Empty nest syndrome is a complex and emotional situation many married couples face after their children leave home for college, work, or to start their own families. A parent may feel lonely, depressed, and without purpose. They may also feel relieved, happy, and eager to start a new chapter. This emotional mash-up and other marital challenges can lead a long-married couple to divorce.
What is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome is the label for feelings of sadness, grief, and loneliness that parents experience when their children move out. For many couples, this period marks a significant shift in their lives.
They must adapt to a new routine, redefine their roles, and rediscover each other as individuals and partners. While some couples successfully navigate this transition, others face considerable challenges that can strain their relationship to the breaking point.
Why Would Empty Nest Syndrome Lead to Divorce?
A critical reason empty nest syndrome can lead to divorce is the shift in priorities that often occurs. Parents dedicated their time, energy, and resources to raising their children for years. When they leave, couples may have more free time and the opportunity to focus on their interests and desires.
This newfound freedom can lead to self-discovery, which may reveal that they have grown apart or developed different aspirations. These parents may struggle to redefine their identities once the nest is empty. Some couples may realize they have grown apart and have little in common beyond their children.
Raising children often provides couples with a shared purpose and a sense of unity. When children leave, this shared purpose disappears, leaving a void that some couples struggle to fill. Couples may feel disconnected and adrift without a common goal, leading to a sense of emptiness in the relationship.
Unrealistic expectations about life can accompany empty nest syndrome once the children are gone. Some couples may believe that their relationship will automatically improve or that they will instantly reconnect. When these expectations are unmet, disappointment and frustration can set in, leading to marital dissatisfaction and, in some cases, divorce.
Middle-aged empty nesters also may face issues that add additional stress. Their health may start to decline. Couples may face financial problems, especially if one loses a job and paying for college dries up a chunk of their savings. They may also be burdened by their elderly parents’ health issues and need for financial help.
Effective communication is critical to the success of any marriage, and the absence of children can reveal pre-existing communication issues. With fewer distractions and obligations, couples may become acutely aware of communication breakdowns or unaddressed conflicts that have been simmering beneath the surface. These unresolved issues can create tension and push couples toward divorce if not adequately addressed.
What are Coping Strategies for Empty Nesters?
While empty nest syndrome can pose significant challenges to a marriage, divorce is not inevitable. Many couples successfully navigate this transition and emerge with stronger, more fulfilling relationships. Here are some coping strategies:
- Open Communication: Addressing feelings and concerns openly and honestly is crucial. Couples should make an effort to talk about their expectations, fears, and future aspirations.
- Reconnect: Rediscover each other as individuals and as a couple. Rekindle shared interests or explore new hobbies and experiences together.
- Seek Support: If you cannot turn the situation around by yourselves, you may need a therapist or counselor. Professional guidance can help couples work through challenges and improve communication.
- Set New Goals: Create new goals and aspirations together. Whether they are traveling, volunteering, or pursuing personal interests, having shared goals can help couples find purpose and meaning.
- Spend Quality Time Together: Prioritize quality time spent together. This could be through date nights, weekend getaways, or simply spending time talking and connecting on a daily basis.
Your marriage is unique, so what may work for one couple may not work for another. Both parties need to openly communicate what they want for their future, but that will not be easy when one or both do not know what that is.
It May be Time for a Divorce
It may be time for a divorce if your relationship challenges cannot be resolved despite your best efforts. If your marriage is just a shell of what it once was, held together by the desire to remain married “for the sake of the children,” both parties may be better off going their own way. Those divorcing later in life may face health insurance, financial, and housing issues, but they may be addressed fairly through negotiations or litigation.
Get the Help You Need from an Attorney You Can Trust
If you are thinking about getting divorced or have decided it is the right choice, call us at (215) 608-1867 or schedule a consultation online now. No matter your age, you can start a new chapter in your life. We can talk over the phone, via a teleconference, or meet in our Langhorne or Doylestown office.