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10 great ways for empty-nesters to reconnect

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By Lee Cutrone, November 2018

“Wait, you’re still here?”

When Denise DiGiglia turned 65, she and her husband Mike had a party and asked their guests to bring photos of themselves when they were young. The pictures served as a fun icebreaker and helped guests (who also included people in their 30s) get to know one another through reminiscing. The party was a huge success. It was also a prime example of the kind of creativity that can help spouses reconnect during the empty nest phase of life.

The Mayo Clinic defines empty nest syndrome as “a phenomenon in which parents experience feelings of sadness and loss when the last child leaves home.” Some couples also feel awkward or distant with one another during this period of adjustment when children are no longer the primary focus. According to relationship therapist Peggy Demarest, LMFT, many couples will be able to navigate this phase on their own. Many others, who have not given their relationship the energy or focus it requires because they’ve been distracted by raising kids, making a living and developing their careers may find it more challenging.

“They are the ones who suffer most because they are lost when the kids leave,” she says.

In relationships where issues like resentment, hurt or anger have been pushed aside and unresolved, Demarest says there may be a more serious disconnect where counseling is needed.

The upside is that empty nesters have more free time to reconnect, renew and even strengthen their marriage bond. They also may have greater financial freedom than they did when they were younger.

According to therapist Matt Morris, PhD, who specializes in couples counseling, pre-marital counseling and family therapy (, recent research from Britain shows marital satisfaction at its highest before kids and after the kids leave home. But for those having a difficult time with this developmental shift, he says it’s “a problem mostly solved with time and intentionality.” 

The following combination of tips from Demarest and Morris can help.

1) Find activities you can do together. While many parents may have developed hobbies of their own, now is the time to develop interests you can share. As a guide to the best activities, Morris uses the acronym CHOP – anything Creative, Hands-on, Outdoors and Physical. Cooking, dancing, yoga, walking pets, anything goes. He also notes that the home cooking kit trend is a perfect way to make dinner for two a special departure from the kid-friendly, chicken nugget fare of the child-rearing years.

2) Make a regular date night, take advantage of the city’s many romantic attractions or set aside time for weekend getaways or trips and stick to the plan, which is really about making time for each other. Make new memories exclusive to yourself as a couple. The DiGiglias, who live on a boat, head out on the lake every weekend they can and share an attitude of adventure and spontaneity.

3) Try a self-help book. “There are many good self-help books that can help with communication,” says Demarest. Two of her favorites:  Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couplesby Harville Hendrix and The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman.

4) Reminisce about what life was like before having kids. “Telling each other stories can help bring the energy back into the relationship,” says Morris.

5) Entertain Others. Bring others – who aren’t your kids and kids’ friends’ parents into the house. Friends are a good support system and maybe experiencing similar things.

6) Volunteer Together. Find a meaningful organization to join and serve together advises Morris. “It’s a great way to kickstart that feeling of ‘we can be ok together’ and we have a lot to give and look forward to,” he says.

7) Shop Together. Buy something together, buy something for your partner, or perhaps get a haircut. See each other in a new way.

8) Touch. Morris recommends beginning and ending the day with a touch, a hug, a kiss. “People forget to do that,” he says.

9) Make time to talk daily. Put aside the cell phone, talk face-to-face and have what Morris calls “us conversations.”  Finding time to talk is “massive,” says Demarest. “Find time to appreciate each other and verbalize it and remind yourself about the things you love about that person.” One of Demarest’s client couples went a step further, making a list of everything they loved about the other.

10) Seek Help. Workshops – local or elsewhere in the country – can be useful tools for enhancing your marriage. Demarest says workshops can be a “real starter,” and Morris adds that “You don’t have to have a problem to go to a workshop. They are for enhancement.”  When there are problems in the relationship, counseling by a professional can help identify and work toward solving them.


Lee has been a freelance writer for 26 years. She writes profiles of people, places, businesses and trends, as well as home and garden articles, fashion features, shopping guides, health and wellness pieces and more.

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