The Sad Way Empty Nest Syndrome Affects Your Marriage — And How To Cope With The Transition

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couple at home

Sadly, empty nest syndrome affects not only individuals but also marriages and families.

Empty nest syndrome is defined as "a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home."

Some research has linked empty nest syndrome and affairs, especially if relationship issues were already present in the marriage. 

So, don’t presume your husband or wife will just be OK and your marriage will get stronger now — it takes action for that.

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What is the connection between empty nest syndrome and marriage issues?

When your children were young and chaotic, with a lot of birthday parties and activities to do each weekend, you dreamt of the days when they’d be older and weren't so much work.

Perhaps, you dreamt about sleeping full nights without having to tend to children and being able to sleep in on Saturdays. Or, you wished for the sulky teenage years to be over and life to be drama-free, so you could finally do things for yourself.

You were hopeful that when the free time came, you would be able to relax and enjoy the freedom to choose how to run your day.

The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that most people don’t anticipate the impact on the marriage when the children move out and the household is once again just the two of you.

Most couples tend to their children’s needs above all else. They may have even needed to work extra jobs or hours in order to give their children the best in life.

What happens is that parents get so busy that they spend less time as a couple and more time just getting everything done.

So, by the time their adult children are out of the house, both partners may suddenly be less busy.

Now, they feel a void. Or, they continue to be busy and feel lonely because they miss the affection and attention they gave and received from the children.

Transitioning to an empty nest is often harder than most parents realize.

For empty nesters, it's an incredibly big change to get used to after so long.

For example, if your kids are leaving for college for the first time or officially moving out, the silence at home can become unbearable. The distance between you and your partner may be more obvious.

If one person in the marriage was doing a lot more caregiving than the other, they may feel lost, not know who they are, what they want to do next, or what makes them happy anymore.

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Living without a purpose is horrible. So, how do you get past this feeling?

Explore your passions, interests, what you value most in life, and what you want for your future.

Maybe you want to start a business or find a job you love. Or, perhaps, you're passionate about charity work and giving back. Some people may want to learn a new skill or take on a personal challenge.

What the couple desires and decides to do with their life next must be addressed for the difficult empty nest symptoms to subside.

A consistent low mood in one or both parties can lead to them taking out their frustrations on one another. Or, they'll simply avoid each other. This causes more heartache and pain, leading to a further breakdown in connection.

Sometimes, the empty nest syndrome can magnify problems that couples already have.

With no children to hide behind, couples can’t escape. They might even question if they want to continue staying married.

Some couples who have had relationship issues simply waited for the children to move out and, now, they want their own change, to be selfish and live for themselves.

Often, couples underestimate the amount of grief an empty nest can bring. Many, unfortunately, get depressed and become stuck as they hold on to it — it numbs their pain.

If this makes you worried about empty nest marriage issues, know that it's not doom and gloom for all couples.

Some marriages thrive after the children leave home. There's now more time and space to give each other attention, appreciation, and affection.

Some couples use the emotional pain of their kids leaving to grow together rather than apart. They emotionally support one another as well as invest time and energy to organize and do fun new things together.

You can even take this opportunity to share your dreams and plans for the future with each other.

Don't let an empty nest affect your marriage alignment. Going back to basics is key.

This is where you and your spouse can recreate a whole new relationship that's better than ever.

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Nicola Beer is a marriage/couples counselor, specializing in online relationship counseling and couples therapy online. Download her free 7 Secrets e-book today or book a call.​