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Three Common Traps of Empty Nest Marriages

By Barbara Rainey

First posted on

Every year in the early fall, moms and dads across the nation find themselves in a new season of marriage—the empty nest. Their last child has moved out of the home, and for parents it’s a time of major readjustment. Many of you may be entering this season of life, and that’s why my friend Susan Yates and I wrote a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Here is an excerpt about the impact of the empty nest on moms and dads and their marriage:

Bess and Gary couldn’t wait for the empty nest. Raising their kids had been tough. They had different approaches to discipline, they’d struggled on a tight budget, and they’d postponed many of their dreams in order to be with their kids.

Now the last one was leaving the nest, and they felt they had done the best they could. Finally, they were about to be free from the daily stresses of parenting. They were excited. They couldn’t wait for it to be “just us” again.

Shelly’s situation was just the opposite. She had poured her life into her kids; they had come first. Now, as the last child got ready to leave, she was scared, really scared.

“I don’t even feel like I know my husband,” she said. “I haven’t been alone with him since I was 26. Our whole life has revolved around the kids. Now what will we talk about at the dinner table? What will we do on weekends? I don’t even know if I have energy left to put into this relationship. And, I don’t know if I want to.”

Wives and mothers, who most often feel the losses more than the dads and husbands, usually approach the empty nest with a mixture of fear and excitement. Yet at some point they will wonder, “What will my marriage look like now?” Anticipating the hurdles in the road ahead and being proactive is essential to a good marriage in the empty nest season.

Three common pitfalls

As Christians we believe there is an enemy of our souls who wants our marriages to fall apart. Part of the problem is we don’t often recognize this enemy or his tactics. Instead, we think the problem is us or, more likely, our spouse.

In order to successfully transition your marriage into the empty nest years, you should watch for three common pitfalls that the enemy will throw at you with subtlety or with vengeance. Being prepared is always half the battle.

1. A critical spirit.

How many middle-aged couples do you know who are still in love with each other and whose marriages you admire? How many do you know who regularly criticize, condemn, and alienate each other?

Newlyweds seem to have cornered the market on being in love. And why is that? They usually have the time and focus. Empty nest couples once again have the same two commodities; the challenge is to capitalize on them.

We’ve noticed that, for an empty nest wife, it is all too easy to fill the void left by the kids with criticism of her husband. It’s easy to find fault with what he has done or left undone, to try to help in a parental way, to revisit old wounds, to fret about the way she thinks things should be.

Why do we wives do this?

Partly because we are hurting and sad for our loss, partly because we know our husbands too well or we discover we’ve overlooked habits in our busyness and now they are glaring. Partly because we have been mothering for so long we switch our attention from our kids to our husband without thinking. Unconsciously we become critical and we don’t even realize what we are doing. It can be so subtle.

Once you do recognize what is happening, it’s time to change co