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What does an empty nest mean for your relationship?

An empty nest can be an exciting time in a couple’s journey, but only if you have nurtured your relationship regularly. If not, the cracks will begin to show as soon as the kids have left home

The empty nest syndrome perhaps adds to the problems that already exist in a marriage. Photo: Pixabay

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In India, it is very common for children to stay with their parents through their adult lives. While that may still hold true for a large subset of Indians, moving to different cities and countries for higher studies has become popular with children in urban areas. This has led to a rise of empty nester parents in India. An empty nester is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as a person whose adult children have left home.

K, a recently divorced client, reached out to me for advice to get back into the dating scene. She is 49 years old and has two children, a 23-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. Her marriage of 25 years ended two years after her son went to college. K feels that her divorce was collateral damage of becoming an empty nester.

For 25 years, K and her husband, a finance professional, had lived in different parts of the world. In the early years of raising their kids they had always moved as a unit to wherever her husband’s work took them. As the children grew older, K stayed back in Mumbai for the sake of their education, while her husband traversed three continents.

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K was busy with the children. The family met during holidays. Initially K made an effort to meet her husband for short periods whenever circumstances permitted but with time that ceased to happen. Things fell into a pattern where both K and her husband started functioning independently. It was easy for both of them.

When her son left for college at 18, K’s husband decided to lead a semi-retired life and came back to Mumbai. It had been a decade since K and her husband had lived apart. The decision to take things slow and be together also seemed the logical one, now that their responsibilities towards raising their kids had been fulfilled. K, though, was experiencing the classic empty nest syndrome, a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children move out of the family home.

That one year that the couple lived together was the roughest one in their marriage. The focus of their relationship, for as far as they remembered, had been on bringing up the children. When that task was done, K felt empty and directionless like many other empty nester mothers. K also realised that her husband and she didn’t even know who they had become while living apart. As the parent living away, her husband could not relate to her emotions. Instead, he accused her of tardiness in her wifely duties. That comment hit K hard as she realised that her husband with all his exposure, was still a conservative man.

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This fundamental disconnect kept them in a constant state of bickering and things got to a point where neither of them wanted to be together.

In my opinion, K’s marriage ended because it already had issues, which went unnoticed as the couple got busy in raising their family. The empty nest syndrome perhaps added to the problems that already existed.

A couple friend of mine A and S are in a similar situation where the latter, the husband, had a job in another country but they coped with their empty nest syndrome in a very different way. A, the wife did go through loneliness and lack of any meaningful pursuit after their children left. However, the couple was a cohesive unit from the beginning and craved to be with each other while they lived apart. The solidness of their marriage helped handle the anxiety and emptiness that A felt when the kids moved way. 

I asked A and S to give me examples of how they are enjoying being empty nesters. They both said they party harder now as there is no rush to get home, they can practically do everything together which was not easy to do when you have small kids. Of course, they travel as much as they can. A, points out that their sex life has improved significantly as it is more spontaneous now. In general, the atmosphere they have managed to create is secure and encouraging. A is thinking of restarting her career, now that there is so much time at hand.

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The problem in a marriage does not arise because of the empty nest, rather it only gets highlighted. It is clear that K and her husband had already fallen within a detached pattern while they were apart. While A and S were still into each other. An empty nest is a reality we need to get used to and it can be a very exciting time in a couple’s journey, but not without having nurtured the relationship on a regular basis.

This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on simran@floh.in

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    31.12.2022 | 01:00 PM IST
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