An Exciting Time

How can you know if your marriage has reached its second half? Look for these symptoms:

  • Your kids will soon leave the nest or have just moved back in.
  • You exercise more, yet burn fewer calories.
  • You've been noticing for some time how your own parents are aging.
  • Your arms are too short to hold your reading material.
  • Your song plays on the golden oldies station.
  • You hang out with other grandparents.
  • By the time you get your spouse's attention, you've forgotten what you were going to say.

Can you relate? Welcome to the second half of your marriage! The second half starts at different times for different couples. Some are so overwhelmed with their children's teen years that they don't even see it coming until the last kid leaves home or gets married. Others begin talking about it when the first college catalog appears in their mailbox.

The first half involved launching your life together, building a career or two and parenting children. And often it was dictated by your circumstances: children, jobs, homes and so on. The second half offers a new freedom to choose, to change, to seek fulfillment for your hopes and dreams. But it's not without risks. Just ask Nancy and Joe.

"Our twin daughters were the spark plugs that kept our family lively," Nancy says. "But when they left for college, they took their energy and vitality with them. Everything changed. It was so quiet.

"Our marriage was stagnant. We had little in common, few things to talk about. It's not that either of us intentionally ignored the other, but with the demands of two very active and social children, over the years, we drifted apart."

"I didn't have a clue as to what to do," Joe says, "so I spent more time at work and more time with my golf buddies."

"I felt so alone," Nancy adds. "I was disoriented. The girls were gone and so was my job as resident mom. I had few interests. No wonder Joe didn't want to spend time at home. I was boring and bored. Wasn't the empty nest supposed to be fun?"

Has an empty nest caught you unaware? According to the National Center of Health Statistics, the divorce rate in the United States declined 1.4 percent from 1981 to 1991, but divorce among couples married 30 years or longer increased 16 percent.

Perhaps people are living longer, and they don't want to face the next 40 years in a less-than- satisfying marriage. Or maybe the glue that held them together (i.e., the children) is gone, and they simply don't know how to stick together. In his book, The Heart of Commitment (1998, Nelson), our colleague and marital researcher, Scott Stanley, noted that couples who stay together for the long term either stick or become stuck.

Other second-half issues produce stress. Our parents continue to age just as we become more aware of our own aging process, and life gets complicated. Your career may be winding down while your spouse's takes off. And many second-half couples are in second marriages with his children, her children and children from their present marriage.

But there is good news. You don't have to become a divorce statistic. And you don't have to get or stay stuck! In fact, your marriage can be far more rewarding and enjoyable than it was in the first half. One thing is certain, however: The inexorable passage of time will usher in the empty-nest years.

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Other Things to Consider

Life PressuresWorking Moms, Stay-at-Home Moms

RelationshipsBlended Families, Divorce, Parents and Adult Children, Caring for Elderly Parents