When your child leaves home to go to university, college, work or to get married, it is hugely significant. It marks the end of an era and the opening of a new and uncertain chapter.
Many couples realise they have drifted apart and that habit, fear of the unknown and the children were the only things holding them together as the love and friendship have faded.
Other couples discover that one of them has spent more of their time being a parent and looking after the house while the other has been away working.
The change in the dynamic normally hits the stay-at-home parent hardest and brings into question what their purpose is now.
The parent who is at work and the main provider may be unaware of the deep impact this has. Empty Nest Syndrome can create a sense of loss, sadness, loneliness, and lack of purpose.
When children move out of the family home, it can be a difficult transition period, leading to loneliness and fear about the future (stock image)
It can be a very difficult transition period because the purpose of the parents has changed.
They have largely fulfilled their role and, now the baby has flown their nest, need to look at the fundamentals of their relationship and recalibrate their purpose as individuals and as a couple.
You will have spent many years of your lives focusing on bringing up your children and, probably, been neglecting the two of you as a couple.
Relationship expert Neil Wilkie says exploring who you are as a person will bring a sense of fulfilment
But this is a wonderful opportunity to jointly start writing your new chapter as a couple. It is hugely important to focus on the future that you both want rather than wallowing in the loss.
How to support your partner through empty nest syndrome
The pandemic has had a huge impact on families and their dynamic. A child leaving after spending so much time with parents over lockdown may heighten empty nest syndrome for some.
Many families will have developed even stronger bonds and the family members who remain may also feel jealous or betrayed: ‘I have looked after them through all this trauma and now they are heading out into the light, leaving poor me stuck in this grey world’.
There are lots of things you can do to help support your partner. Understand that you and your partner may have very different perceptions and feelings about the change.
Neil advises that this is a wonderful opportunity for creating a new and better relationship as you cannot go back in time to try and recreate what it was
One may be thinking, ‘I’m delighted they have taken a big step forward and taken their horizontal wardrobe and smelly socks with them.’
The other may be worrying about how they will cope and missing their daily hugs. This is a journey of letting go that both of you are on and at different speeds.
Here are some ideas of how to help each other:
Set aside time and space to talk about them and each take it in turns to listen, without interruption, about what you:
- Love about them
- Remember with joy from their past
- Will miss about them
- Dream for their future
- Will do to support them on their journey
- Want support from your partner on
When one of you, in the moment, are feeling upset about them having gone, tell your partner and be clear on what you want; a hug, a listening ear or help in getting resolution.
Here are the steps to allow you all to enjoy this new chapter in your lives:
FOR YOUR CHILD
- Celebrate your achievement in bringing up your child and helping them on their journey
- Talk to them about their future and what is important to them
- Let them fly free and be there to support your children when they need it
- Understand that they are different; you may feel they are still your child, but they may feel like fully grown adults
- Explore who you are as a person and what will give you fulfilment
- Be kind to yourself
- Create time to do things that will give you pleasure
- Take up a hobby or pursuit that you have wanted to do ‘if only I had time’
- Create your bucket list
- Connect with other like-minded people and share tears and laughter
- Create the time and space to talk to your partner about your feelings
How to handle the transition
This is a wonderful opportunity for creating a new and better relationship. You cannot go back in time to try and recreate what it was years ago because you are both older and circumstances have changed. Realise that a couple who have drifted apart can fall back in love again.
To create a new and better relationship you need to break the unhelpful patterns of the past. The first small step is to make time to do something together; get yourself both out of the rut and find fun and companionship. Then, you need to deal with the current problems in your relationship:
Create the space and time to have a conversation, free of interruptions
Calibrate where you both feel you are in the relationship. Give scores out of 10 (where 10 is wonderful and 1 is awful) for each of the key elements of your relationship: Communication, Connection, Commitment, Fun, Growth and Trust.
HOW TO REVITALISE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PARTNER
- Share your scores and talk through the similarities and differences
- Talk about your feelings rather than the ‘stuff’ and try and remove blame by talking about ‘I feel’ rather than ‘You don’t’
- Agree just one step that you are both going to take, that week, to improve on one priority.
- Repeat every week until you are both fully happy with the relationship.
- Once you are making positive progress, you can then start to look to the future:
- What future do you want and is that compatible with what your partner wants?
- Focus on the future that you would both like; share your dreams and maybe jointly produce a dream board to give you both something to work towards.
- Continue to take small steps and communicate openly and honestly to ensure you are both on track to fall back in love again and stay in love.
- And if your relationship is in a good place and you are happily in love, here are some ideas to help you enjoy your child free (well almost!) future:
- Schedule time each week to have fun together. Take it on turns to decide what you are going to do that will unleash the child within and laugh until you think you cannot stop.
- Explore love making. You will be free of interruptions and a listening ear so talk to each other about your sexual fantasies; what will expand your boundaries and make you tingle and more.
- Plan for some big adventures. Share your bucket lists and dreams, then decide what your priorities are. Live your dream, not dream your life.
- Examine your work commitments. Can you afford to work fewer days or even retire early?
- If you have always been a careful planner, embrace randomness and be impulsive. Seize the day rather than let it control you.
- Get out of the rut and be the people and the couple you have always wanted to be. Also become the parents that your child will feel inspired by.
Neil Wilkie is a Relationship Expert, Psychotherapist, author of the Relationship Paradigm Series of Books and creator of online couples therapy programme, The Relationship Paradigm®.