They All Moved Out—Now What?
Children change everything. Typically God brings children to parents by birth. As soon as you and your spouse discovered that you were having a baby, things began to change, didn’t they? It was no longer the “you and me” in your thoughts; it suddenly became the “we three!” What great changes came very soon into your life! Then the day came when that eight-pound-two-ounce person was handed to you in the delivery room. A couple of days later that little person came home with you and took over the household!
Sometimes the Lord arranges families by adoption or even foster parenting. Few people can ever begin to imagine what it is like to look into the face of a child that feels abandoned and unwanted. What changes take place in the home when children not born to you become your child and responsibility!
Regardless of how these dear little folks came, life for you as the married spouse and parent would never be the same. You experienced the joys and heartaches of child rearing. There were demands on your time. You experienced the joy of hearing your child say, “I love you, Daddy” or “I love you, Mommy.” You experienced the stitches in the emergency room, the school activities that kept both parents hopping, the services and special opportunities at church and a long list of appointments that had to be kept.
It certainly is true that children change everything. At high school graduation parties you probably told others, “I can’t believe how quickly the years have gone by! It seems like only yesterday that we were beginning with kindergarten, and here we are today at high school graduation!” Time does have a way of flying. All too soon your children have grown up. The time comes that they have moved out, at least for longer periods of time, and you are officially empty-nesters!
How is this going for you and your spouse?
This can be a special period of time for you and your spouse. It certainly will be an adjustment as you watch the last of your children taking flight. This doesn’t mean that you are done with being concerned for them and helping when the opportunity lends itself, even giving advice if they ask. But it does mean that you have much more freedom from the responsibilities of parenting. You now have much more time to enjoy the great blessings in your marriage as an empty-nester.
For most of our married lives, Karen and I have had children in our home. We have had the thrill of welcoming two boys born into our home as well as the joy of welcoming eight children by adoption. In addition to this, Karen and I have been foster parents to another fifteen children. Over the years our home has been filled with children. The children in our neighborhood loved to come to our home to play and have supper. Our house was filled with noises that come from children! Now that our children are grown and gone from our home, people ask us how we still appear to be so happily married. The answer is easy! We really are happily married!
Though we have two very different personalities, Karen and I have discovered that there are several things that every married couple can do to keep their marriage fresh, growing, and strong even in the empty-nest era. Thank you for briefly thinking through these things with me.
1. Grow closer to the Lord. This can be a tremendous time of really getting to know the Lord in a deeper and greater way. As a couple you can make it a priority to learn together more about the Lord (Philippians 3:10). Either by using a personal journal or compiling a journal together, make notes from your Bible reading about Who the Lord Jesus is, what He did, and what He says. Make it personal. Do not view Him as some very distant God who is far removed from you and your marriage. Rather, view Him as One Who deeply loves you and cares about you and your marriage. View Him as the loving partner in your marriage Who wants to bless and guide your marriage and home every day. If you know Him as your Savior, then He must be viewed as One Who dwells with you. Welcome Him in every part of your day. These should be days that the Lord Jesus can become more real to you than ever.
2. Develop a consistent devotional life. Children bring tremendous activity into the schedule of every married couple. There were activities with the children at church, school, and within your own household. Now your children are grown, and while you are still busy, it is not the same as it was when your children were growing up. Now you do have the time to develop a consistent devotional life. Read the Bible and pray not only individually but also as a couple. Discuss as a couple what time of the day will work best for your devotions together. Look forward to this time, and enjoy holding hands and talking with your Heavenly Father. Pray out loud for each other as well as your family. It will be a precious time well invested as you seek the Lord (Jeremiah 33:3).
3. Keep your marriage fresh. Though you are growing older, do not grow boring and stale. Though your body may not have as much energy as it used to, don’t vegetate to the point that your marriage grows to be the same old thing day in and day out. Your spouse is your special companion (Malachi 2:14). This means that your spouse is one who is accompanying you on the journey of a lifetime. You are making your way together. Here are a few things that Karen and I think will help you keep your marriage fresh.
Worship regularly with God’s people. If you haven’t been consistent in assembling yourself together with God’s people, now is really the time to begin.
Date weekly. Bring variety into your weekly date. Take turns being responsible for selecting the activity and place
Serve the Lord together. If at all possible, find a ministry in which you both can serve.. If that is not possible, still serve in your local church. It will add so much to your marriage and keep it fresh as you prepare for your ministry, pray for your ministry, talk about your ministry, and watch the Lord bless your ministry as you share this with your spouse.
Be social. Invite friends to come to your house for fun and fellowship. Don’t become hermits! Extend yourselves. While your children were growing up, it is possible that you made the excuse, “We don’t have time. Our children are keeping us too busy.” Well, now that the children are grown and have flown from your home, invite folks over. Talk with other couples. Share your home and your time with others.
4. Deepen the joy of intimacy. Please allow me to be really candid with you. When you were younger and your passion was stronger, how many times when you and your spouse were enjoying marital intimacy were you suddenly interrupted at the worst moment with a knock on your bedroom door and a little voice right outside? We all have been there and had that happen. Now that the children are grown and flown, wouldn’t you think that passion would take place even more often? The interruptions are gone, so what has happened?
