Archive for transition

What happens to The Couple when children leave home?

Watching the mesmerising and compelling performance of Gina Mckee in Florian Zeller’s production of The Mother at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn last week left me questioning long after the final curtain.

Gina Mckee plays the role of a mother floundering between reality and hostility as her family starts to fall apart and move away from her. She captures the longing and desperation of a mother desperate to hold onto the memories of her life and children as it used to be and portrays a mother on the brink of madness as she sees her ‘little boy’ grow up and flow the nest and find a girlfriend.

As a couples counsellor we often find ourselves working with couples who present with relationships that have grown distant and disconnected and its often blamed on poor communication when really underneath the presenting problem are couples who are struggling to come to terms with children leaving home and the difficulties with having to be just the two of you.

For some couples when children have been the glue in their relationship when they leave there is a sense of dislocation as a huge void is now present which is often scary and unmanageable.

We know in theory that as parents we bring our children up to let them go as adults to make their own way in the world and seek out their adult relationships. But in practice this can play out in a very different way as parental addiction to children manifests. Strong feelings of grief, loss and rage can be projected onto our partners as we struggle to come to terms with this incomprehensible life transition. Especially as this time can also coincide with menopause, ageing parents and impending retirement.

At Coupleworks we often see couples who struggle to identify that children leaving home can cause such difficulties between them. What often manifests is their communication breaks down and they stop spending time with each other and seek out alternative experiences.

Feelings of sadness and loss of role for a mother who may have given up work to care for her children and has spent most of her life doing everything for children may make them more vulnerable to depression and marital conflicts. It can be very difficult for a partner who may still be busy at work to acknowledge the acute sadness and loss that the mother is going through when all he may be experiencing is her hostility and turning away from him.

Couples don’t have to fall apart when the nest becomes empty. For some it is important time to reconnect and spend more time focusing on being a couple than you have done previously. It is an opportunity to work on your own relationship and restore what has been neglected between you.

At Coupleworks we see many clients at this important transition in their lives, it is normal and important for children to feel that they are leaving behind a secure and solid home base to return to.

For others this transition according to psychologists, from being an actively involved parent to being two independent individuals can take up to 18 months to 2 years. It is important to talk to your partner about your feelings. You may be surprised that they have similar feelings and will relish the chance to talk it through.

Dawn Kaffel

How to survive the empty nest

All over the country in the last few weeks tens of thousands of families have had a child leaving for college or university. For some couples, this is the first child leaving and there is a lot of planning to do for the imminent departure in terms of kitting out their room and preparations for them to live away from home for the first time. If there are other children still living at home or the student remains living with their parents, the change and adjustments are not always as poignant and focussed. When the last child leaves home, however, the empty nest is a reality and this can be a testing time for couples.

For young people it is a rite of passage: leaving home, becoming more self sufficient and resourceful and making their own way in the world – something every parent would want for their child. But for the parents it is a huge adjustment when they begin to change their role in their children’s lives. It is a time of mixed feelings – of joy and excitement, but it can bring loss and loneliness too. The fridge is no longer emptied at the same rate – the house is quieter as it is no longer filled with noisy teenagers – and remains clean and tidier for longer. But how do couples manage this between them? The focus shifts from parenting back to the couple and this can bring about a crisis. Can the relationship survive this increase in time together? It propels couple relationships into a vulnerable phase and there are many couples who aren’t able to make this transition and do separate in the years after their children leave home.

So what can couples do in these first few weeks and months to prevent that happening?

TALK to each other about how they feel about the empty nest – sadness and loss – or a relief?

RECOGNISE and ACCEPT that their feelings might be different and try to understand the other’s experience.

TAKE up a new hobby or interest – try to make the most of the extra time you have

RECONNECT with friends that you haven’t seen for a while

MAKE PLANS for theatre, cinema or weekends away – you may have more flexibility and opportunities – use it.

LET GO – whatever you do don’t hang on to your child in order to fill the gaps in your life and your relationship. Don’t live your life through them.

ALLOW them to become the adults you have wanted them to be and allow yourselves to enter into this new stage in your life and relationship.

Coupleworks see many people coming for couple counselling at this stage in their lives. Often they have neglected their relationship for many years in favour of family activities. Children have covered up gaps and resentments and difficulties that have not been addressed. Counselling can provide an opportunity for these issues to be worked through and a chance to rebuild a connection that may have been lost or stifled.

Sarah Fletcher