When the last child leaves home it sometimes feels as if you are waking up next to a stranger rather than your husband, wife or partner. This can be caused by years of concentrating on what the family has needed, leaving little space or time for the two of you as a couple. 

Empty nest syndrome

One of the more vulnerable relationship times is when children leave home either to go to University or permanently move out. This can bring about a mixture of emotions, as it signifies the end of a particular life stage. This phase can sometimes bring about feelings of loss commonly known as empty nest syndrome. 

Parents experience empty nest syndrome in different ways but feelings of loss or lack of purpose are common and can affect your relationship with your partner.

Tips on preparing for children leaving home

  • Preparation: If your children are planning to go to University in a year, or move out to live on their own, then start preparing now.
  • Focus on the positive steps that they are taking in their life.
  • Acknowlegde that you will miss them. Be honest that although it will be a challenge for the whole family at first, it will also be a great opportunity for growth and adventure. This will help your children feel able to grow and move on. 

Reconnecting with your partner

The empty nest syndrome is not as bad as it is made out to be. After an initial bumpy year or so, many couples report rediscovering life after parenting as a time of creativity and renewed pleasure in each other's company.

But if you feel you've lost touch with your partner, here's some ideas to help you cope with this phase of your relationship:

First, tell your partner how you feel. Carrying on when you are feeling miserable without the children around prevents your partner from offering the comfort you crave.

If you are not sure you know who your partner is anymore, try a light-hearted personal quiz to help break the ice. For example, ask them:

  • What is your favourite meal? Why?
  • What film have you most enjoyed in the last five years?
  • What music would you take to a desert island? Why?
  • What colour would you choose for a coat/scarf/hat etc?
  • Name two favourite TV programmes.
  • If you could learn a new talent, what would it be? Why?
  • What was your favourite read in the last five years?

Think up your own questions based on your relationship. The object of this is not to demand answers but to get you chatting about what may have changed in the last few years. You may be surprised at the answers. Use the opportunity to share your own feelings and thoughts.

  • Think of a leisure pursuit you enjoyed when you first got together. For example, did you like motorcycling, dancing or backpacking? Now think of a way you could relive this. OK, you may not want to hike around India anymore, but maybe you could enjoy walking together in your local area or watching motorcycle racing, for example.
  • Do some things you have always wanted to but lacked the time or money for while the children were growing up. For instance, think about what kind of holidays you might have now or how you might spend an evening out. Consider doing something just for the fun of it. For example, ride a roller coaster or go bowling.
  • With no children in the house, sex can be more spontaneous and interesting. Invest in a good, basic sex book and follow some of the ideas in it. Put whole evenings aside for love making and enjoy the journey as much as reaching the destination.

Congratulate yourselves on arriving at this stage of your lives together. Many couples don't get this far so be proud that you made it through together. Take a little time to reconnect and your relationship will grow in strength.

How we can help

If you're worried about the impact of your children leaving home on your relationship, there are various ways we can help.