I have sat across the desk in the counseling center as one of the spouses looked down and said something like, “Pastor, this is awfully hard for me to talk about, but my spouse just isn’t interested any more in sex. The kids are gone, and I had hoped that the frequency of our special times would increase. Now if we ‘do it’ once a month, that’s good. What is wrong with us?” Does this sound like it might fit your empty-nest home?
Sometimes passion, or the desire to have sexual intercourse with our marriage partner, wanes at this stage of the marriage. There can be several reasons for this.
The aging process that makes it difficult for many men to physically function.
The aging process that causes the loss of libido for many ladies.
Surgeries or physical illnesses that make sexuality difficult.
Resentment from past misunderstandings or hurts that have been allowed to build up over the years cause walls to be built up. These push couples apart, and a really meaningful sexual relationship is damaged.
Sometimes ladies withhold themselves as a form of revenge or punishment for her husband’s failures.
Sometimes men withhold themselves as a form of resentment or pouting over actions committed by their wife.
Sinful acts such as viewing pornography, instead of making sexual expression more appealing, have just the opposite results. Devastation and disappointment are the two key results of such sin.
Occasionally sexual activity is withheld because of an involvement the spouse is having with someone else. While this may not be the typical situation, it does happen nonetheless.
Embarrassment because of the way one’s body has grown because of the aging process taking place. The weight gain, stretch marks, surgical scars, or other physical things that we dislike about ourselves sometimes cause a decrease in sexual desires.
Please take courage to face the fact that at your age many men can experience impotency and ladies can experience loss of libido. These can be addressed by your Primary Care Physician or your Obstetrician/ Gynecologist. When a physical situation is involved, your doctor really can offer help to you. Please do not allow embarrassment to keep you from obtaining good medical help.
When the cause for loss of marital intimacy is sinful, then confession and restoration need to take place (1 John 1:9). Be honest with each other. Talk with each other. Acknowledge the “distance and disconnection” that you both sense. Seek forgiveness. Extend forgiveness. Accept the joy of forgiveness. These will be the first steps back to each other. It may have taken years for you and your spouse to get into this emotionally distant situation. It will take time to reconnect and grow closer on your journey of a lifetime. It can be done, and you will be glad you took the time and effort. Take a moment to read “Our Journey Back to Love” in this same section.
In addition to everything I have briefly addressed, please understand a great lesson about “intimacy.” There is a great difference between sex and intimacy. I want you and your spouse to have a great sexual connection in this wonderful stage of life. However, I want something even better than that. I want you to have a state of intimacy.
Did you know that it is possible to have sex with your spouse but not really achieve intimacy? Sexuality can deteriorate to the state where it is only a physical act. Intimacy is a connection. It is the joyous growing together and being connected emotionally that result in a tremendous intimacy. Even if you have undergone numerous surgeries, have physical challenges, and are not getting any younger, you can be intimate with your spouse.
Very briefly stated, here are a few of the characteristics that will be true if you are intimate with your spouse.
When you’re apart, your spouse will be on your mind.
You’ll enjoy sending a text, email, or a phone call when you are away from your spouse. You’ll touch base throughout the day, even if it is very brief.
Romance is alive. You and your spouse love to hold hands, hug, kiss, and snuggle. Being close emotionally is demonstrated by the desire you and your spouse have in being close physically.
You and your spouse find each other’s bodies appealing and exciting, even if they “aren’t what they used to be!”
You and your spouse have become best friends, and you really cherish the relationship you have.
Your spouse hears you sharing your love by your words and actions.
You simply love being with each other.
5. Start to become friends with your children. Throughout your years of parenting, you were reminded over and over to be the parent not the friend of your children. You probably heard your pastor preach, “Your children have plenty of friends. They need you to be the parent.” That was a pretty powerful statement, wasn’t it? You and your spouse so wanted your children to at least like you!
The good news is that now you can become more of a friend to your children. They probably will ask for your advice. They might even ask for some financial help sometime, but they should rely on you less and less for parenting. They should be able to look to you and your spouse as those with whom they would like to spend time, have lunch, do something fun together, and even become friends.
6. Make each day count. This is not meant to be morbid, but it must be said. Be honest with yourself. You do not know how many more days the Lord will give you. Make these months and years really count for the Lord. Moses was right when he wrote, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). At this stage of your life, it is a great time to live with appreciation to the Lord for all that He has done for you as well as all that He wants to do in and through you. Take a moment to read “Getting My Life in Order and My Lists All Made Out!” You’ll find it in the Senior Years in the Marriage section.
Empty-nesting is a time of adjustment. Some find relief that their children have grown and flown; others find it to be a tad more than melancholy as the house has grown quiet, and the bedrooms are unused. Our Lord has promised to provide everything that you need (Philippians 4:19). He will enable you to adjust to this time (Philippians 4:13). He wants to give you His peace (John 14:27; 16:33). His joy is a fruit that He wants to grow in your life (Galatians 5:22-23). Laughter doesn’t have to leave your home just because you are an empty-nester. In fact, laughter is good for you and your spouse (Proverbs 17:17). Before you know it, perhaps sooner than you expect, you will have the joy of becoming a grandparent. Yes, grandchildren are a joy (Proverbs 17:6).
When you think about it, empty-nesting really never fully happens for believing spouses. The Lord, your spouse, and you can have wonderful days ahead with your grown children, their children, and your friends.