Bill left a voice message for his wife, Betty, saying that he was still at the office working on an urgent project and would be late for dinner. Betty? She had already left a note on the kitchen counter telling him that his dinner was in the oven—she was carting kids to play practice and soccer games. Missing each other was nothing new. For Bill and Betty, parents of three boys, ages eight, twelve, and fourteen, family life at best was hectic and couple time was rare. The intimacy and easy-going relationship they experienced before the kids came along was simply missing. "Well, someday," they reminded each other, "the boys will grow up and leave the nest; then we will have time for each other; then we can recapture the closeness we used to enjoy."
As optimistic as Bill and Betty are, trends indicate having a great empty nest marriage may not be so simple. Consider another couple. A few months ago Alan and Leah dropped their last child, Julie, off at college. A week later they called Julie to tell her, "Mom and Dad are getting a divorce." Statistics validate that empty nest marriages are breaking up in record numbers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, although divorce in the United States generally declined from 1981 to 1991, divorce among couples married thirty years or more showed a sharp increase. Overall, divorce went down 1.4 percent during the decade, while divorce in the thirty-years-plus marriages increased 16 percent.
Maybe you haven't reached the thirty-year mark, but you can imagine it from here. What can you do now to prepare your marriage for the empty nest so you won't become a statistic? A lot! And we're going to get you started.1