En español │When Kate's youngest child left for college, she had mixed emotions. She was excited for her son but sad about the loss of her daily kid-focused routine. Those feelings didn't surprise her — she'd heard all about empty-nest syndrome from her friends — though she was shocked to learn that her husband felt just as sad and alone as she did. "We started talking," Kate told me," and pretty soon we realized we're in this together. It actually made us closer." One night Jim came home with a bottle of wine and a pizza, and he and Kate enjoyed a picnic in their den instead of dinner at the table — because they could. And then they had sex in the kitchen — because they could.
Kate and Jim, like so many other couples I see in my counseling practice, successfully moved past the loss of one part of their life together into a new — and sexy phase. Of course not every couple navigates the empty nest so easily. Having the house to yourselves can be tough at first; in fact, it's a common trigger for divorce, because many couples realize they have little left in common except parenthood. But marital satisfaction may in fact improve once kids take flight: women's marital satisfaction tends to increase after their children have left home, according to a study in the November 2008 issue of Psychological Science. That's not just because they have more free time; it's also because they enjoy their partner more.
Even if you're struggling to adjust, a newly empty nest presents an opportunity to reconnect with your partner, rediscover your relationship, and reinvigorate your sex life. Here's how.
Remember where it started
Think back to the early days of your relationship. What attracted you to each other? Was it his sense of humor? Her adventurous side? Two of my clients made a game out of getting reacquainted. "We took separate cars to a bar where we pretended we didn't know each other," said Peter. They started talking, Peter bought drinks — and they went home together. Research supports this tactic: Long-time couples can rekindle romance by acting like strangers on a first date, a recent study at the University of British Columbia showed.