Reconnecting with your spouse
When their children leave the family home, couples find it tough to deal with life without their children and reconnecting with each other.
When their children leave the family home (what is called empty-nest syndrome), many couples find it tough dealing with this loss and reconnecting with each other. Explaining this phenomenon, Jolene Hwee who is a psychologist and consultant at Womancare Psychological Services LLP and recently supervised the Prudential Relationship Reconnect social experiment, said: “Empty-nest syndrome refers to feelings of loneliness, sadness, and/or grief experienced by parents and caregivers after children reach young adulthood and leave their childhood homes for the first time. This may occur when children go to university or get married.”
Ageless Online finds out from her why this occurs and some advice on how couples can reconnect with each other:
Why is it so difficult for middle-aged couples to reconnect with each other after working hard at their careers and raising their children?
From the day the children enter the home as babies, parents invest enormous amounts of time, energy and resources into their well-being. In the upbringing of children, many parents have had to put aside their own careers, pursuits and interests, which include time spent with each other. Unlike the newlywed couple who can spend Friday nights at the movies and weekends at the gym together, parents of young children find themselves struggling to keep their heads above water most days, juggling work commitments, nuclear family obligations and child-rearing. What happens then is that time spent together unfortunately becomes the last priority; parents are too exhausted or disinterested at the end of a long day.
Over time, even when the children mature and grow, this becomes an unfortunate habit. Physical distance from each other has worsened to emotional distance and the couple increasingly feels removed and disconnected from each other. Some may turn to friends, work or new hobbies to alleviate their own sense of loneliness in the marriage. What they forget to do, or sometimes fear to do, after years of emotional disconnection, is to turn towards each other.
What are the factors that make it easier or more difficult for middle-aged couples to reconnect with each other?
In the best-case scenario, couples remember to put each other as a high (if not, highest) priority despite punishing schedules and child-rearing frustrations. That translates into taking initiative in the relationship and having interest in the other person.
Throughout the years, for example, if a husband can see his wife as an individual with her own passions and dreams, not just the mother of his children, or just someone he married years ago, and be curious about that individual, the relationship has a high chance of succeeding.
Remember, everyone changes in a long-term relationship. The spouse you married 20 years ago is not the same person living with you today. The question is – are you still interested and invested in getting to know her?
Couples who have lost interest in their spouse are often those who think of them in negative, stereotypical categories or labels, for example, “She is always _______”, “He never does ____________” and often feel isolated, bored or resentful in their relationship. This makes it very challenging for them to reconnect with their spouse.
To what extent would you attribute the Asian culture for the lack of displays of affection between spouses?
Generally, most of the baby-boomer generation in Asia communicate love not through words or touch, but through acts of service, that is, through the doing of specific tasks to demonstrate dedication (e.g. fetching my spouse to work, doing the laundry, etc).
This works well if both parties appreciate acts of service and regard them as important. However, if one person feels that this is insufficient, and would like, for example, more physical affection or mutual sharing, then this creates a gap in intimacy in the relationship.
How can a simple ritual of looking at each other’s eyes for a few minutes increase intimacy and empathy between people? Is this something that you encourage?
To increase emotional intimacy, there’s really nothing that works better than undivided attention. To look into the other person’s eyes is one of the many ways to express that you are completely focused on listening to and understanding the other person. For example, you can put away all distracting forms of technology. You can sit facing the person. You can give reassuring non-verbal cues. You can make effort not to interrupt or offer hasty solutions.
This communicates to the other person your sincerity in really understanding his or her perspective; it communicates your empathy.
What else would you suggest couples could do to reignite or renew their relationships after their kids leave their home?
It is important to realise that you are now both in a different stage of life. Commit to rediscovering and reconnecting with your spouse. Both of you have changed; it might surprise you what you can learn about the other person. Share with each other your own dreams and visions for this stage of life. Set aside time regularly for the other.