Last month, my husband and I took our first kid-free vacation in the history of our six years of marriage.
And although things didn’t go down as romantically and perfectly as I had envisioned them in my head, the trip was definitely an eye-opener for me.
For the first time in a really long time, I was alone for huge amounts of time with my husband. Days upon days stretched out endlessly before us, and instead of feeling unencumbered without the constraints of our three young children, I realized I was feeling slightly … well, panicked.
What on earth would we talk about? Did I have anything to say to my husband that didn’t involve phrases like, “Honey, he needs a diaper change,” or “Who’s doing school drop-off this morning?” You mean we had to actually have a (gasp) real, adult conversation all day, every day?
I admit, the trip shed some light on the fact that we are a little out of practice being a couple and not just parents. Our days are spent separately, as are most of our nights, with us splitting baths, kitchen clean-up, and bedtime duties simply for survival’s sake. And with me being pregnant with my fourth, it’s all I can do to not collapse before 9 o’clock every night while my husband relaxes in front of the TV.
We had fun on our trip for sure, but there definitely was a little moment of panic for me, when I started thinking about the distant future (which, admittedly does seem very distant right now …) when our children won’t rule our hearts, our homes, and every second of our days and nights. Will we still be able to connect and enjoy conversation with each other?
Dr. Carla says my feelings aren’t unusual.
“It is very common for couples to feel out of sync with each other after the emotional and physical rigors of child-rearing years subside,” Dr. Carla Greco of Lifespan Psychological Services explains. “Without parenting tasks as common bond, many couples fear that they’ve little left to discuss or share with each other.”
To remedy the dreaded “empty nest” syndrome, or even the “kids growing older” syndrome, Dr. Carla says it is ideal for couples to make time and space for nurturing their relationship as their own children grow. Makes sense, even if I’m not doing a fab job of it right now.
Fortunately (or unfortunately?), Dr. Carla says most couples often lose touch as their children become the focus, and she maintains that there is hope. “Instead of lamenting about what might not have been done to nurture the relationship in the past, couples are far better served to pour their energy into rekindling the love and beauty of the relationship. The substantial amounts of time, money, and energy that were once channeled into the children can now be directed into the couple’s future.”
She continues, “By focusing on shared interests and dreams — rather than on what is no longer common ground — couples can navigate their way into a new relationship that is well-grounded from years of parenting and hard work. Although it may take effort to become best friends and lovers again, the payoff is incredible for those who persevere!”
So maybe there’s hope for us yet?
Image via j&j brusie photography