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How do you talk to each other when the number one topic you’ve shared has just moved away?
When your last child leaves home, you may find yourself looking at your spouse and thinking “Who IS this person?”
You’ve spent years with children surrounding you as a couple, with “mom and dad” taking center stage, while the couple at the center of the family took a back seat.
And now that you’re alone, you’re just not sure what to talk about. Or, let’s be real, if you even like this other person.
Talking about the trip to move your son or daughter to college will hold you for awhile, but there will come a time when you realize that this is the person you are left with.
And without daily kid stories, you may find that you don’t have a whole lot to talk about.
You’re older and you’re tired. Everything has changed.
While you’ve shared a lot through the years, you are undoubtedly very different than the newlyweds you started as.
What do you do now?
With years of conversations focused on children, you have to learn how to talk to each other.
You have to get to know your partner all over again and you need to learn to communicate about things besides the children.
So how do you start?
If you gave this some thought before the kids left, you’re ahead in the game. You may have investigated ideas for the changes you and your husband want to make. Maybe you even talked about it.
That’s the most important part. Talking and figuring out what direction you want your life to go.
You begin separately by defining what you want out of the rest of your life and out of your relationship.
You listen to each other and try to come up with a game plan that meets as many of each of your needs as possible.
And you have to be willing to shake things up and change the way you’ve always communicated.
In a sense, you are newlyweds again.
You are feeling your way to how to live with your partner and you have to remember that your love for each other is at the center of that.
Making separate lists will help you each define your needs and wants.
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Make a point of setting up times to talk about your separate and mutual goals and how you can each support the other in reaching them.
If he wants to start training to get in shape and enter a 5K, give him support in reaching his goal. Consider joining him. If something prevents you from doing that, become his cheerleader. Help him get better nutrition, watch him train and be at the finish line for him.
If you want to take a vacation to someplace you’ve dreamed about, get him excited about it. Even if it’s your dream, show him that there will be benefits to him too.
Does he want to change jobs, or even careers? Look at what that would mean to your finances and how the cost will benefit you both in the long run. A career change may be what he has waited to do until after the children were off. How can you compromise so that you are both happy?
Do you want to go back to school? Does that mean he will have to take on more of the home responsibilities to allow you to study?
Besides direction, you may also need to deal with some of the relationship baggage that you pushed away while the kids were home.
Without the insulation of your family, hurt feelings and resentments are bound to come up. If your relationship is important to both of you, this is an opportunity to finally deal with your problems and emerge stronger for it.
If the discussion is sensitive and likely to be stressful, start it in a neutral setting – go out to dinner and chat about the general points away from home.
Commit to being dedicated and enthusiastic about each other’s goals.
You are still parents and many of your discussions will be about the kids, but make a point to center on each other at least a few minutes each day and even one entire date evening.
Make each other the center of your relationship.
Many marriages do not survive major life events. Having your children leave is a huge change in your lifestyle and change, for good or for bad, is stressful.
If your marriage was already fractured, you’ll no longer have any distractions from seeing the problems.
But if you have had a good marriage, this can be a fulfilling and wonderful time as you learn to once again be just the two of you.
The first step is making your relationship the priority and being honest with each other about how you view your future without children at home.
- Set up regular date nights. Even if talking without mentioning the children is awkward at first, it will get better.
- Save events of your day to share with him over dinner. Ask him open ended question about his day.
- Break up your routine. Go to the gym (or meet him there) when you get home and eat a little later. Or a lot later if you get delayed taking a shower.
- Decide on a project you will do together on the weekends. It could be remodeling, looking at homes if you want to downsize, starting a new hobby, taking day trips. It doesn’t matter what it is, so long as your weekend is not all lawn mowing and laundry.
Marriage after kids can be an exciting new development in your relationship and your life.
Don’t sit on the sidelines and let time pass by. This is the time you’ve earned after raising your children. Make it count.
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