Living Columns & Blogs

How to thrive as a couple after a newly empty nest

Bruce Conn
Bruce Conn

Have you faced the empty nest syndrome yet? We are. Referencing a scene from “Ice Age,” we’ve lately been calling our youngest daughter “the last melon.”

So much of our interest and energy has gone into our children. Really the bulk of our life together has been focused on raising children — and we have loved every minute of it. We are still parents, but the future will be vastly different.

Speaking of melons, peaches are beginning to ripen and it’s almost time to head out to Dickey Farms and get some fresh peaches. Children are like peaches. We have to protect them when they are young and vulnerable. Their blossoms are beautiful.

Peaches can take a certain amount of rough treatment, but not too much. And when they ripen, it’s time to move them along. Can I get an amen!

No, just kidding. Graduation challenges parents as we let them go, worry about their going and start thinking about our own unencumbered going — and I’m not talking about Disney World.

Back to peaches. Peach trees need attention, too. Trees need to be fertilized. You need to watch for rot or fungus. Pruning requires a knowledgeable hand to remove the dead wood and allow in the light. To be ready for the next season, work has to be done to care for the trees. It’s a metaphor for your Coupling.

The last child leaving the house can be a big adjustment. Many couples struggle at this phase of their relationship. This phase needs to be entered into intentionally.

As we launch that last child out into their own life, our hope watches as they become a wheel spinning out of their own center. We will see these children becoming adults, directing their own lives and not dependent on us parents.

Be careful not to be the helicopter parent rescuing the child only to prove their own value and avoid their emptiness. Be careful about relying on the child to center the relationship. The peach tree never asks for anything back from the fruit nor regrets letting go of it.

What do you need to do to respond to the changing reality of your shared life together? What rot do you need to look out for? What fungus has been creeping into the corners of your attitudes? With the emptiness of the house, what can you begin to do that is interesting and enlivening?

Be careful of the rot of indifference. It is so easy to get into predictable patterns; evening news, “Jeopardy” and a crime drama followed by distance in the bedroom. Prune those bad habits and get rid of the dead wood.

Clear away the fungus of laziness and selfishness. Different interests may continue to lead the two of you further apart. Work to find common interests, try new restaurants, friends, hobbies and destinations.

Rebalance your coupling on your love and service to each other. Be interested in what the other wants to do and try it. Find ways to support those interests. Maybe find ways to jointly serve others through volunteering. Find ways to fertilize the growth for new fruit to come.

Bruce Conn is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and works with individuals and couples. Contact him at or call 478-742-1464.