Relationship Revitalization

Relationship Revitalization

When Jackie sat down in my office, she immediately welled up with tears. She didn’t know why she was upset, especially since she has a good life: Three great kids, a kind husband with a steady medical practice, good friends, and her health.  Her two eldest children are already in college, and her third is soon to graduate from high school. We examined all of the “usual suspects” that may have triggered her upset, e.g., the anniversary of a loss, financial concerns, extended-family issues, etc., all to no avail. Finally Jackie said:  “I can’t imagine that my upset has anything to do with my youngest son heading off to college in the fall. After all, we’ve already sent two kids off to school, and are quite accustomed to the drill”. Bingo!! The clear culprit was the upcoming loss of her last child.

It’s normal and expected that each of us will grieve when a child leaves home.  What we may not anticipate is the impact this will have on our marital relationship. Starting with the birth of a first child, the parental dyad necessarily becomes more child-focused. Even in the best marriages, a growing family takes the emphasis off the couple’s relationship.  So when children leave home, couples must inevitably reconfigure their relationship into something that no longer focuses on the kids. This can be unsettling, at best, and many couples who are at this juncture, actually question whether they still have enough in common to sustain their marriage.

So if you have these same concerns, you need not feel alone.  But rather than sit with the discomfort and angst about the livelihood of your marriage, why not get off your duff and do something about it?  Whether your child is 7 or 17, why not begin now to strengthen your marital relationship? Doing so will clearly benefit you and your partner. Additionally, however, by improving your marriage you will reassure your child that it’s OK for him or her to focus on the developmental task of separating from you, and creating an independent life.

There are steps you can take to begin rebuilding an intimate bond between you and your partner. Sit down together and conduct a Relationship Assessment by asking yourselves the following questions:

  • What interests do we already have in common, and what new interests would we like to develop together?

  • Do we have a shared vision for our joint future?

  • Do we still have fun together?

  • How effective are our communication and problem-solving skills, and what can we do to improve them?

  • How much time are we currently spending together, and is it sufficient?

  • How good is our sexual relationship, and what can we do to spice it up?

  • What would we like more of from one another as we move forward?

  • What would we like less of?

  • With what issues is each of us personally wrestling, and how can our partner assist us in resolving these issues?

In addition to grieving that her youngest child was about to leave the nest, Jackie realized that she was apprehensive about the future of her marriage. So we invited her husband Brad into our next session, rolled up our sleeves, and started revitalizing their relationship.  What Jackie also learned was that some of what she’d been experiencing as anxiety was actually excitement about the possibility of having a much closer bond with Brad in the years to come.