One of the most common types of couples who seek help from me in couples counseling are new empty nesters. They often say something like, “Now that our kids are gone, we don’t know what to talk about” or “We are having difficulty getting used to being alone together so much.” If you are an empty nester, does this sound familiar? If not, do you want to make sure this doesn’t happen to your marriage?
Depending on their age, children require that you feed them, change their diapers, give them advice, help them when they get hurt, help them feel comforted, play with them, listen to them when they cry, listen to them when they get excited, drive them to their practices, attend their concerts, go to PTA meetings—the list could go on forever. The fact is, children depend on you every day to exist, feel loved, and learn to navigate the treacherous growing years. In contrast, your spouse can care for his or her own needs to survive. The result is that parents spend too much energy on parenting and too little energy on their marriage.
Ask yourself the following questions to see if this could be happening to you:
1. Has it been more than a month since you went on a date with your spouse? If so, is the reason you justify not dating related to your kids?
I am a big advocate of dating in marriage relationships. Dating provides an excellent forum that can foster a healthy emotional connection—a necessary ingredient for healthy relationships. Dating was likely instrumental for you when you and your spouse fell in love. If it was so important then, it is even more important now, when so many other things pull your attention away from each other. I encourage everyone to go out on a date every week. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and if you are creative, you can find necessary childcare.
2. Do your kids go to bed much later than you would like?
If you have had young children, you can probably relate to the many struggles parents face trying to get their kids to go to bed. However, based on my experience counseling couples, allowing your kids to stay up late can reduce the amount of one-on-one time you and your spouse share.
3. Do you always choose to play or interact with your kids instead of your spouse?
I am not trying to suggest that it is bad to play with your kids. However, too often parents focus too much on being parents and let their relationship slide. Your spouse needs your attention just as much as your children.
4. When you finally get some alone time with your spouse, do you multi-task, fold laundry, or work on some other parent responsibility during your alone time?
I know that managing the responsibilities of parenting, work, church callings, and everything else can be daunting. Even so, your relationship with your spouse deserves your undivided attention. It is easy to rationalize why everything else should take priority in the moment. However, moments easily turn into years without focused attention on your marriage.
I love children. As a father, much of my greatest joy, satisfaction, and meaning in life comes from my role as a father. Fulfilling that role is a responsibility I take very seriously, as I am sure most of you do as well. However, we also have roles to play as husbands or wives.
The Lord counseled that we should “love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (Doctrine & Covenants 42:22). I interpret this to mean that spouses should be our greatest commitment. The world is a demanding place, but we need to remember to keep our marriages as our top priority.