The prospect of your kids finally moving out of home can do a world of good for many couples, with more time to spend together and less focus on what the offspring are up to. However, while some may be celebrating the new found freedom, others are hit with relationship problems that may have been hidden away for years on end.
With kids taking up most of their parents’ time from the moment they’re born to the day they head off to university or full-time employment, Relationship Australia New South Wales CEO Elisabeth Shaw said it’s no surprise some encounter speed bumps in their relationship as they begin the next stage of their life. Shaw claimed everything from conversations to sex life can become problematic for mums and dads as they experience Empty Nest Syndrome.
“Some couples who may have become more distant over time, can suddenly get in touch with that when there are no other people in the house to create noise, stimulation and bridges,” she explained to Starts at 60. “Indeed they can realise many of the conversations were about the kids, or initiated by the kids, and it can feel very quiet.
Shaw added: “Some couples can fear they have no enough in common, or not enough to talk about. Even if married for years it can feel like the intimacy that could be possible in an empty house feels a little confronting or even daunting.”
While the kids were growing up, parents are often inundated with jobs like transporting them to sporting games and checking their homework, but those responsibilities are often thrown out the window once they leave home. Meanwhile, kids moving out can often coincide with retirement, meaning some mums and dads go from having a couple of chats a day to being together almost 24/7.
The issue is common among mums across the globe, with one even taking to online forum Gransnet, explaining while her relationship is “fine currently” she is concerned it could take a turn for the worse as they work to rekindle the spark and find joint interests. In a comment shared on the popular site, the mum said they’re still learning to cope with the transition after their son moved out of home.
“My relationship with my husband is fine currently, but I suppose I do wonder if he will find it enough,” she wrote. “Our house will be very quiet and where I spent years missing girlie stuff with my daughter once she had left, now he is going to miss all the boy stuff. I know he will, because on the way home from the interview he turned to me in the car and asked if I would go along with him to his next athletics trials. I am going to have to show an interest in a whole lot of new things in order to keep us going.”
According to Shaw, the change in routine can be quite confronting for many mums and dads with little idea how to alter their life. Meanwhile, the clinical and counselling psychologist also claimed it’s not uncommon for parents to want to stay together for the kids even if their connection is fading and once the children have moved on, the discussion on what to do next in terms of their relationship is sparked.
“This is definitely a period of readjustment, especially if one person has been home with the children full or part time,” she explained. “There are some couples who have, consciously or not, stayed together for the children. When this gets named, it can lead to a period of reflection and discussion about whether to reinvest in the relationship or seperate. It can be common to seek couple counselling at that point.”
Sadly a relationship breakdown like this is exactly what happened to another mum, who also shared her thoughts on Gransnet. She claimed her Empty Nest Syndrome when her children left home could have been spurred on by the fact things were on the rocks for herself and her partner at the time.
“I used to wonder if my sadness at my children leaving home was due to the fact that my marriage was unhappy,” the mum wrote. “We split up when the youngest went away to uni so I was left completely on my own at that point.”
Although things may seem dire, Shaw said there are many things couples can do to reignite that spark and continue in a loving partnership. She explained exploring their interests is a good place to start, and this can be done separately or together, depending on the couple’s circumstances.
“Exploring together can be bonding and in itself create intimacy,” Shaw told Starts at 60. “However, for others it can be important to have more seperate time and freedom to explore individual interests. That too can be healthy, as after a long relationship, bringing new ideas and experiences home to share with a partner also keeps discussion fresh and lively.”
Overall, there is really no one size fits all, with Shaw adding: “There are no rules about what is best; this will vary with every couple. However, some benefit from having some sessions with a skilled counsellor to discuss this transition, because the conversations stall or get difficult. This can be really healthy and set people up well for the next phase.”