“A great marriage isn’t something that just happens; it’s something that must be created.” -Fawn Weaver
Carlos and I took our first long road trip with just the two of us since moving across the country when we married nearly 26 years ago. While I thoroughly enjoyed the following decades of road trips with our four kids, I would not describe them as restful for me. Those trips took a lot of planning and preparation and my “mom” responsibilities did not change; only the scenery did.
I have a million fond memories of those trips but if I had to do it again I would have done a better job communicating my expectations to Carlos before we left. I think it is important within our relationships to discuss expectations & draw boundaries. When we fail to do so, we leave so much to guesswork.
As we’ve mentioned before, Carlos worked too much and I stayed too silent, allowing unmet expectations to be a breeding ground for resentment.
However, this trip was very different. We knew that after we returned we would soon be leaving to drive our last child to college making us official empty nesters.
Before the trip we committed to spending time talking about the future, what our goals, dreams, and desires were as individuals and then how we could align those things with what we wanted in our relationship. We have things we are resolved in doing, like selling our large home which we no longer need, and continuing to pare down our belongings. Beyond that we have discussed many possibilities; sometimes feeling like children who cannot make up their minds. There are just so many things we would like to do and all of them are up for discussion
Empty nest is a major life change in a marriage relationship. We have spent decades raising four children in traditional roles with Carlos as the main breadwinner and for many years me as a stay at home and then transitioning to a working mom. While this arrangement wasn’t the best for either one of us it was simply what we believed we were ‘supposed to do’. We now live in a much different relationship; one that is a true partnership. In light of that, we had very open and honest conversations about what the immediate and distant future might look like for us now that it will be just the two of us. Despite nearly 26 years of marriage, this is a foreign concept. We only had 3-months of “just the two of us” before I found out I was pregnant with our first child. Back then we were not good at communicating which laid the groundwork for some unhealthy habits like avoiding conflict, which is a marriage killer.
We now choose to be proactive about everything in our relationship. We don’t want to become just another statistic in the rising “gray divorce” trend. According to research, “in contrast to the seeming stabilization of divorce rates for the general population over the past two decades, the gray divorce rate has doubled: Married individuals aged 50 and older, including the college-educated, are twice as likely to experience a divorce today as they were in 1990.”
To be fair, I can understand why ‘gray divorce’ is on the rise. We live in a culture today that breeds a mindset of instant gratification. We are consumed with social media and actually believe the 5% of life’s highlights posted is what life looks like daily. I had a friend ask me after our trip if it was really as fun as what was posted on social media or was it just “Instagram fun?” I told her it was exactly as posted . . . an amazing vacation however, it is certainly not daily life. The piles of laundry I am doing now preparing for two kids to leave next week probably isn’t going to make my Instagram feed.
I believe selfishness is a big part of the issue as well. Some have taken the trendy concept of “self care” and twisted it to be an excuse to do what we want, when we want with no regard for others, including their partners. We are also influenced by a culture that has us convinced that there is one ‘soulmate’ out there for us and if we just find that person, the relationship will be easy. John Gottman, noted marriage researcher, has found that happily married couples disagree just as much as those who divorce. The couples that understand the normality of that and develop the tools to navigate it are the ones that do better.
These factors and many more contribute to decades of a marriage where everything is seemingly fine. But too often the reality is we have designed a life where we are avoiding reality. Our marriage becomes one where each spouse can get caught up in their own life; men often with their careers and women with their children; finding their identity there. Before you know it the kids are grown and gone and the career may not have been as expected and the kids are now off living their own lives. This is when you find yourself with a spouse you no longer really know anymore and decide you’ve ‘grown apart’.
People don’t just grow apart; it’s a choice we made along the way.
Carlos and I are deeply aware that if we had continued on as we were years ago, we would soon be looking at being another statistic for gray divorce. I am grateful for the hard work we have both done and continue to do as we grow together; looking into an unknown and exciting future knowing that we have each other.
What designs do you have for your next chapter?