


Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., 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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A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.