Real Family Talk
Keeping the Spark Alive
by Willie and Elaine Oliver
How can one keep the fires burning with one’s spouse once the children have left home? —Becky, Princeton, New Jersey
A good marriage is one in which the spouses consistently show regard for each other before children, during children, and after children. This kind of relationship is where husband and wife make their marriage a priority, so that their home feels like a little heaven on earth. A lack of regard for the marriage in which at least one spouse places a low priority on the relationship will create the opposite effect: a conflicted and devitalized marriage.
The empty nest syndrome refers to a time in the life of parents or guardians when their children leave home to go away to school, get married, or move out on their own. It is a time filled with feelings of loneliness and the reality that parents are becoming less influential in the lives of their children, while others—perhaps professors, friends, or spouses—seem to rank higher in importance in the lives of their children.
During this time in the life of a married couple, it is important for them to realize the need to make their marriage the most important relationship in their lives. This reality is a normal part of the life cycle. When people get married, their relationship with their spouse becomes the primary relationship, second only to God. The Bible actually refers to this in Genesis when God says: “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). To be sure, marriage is the only relationship on earth where you become one with another human being. This is not the case with children, and should never be.
Invariably, when children are born, one or both of the spouses may make them the central focus of attention to the detriment of the marriage. While it is true babies are helpless and need the careful attention of responsible adults to grow, they should never take the place of a spouse or the marriage relationship will suffer and be stunted in its growth. This is the kind of reality that bodes poorly for a marriage and becomes glaring when children leave home, leaving the couple very little in common.
Couples who make their marriage a priority before, during, and after children have left home, will find comfort in each other and ameliorate feelings of disaffection. Of course, if this is not the case, and it is why you are asking about what to do to keep the fires burning now that the children are gone, all is not lost. It is not too late to make a change.
We encourage you to engage your spouse in conversation about your present reality and your desire to develop a closer, more intimate relationship as you deal with this stage of your marriage. You may even want to ask your spouse to forgive you for not being all you could have been, and pledging your desire to do better going forward. You may also agree to enlist the help of a good Christian counselor to help you talk through the hurt and pain of the past. This will help you develop strategies for building a stronger, more satisfying union, reigniting the spark you once had.
Remember Christ’s promise: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). We are praying for you to trust God to help you sustain a vibrant, satisfying marriage for years to come.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, MA, CFLE, an educator and counseling psychologist, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Address your questions to them at family.adventist.org.