The Gradual Slide to Disconnection

 It’s a bittersweet moment to watch your son move from being a college student to being a college grad. I’m so happy for him and his huge accomplishment, but there’s something inside of me that wants to go back to the days when he ran to my arms for comfort or believed everything I said or simply lit up when I came into the room.

Proud dad with sons including, Liberty graduate, Jordan

Those sad and sentimental moments find their way into the fabric of our marriages. It is a challenging passage that every marriage with children must go through. I’m so thankful that God has allowed me to be surrounded by my sons for a bit longer. Two of them still live at home (one in college and one in high school). And “the grad” is with us for at least one more summer while he earns money for graduate school this fall and beyond.

But I can only imagine how hard and sometimes messy this would be for many who are new empty-nesters.

My husband was an only child and so eager to get out into the adult world at 18 that he joined the Air Force without discussing this with his parents. In fact, he informed them just a day before heading out to boot camp. Yikes! My heart would have been broken, and I think my mother-in-law’s was.

One of the reasons this transition is so difficult for many is that couples have built their lives around their children. When the kids leave, they have no relationship with their spouse to turn to for comfort, perspective or companionship.

After all the years of pouring into the children, their spouse is a stranger to them. 

If you’re guilty of giving all of your energy and focus to your children—even if they are only toddlers at this point—please consider this warning! Your marriage should be your priority over your children. Your children will be healthier and happier if you do this. They will, in turn, know how to build relationship priorities when they marry.

Of course, all of this should be built upon your complete devotion to Christ. He is the One who brings it altogether seamlessly with beauty and unity.

If you feel overwhelmed by this task, then choose today to reconnect in small ways. My husband and I do simple things like spending five minutes each day asking questions like …

  • What was a high or low in your day today?
  • What are you reading about in your time with God?
  • What is something you’d like to accomplish in the near future?
  • What friend in your life really encourages you and why?

If you commit to this you may be able to move on to the next level of reconnection. Make time to talk for an extended period of time—an hour or more each week. Set it on your calendar or it won’t get done. Keep this time positive and add more relationship building questions like …

  • What is one small thing you’d like me to start doing?
  • What is one small thing you’d like me to avoid? (Stay positive with this one!)
  • What are some ways I can pray for you?

Or

  • Share one or two things you appreciate about your spouse with your spouse.
  • Share one or two positive feelings you’ve felt when being around your spouse.
  • Make a commitment to pray a small prayer together each day either at the beginning or end of the day.

These are simple steps that can rebuild your relationship. If you commit yourselves to pursuing this with God’s help, you’ll rekindle that love that has been overshadowed by years of neglect and distraction. 

God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.” Mark 10:9 (NCV)

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  • thanks for the great questions. I was just talking about this season of empty nesting (I’m not quite there yet) with my mother in law who is visiting with us this month. How grateful I am that my husband and I are not child centered, that we have always tried to be balanced in that area. I see how it goes for many whose entire life focus is their kids and what a crisis that becomes when they leave. Love your advice and wisdom here, its so helpful. And I’m going to snatch some of your ideas.

  • Ro elliott

    oh yes…good words here…we are 4 down one to go…I consider us half nesters…we are home alone a lot these days…My husband and i started going to breakfast every sat. morning about 10 yrs ago…we had 5 kids at home. we would be out of the house before 7 and home by 9. over the years as the kids got older…we started staying gone a little longer…would take runs together…I am so thankful we took to build while our kids where home…I see so many people my age with dead marriages…marriages falling apart because they did keep that connection when the kids where young. Thanks for sharing this important encouragement….blessings to you~

  • i hear you on this…about a year ago we went through a particular rough patch because we were neglecting this and life had become about the kids…and honestly i felt left out in many ways…and we did much of this recultivation as well…i tolf someone the other day it was like we were first dating again, getting to know each other and asking things to find out about each other…its so important you know…

  • Janae Maslowski

    It is so valuable to re-evaluate, to talk, to allow for a rebirth of a marriage through the years. Thanks for stopping by my blog today. <3

  • Congratulations to you all, and to Jordan. That’s quite an accomplishment.

    I can’t imagine (nor do I want to!) how your m-i-l must have felt when her 18-yr-old told her he was leaving the next day. Tough.

    Great questions for couples to talk through. As an almost empty-nester myself (3 more months), it is something on my mind.

  • messymarriage

    I’m so glad you’ve made your marriage a priority, Shelly. It truly is a gift to our children and then “insurance” (a plan that keeps us protected from spousal alienation) for when our children leave. Snatch away at the questions too. I always love to provide resources!

