First comes romance, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Why then do so many marriages end in divorce? The elation of anticipation of life together turns to the lackluster daily grind of monotony, we get distracted and we lose each other. Often when something is lost, if we put a little effort in, we can find it again.
When we are in the romance stage, we are the very best version of ourselves. We are full of goals, hopes and dreams. Then we marry. We are still full of goals, hopes and dreams, but real life edges in on us. Real life takes energy to live – we are paying bills, establishing ourselves in careers, maybe paying off school debt, maintaining our possessions and sometimes taking on a mortgage, all while learning to live with this wonderfully different human being. Then one day, children come along. Children are a blessing from the Lord, but their life needs are exhausting. Because attending to their needs from infant through the teenage years requires so much of our energy, the needs of each spouse and the marriage often get ignored. These challenges can leave a marriage dry but they don’t have to. Your mind holds the key to success in the form of your memory and imagination.
Remember when you were first getting to know your spouse? You could spend endless hours talking and dreaming together. You dreamed of where you would live, what it would look like, how many children, how you would raise them. You dreamed of cars and careers and of the renewing of your vows. You dreamed of romantic trips and dinners and spending lazy afternoons in bed. If you are in the child rearing stage of life, remember that there will be a time called empty nest and it is coming soon. Blink your eyes and they are grown up and getting ready to leave your nest. Where will you and your spouse be? Will you know this person? Will you like them? While you are on this very long final stretch of raising children, stay connected to your spouse. How can we do this?
One way is to sit down together, and envision what your empty nest will look like. I’m not speaking literally – well, not necessarily. It is definitely fun to dream about what kind of home you will have together, but I’m really saying go beyond that and talk about the dreams that each of you have. Maybe you would like to travel or even live abroad for a period of time. Maybe you would like to remain in the same area but downsize. Is there a ministry that you’ve always wanted to pursue? What kind of hobbies have you been putting on hold while you raise children? Would you like to go back to school and learn in a new area? Expressing these dreams doesn’t lock you into them but it creates an environment for you and your spouse to partner again on something other than raising children. You are on the couple team once again.
One caution. Most marriages have one spouse with a dominant personality – it is usually the squeaky wheel. If you are the spouse that has often put your own desires aside and your spouse tends to be dominant, your dreaming sessions might become another opportunity for your spouse to run over you. You will have to find a constructive way to bring this dilemma to light. If you are the controller, listen to your spouse and learn to give them some of their dreams. This is their empty nest years too. Maybe you’ve always wanted a big house, but they are tired of taking care of it and would like to downsize. Maybe they’ve always wanted to decorate your home in a different style – the style that they prefer. Maybe you like to hold onto possessions but your spouse would like to lighten the load and go abroad. Marriage is a series of compromises – gives and takes. One spouse should never get their way every time. If this has been happening, I guarantee that your spouse has noticed and probably feels resentment. They may be reluctant at first to dream with you. It is time for you to get on the team again.
When couples stop being couples and live only as a parental unit, their jobs are eliminated when the kids leave home. This explains many of the empty nest divorces that occur. If you are still married, it is not too late – be intentional and find each other again. Talk about your hopes for the future and dream a dream together.
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