If you limit the passion in your marriage for security what do you have when you become empty nesters?
When we think about marriage, starting a family, merging bank accounts, and buying a home together, it makes sense that we look for someone who provides comfort and security. Passion and adventure begin to take the back seat to the more responsible aspects of our lives.
This works well for building a life together and raising kids. It works well for getting through the never-ending to-do lists and dividing and conquering. This, however, stops working well when the kids are grown, when there’s finally space for your own needs and desires in your life and you’re staring across the kitchen table at someone to whom you do not feel drawn or connected; a stranger or a roommate, rather than a lover.
Now all of a sudden this stable and comfortable marriage no longer feels so secure and stable. We’re not certain that what we wanted for the first half of our lives is what we want for the second half of our lives. This is likely one of the reasons why we’ve seen the divorce rates for couples over 50 more than double in recent years, according to The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.
The question becomes: Is it serving us to limit the passion in our marriages in favor of safety and security. The answer may be “yes,” in the short run, but maybe not in the long run.
Here’s how this happens and five ways you can course-correct empty nest marriage if you want your marriage to have both security and passion:
Are You Willing to be Unproductive? When given the option of taking care of business around the house and with the kids or spending time together doing absolutely nothing productive, most couples choose the former. We live in a time where everyone has more on their plates than they can manage, so it’s easy to see how we choose being productive and useful, considering it almost irresponsible and frivolous to take time just to be together, without actually contributing anything tangible. A little unproductivity can go a long way.
Are You Willing to Express What You Need? We’ve been taught to put everyone else’s needs before our own. We’ve been told that it’s selfish to focus on what we want. Expressing our needs and desires within our relationship isn’t something that we do frequently or consistently. Therefore, we often don’t get our needs met and then feel like no one’s taking care of us. Maybe you want to hear the words “I love you” or “I appreciate you” more frequently. Maybe you yearn for more touch and affection. But our partners likely will not give us those things if they don’t know that’s what we need. If we don’t tell them, they’re left to guess about our needs, or worse, give us what they would need. Maybe it’s easier to simply ask for what it is we need and want.
Are You Willing to Rock the Boat? So often I hear people say that they haven’t had a difficult conversation with their spouse because they don’t want to rock the boat. They’d rather keep the peace for the moment than resolve the real issue. So, the issue never gets resolved and continues to negatively affect the relationship. If passion or adventure in the relationship feels like a luxury, rather than a necessity, it is easy to see how we can convince ourselves that it’s not important enough to endure a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. Just as all the growth happens for each of us individually in our areas of greatest discomfort, the same holds true for our marriages. Be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation so that your relationship can also evolve and grow.
Are You Willing to Get Away Together? We prioritize family vacations over taking vacations together as a couple, without the kids and without the extended family. One of my clients who I’ll refer to as Julia told me that over the thirty years she and her husband have been married, they had not taken a single vacation on their own. Thirty years. Not one. They had one child that they felt guilty leaving at home. When their daughter was in her late teenage years she became a bit of a handful and they didn’t trust leaving her at home or even with someone else. And now, they’re so disconnected that they don’t really want to take a vacation alone. Prioritize taking vacations as a couple if you haven’t done so in a while.
Are You Willing to Not Let Your Tank get to Empty? The kids are in 2-3 sports or activities each. You’re both working full time. We’re plugged-in to technology practically 24×7. We work so hard that by the end of the day, the tank is empty. We collapse into bed falling asleep practically as soon as our heads hit the pillow with no energy to connect with our beloved in any kind of meaningful way at the end of the day. The end of each day is a perfect time to carve out 15-20 minutes for the two of you to talk and share the important pieces of your day. And obviously, it’s the perfect time to connect physically. It’s difficult to give anything when our tanks are on empty, so it’s important that we don’t give it all away to everyone else all day so that there’s nothing left for the one who needs and deserves it the most.
Most of this comes down to being willing to prioritize our relationship with our spouses in our daily lives. There’s a false understanding that we have to choose between security and passion. What is true is that security without passion isn’t fulfilling or sustainable and passion without security is risky and frivolous. We need to make space for both in order to begin to create the kind of relationships that feel alive, loving and connected over the long haul.