  • messymarriage

    Half-nesters! Yes, I think that’s kind of what I am too! My husband and I set our time together on Wednesday nights and spend his day off on Friday together–but haven’t tried breakfast together yet. We’ll have to give that a try! Thanks for stopping by and encouraging, Ro!

  • messymarriage

    Yes, it’s not just reserved for empty or almost-nesters. Any couple can grow apart, especially when there are kids involved. So glad you “found” each other again, Brian. I can tell from some of the beautiful and romantic prose you write about her!

  • messymarriage

    Rebirth is a good word for it. Many who end up in divorce court, never realize the hidden potential that is present in a dying marriage–especially when God’s power is involved. Thanks so much for stopping by, Janae!

  • messymarriage

    Thanks, Lisa! We are so proud of him! Thanks also for stopping by to encourage me, Lisa. And I’m glad I hit on a topic that’s relevant to you as well. 🙂

  • Heather Copple

    Nice reminder for people. When Dakota was so sick all of the time, Scott and I got so caught up in him that we forgot each other for a while. We got back on track and stay centered on each other more than the kids.

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    what an accomplishment! but you are so.so right. every new stage brings with it new water to navigate together!

  • Congratulations to you and your family on the proud accomplishment of your son. I’m blessed to have married my best friend. I love the idea of asking questions, but we talk about everything. I love your commitment to marriage and encouraging all the married couples out there. I’m a huge fan of marriage.

  • messymarriage

    Yeah, having a child who is chronically sick/disabled or goes through a season of rebellion can really deplete any marriage relationship. I’m so glad that you and Scott realized the need to reconnect after Dakota’s illnesses, Heather. Also glad that Dakota is healthy and strong now! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for stopping by to encourage, congratulate and weigh in, Tara. It’s greatly appreciated! 🙂

  • messymarriage

    I’m so glad you have such a great relationship with your husband. Keep up the good work! Thanks also for encouraging me at what we do here. I’m a huge fan of marriage too! 🙂

  • soulstops

    Congrats, Beth, on this new stage and “Thanks” for all that you are doing to support marriage…I have forwarded your posts to friends at times…great tips to stay connected…thankful I married my best friend 🙂

  • Beth,
    This is such a wise and valuable post. Your practical advice has deep spiritual implications for our marriages and our families! It is so important for me to remember to take the time to focus on my husband in the midst of a full and hectic kids’ schedule, yet it’s also so easy for me to let this slide. Thanks for the reminder of the blessings of marriage!
    Ann

  • messymarriage

    Thanks so much, Dolly! We are very proud of Jordan’s accomplishment and can’t believe we have a son with a degree!

    And you’re quite welcome about all that we do here. It is a calling from God and He empowers and inspires us–nothing that we can take credit for. But I am so very grateful that you’ve let me know it’s making a difference and is helpful for some of your friends! Hugs*

  • messymarriage

    You’re words are always so encouraging to me, Ann. I really wish we had cyber-met before the AACC conference in April so we could’ve met up at the conference. I would’ve loved to have given you a hug and chatted a bit. Thanks also for all “you’re” doing to resource and empower marriages. Kudos to you as well, sister!

  • You have a beautiful family! Thank you for these wonderful reminders. I have a 9 and 13 year old, so it’s good to remember that these times will be gone before I know it. Congratulations on your son’s graduation 🙂

  • Thank you for writing this. I have a 13 year old and a 4 year old. Husband works 12 hour days…my life revolves around the kids. Today I will ask some questions and reconnect! Blessings!!

  • messymarriage

    Life just keeps on moving faster and faster as my kids and, unfortunately, I get older, Lori. 😉 Savor every minute with the kids and the hubster! Thanks for stopping by!

  • messymarriage

    Oh my! I will pray for you Starla. That’s an incredibly tough position to be in. It’s just so hard on a marriage. 🙁 But I’m so glad you’re recommiting to the pursuit of your hubby!

  • Kimberly

    Thanks for the practical questions, Beth. I saw on Pinterest (shocking, I know!) where you put such questions in a jar or container and make a practice out of, before you flip on the TV, draw one out as a conversation starter.

  • I went to a parenting seminar this week and the speaker spoke about how difficult it was to have a hard conversation with his wife. He also said the marriage CDs are his lowest sellers. So thank you for encouraging us to work on our marriages. Our favorite conversation starter is: what is the funniest thing that happened to you today? My husband also has the wildlife watch about what animals he has seen on his daily commute. Just to throw a few more ideas out there.