There are many issues in marriage. Maybe one of the most challenging situations is during the transition to the empty nest years. On average, couples face this stage of marriage between 50 to 64, as their children transition to independence. As major transitions occur during this time, significant challenges are often faced.
Statistics show that the likelihood for divorce increases by 16 percent for those who have been married 30 years or longer. This figure suggests that the empty nest years can be a time of great challenge. In their book, Fighting for Your Empty Nest Marriage (Arp et al., 2000), a group of well-known marriage authors suggest three problematic ways in which couples enter the empty nest years: (1) Drift, (2) Crash, and (3) Charge.
- Drift – is characterized by entering these transitional years without much thought or awareness. It is like waking up one day, and realizing everyone has grown up and moved away. For couples who have avoided critical marriage issues for years, they now recognize an emerging struggle with feelings of being disconnected from their partner.
- Crash – some enter the second half of marriage in crisis mode. As the time and focus placed on caring for children’s needs is no longer immediate, couples in this mode experience a lack of meaning or purpose in their marriage. This often leads the couple to a state of vulnerability in which one may seek a quick divorce or develop extra-marital relationships.
- Charge – other couples have a sense of optimism and excitement about the empty next years but find themselves blindsided by discouraging circumstances. These crises may include chronic health problems, mounting financial issues, or unwanted career transitions.
Many couples find themselves unprepared for the second half of marriage. When this occurs, people are tempted to give up on their vision and commitment to their spouse. The empty nest years can be a confusing time of transition.
Psalm 92:12 tells us, “The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, he will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; they shall be full of sap and very green, to declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
Palm trees are known for their long life. To flourish like palm trees means to stand tall and to live long. Cedars of Lebanon grow to 120 feet in height and up to 30 feet in circumference. They were amazingly sturdy, and immovable. There is a promise in the psalm above: those who place their faith firmly in God can have this kind of strength in life.
For those meeting challenges or crises in the second half of marriage, please reflect on the promise above. If you know of a couple who is struggling in a transition, please offer the hope and promise of God’s restoration.
At Christian Counseling Associates, we have many resources available for couples who find themselves unprepared for the “Empty Nest Years.” Sometimes connecting with marriage counseling is a great first step. Also, our upcoming February marriage enrichment weekend, “From This Day Forward” (Click Here for Information) is a great resource for couples facing this issues.
For those facing the second half of marriage, we pray for you this weekend. At Christian Counseling Associates, we know that these years are a time where God’s promises can shine in your marriage. In this season of life, may we enter not with a mindset of winding down, but with a sense of optimism and a knowledge that with God’s help, the best is yet to come!
Richard Hoffman Ph.D.
Christian Counseling Associates of Western PA