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Okay, the children have all left home.  You and your spouse are finally alone after two decades of marriage.  Now what?  What lies in store for the two of you?

These are questions faced by millions of married couples worldwide every year.  When the children move on – and your nest is empty, the impact on your marriage can be substantial.  The relationship between you and your spouse can change, and often does.  Some call into question the very nature of their relationship.

Here are five strategies from our 30 years of research with thousands of successfully married couples around the world:

1. Empty nesters need to take stock of their relationship now that the children are gone.   They need to set goals for their relationship, plot a direction they want their marriage to go now and in 5, 10, 15 years down the road.  

Why is this important?  Well, the two of you have devoted so much of your time to your children that is time to start thinking more about the life you want for yourselves.  Frankly, married couples often need to rediscover their own relationship.

2. When both husband and wife work outside the home, the great danger for empty nesters is that they plunge their heart and soul into their work as a way of compensating for the absence of children .   This will only cause stress in your relationship with your mate.  Our advice – don't make this mistake!

3. Rekindle the romance and passion of your relationship that is often put on the back burner when you are raising children .  Plan for lunch or dinner out.  Meet in some clandestine place from time to time for some good old fashion passion.  Go to Disney World – just the two of you!   Remember, rekindling passion for each other takes action and practice!  Get in the habit again of engaging in passion with each other.

4.  The health of your spouse is of paramount importance to your marriage, especially in the empty nest.  The two of you should plan some kind of daily exercise routine.  It is also important to eat healthy foods – salads and fruits in particular.  When you exercise and eat healthy, you have more energy, you will be healthier, and you will live longer!

5. The final piece of advice goes like this – the worst thing you can do to your spouse or yourself as an empty nester is to hover over each other all the time.   There is a fundamental predisposition in every human being to have time alone.  Empty nesters have more time to be together, but couples often forget that the need to be alone is just as strong and just as important after the children have left.  

Living in an empty nest is not all that bad.   Couples have been doing it for centuries!  Make the most of it.  Follow the simple rules espoused by those who have been there, done that, and been successful at it.  You won't regret it.

By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz

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