Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to London, England. While there, I used the Underground (subway) for all my transportation. Every time I would get on or off the Underground, a voice would come on and say, “Mind the gap. Mind the gap.” I soon realized that the phrase meant “watch your step”. Pedestrians were instructed to be careful and observe the gap between the train and train podium as they were exiting the train.
This phrase struck me as I thought about other places in our lives that we experience a gap, such as our marriage. While couples may experience a variety of gaps throughout their marriage, I’ve found that the majority of gaps revolve around four major things: communication, sex, emotional connection, and having fun.
Let me tell you, for many couples, these gaps are exacerbated when the kids leave the house, which is what I want to share about today. (By the way, this is also something I cover in my Empty Nest, Full Life Course!)
What may have been a small gap between us can become a large gap if we don’t address it intentionally.
So how do we “mind the gaps” in our marriage? Where do we need to focus our efforts to remain connected to our spouse as the season of life we’re in changes?
Let’s dive into the 4 major gaps in marriage after the kids leave:
1) The Communication Gap
Often when couples are managing the busy schedule of a family, the conversation revolves around activities, homework assignments, laundry, etc. Our communication no longer includes things that we were once interested in like our hopes, dreams, and struggles. Also, our marriages typically become comfortable in this unhealthy and dysfunctional communication pattern. Changing this now comfortable way of communicating can be awkward!
When our kids leave the home, the conversations that once filled the day to day are no longer necessary. There is more space to hear from your partner about what THEY find important. With limited interruptions and distractions, our conversations may initially feel forced, but the new dynamics are necessary as we pave new communication roads. When we create a safe space for our partner to be heard, where we reflect back what they say and we avoid being highly critical, we can mind this communication gap.
2) The Having-Fun Gap
When couples first start dating, their relationship begins by having fun together doing things like seeing movies, playing mini golf, or going to concerts. When kids are introduced to a marriage, the focus often changes and we no longer take time to go on those fun nights-out, or maybe no longer have the money to afford those outings. While couples are focused on raising a family, they may have forgotten how to have fun together.
Once the kids had left home (and I conquered my fear of motorcycle-riding), Mark and I began enjoying countryside rides on his motorcycle together. We got bluetooth helmets so we could talk to each other and we would take long adventures together that we both learned to look forward to. Your “fun” may look different but planning intentional time together such as exploring a new restaurant, taking a trip, cooking together, or getting together with other couples may help remind you both of all the fun and adventures your relationship started with. Even committing to a weekly date night is a simple way to start!
3) The Connecting-Emotionally Gap
I was emotionally shut-down for twenty-seven years of our marriage. It’s true. While I was raised in a loving and supportive home, we were taught to buck-up when things got tough. I didn’t have time for vulnerable feelings and I only cried in private. I had internalized the lie that feelings don’t matter.
In some ways, this helped me to prioritize my kids’ needs above my own in motherhood, but when I didn’t have other people to care for each day anymore, the need for my own emotional health was left wide open.
When a counselor first helped me open that door and reminded me that God had emotions too, he empowered me to feel and express those emotions which had ultimately led me to be a better wife. I am now able to share my struggles with Mark and he, in turn, is able to comfort me. When we avoid our emotions and we don’t express our deepest emotions to our spouses, we create a boundary that impacts all parts of intimacy in our marriage.
What about you? How well do you and your spouse connect emotionally?
4) The Sex Gap
Finally, when the kids are out of the house, and you can run around naked if you want, our aging starts to create new obstacles to our sex lives. It seems almost unfair that men reach their sexual peaks in their twenties and thirties as their testosterone is the highest, and women become sexually alive in their forties and fifties as the possibility of pregnancy becomes removed and kids are often grown and less needy at this time.
Menopause also begins around this empty nest time, and the side effects from these changes can impact our sexual intimacy in our marriages. Add to that the effects of aging, medication side-effects, and sickness that can also impact our sex life.
If this gap is caused by physical issues, please talk to your doctor. There may be simple solutions to these problems. If it is rooted in emotional issues, speak with a therapist or a coach that may be able to help you uncover the “junk in your trunk” that is preventing sexual intimacy.
When it comes to the frequency of sex, though, as you become an empty-nester, it’s important to be flexible. You may learn ways to pleasure each other physically that look different than before. The Song of Solomon is a beautiful picture of intimacy between a woman and a man as it highlights the erotic and sensual relationship that is created to be shared between a couple in a marriage. Marriage is the only intimate relationship that allows for a private playground for two.
If you’re experiencing a sexual intimacy gap, don’t let it continue to widen. Take the next right step to close that gap today.
It’s within this distance–the gaps–discussed above that our marriages can begin to suffer. When we intentionally take time to close those gaps and work to breathe life into these spaces again, we can build a strong foundation on which to move forward. If you need help with that, we’d love to help you with our Marriage 2.0 Coaching. We help a lot of empty nest couples close those gaps!
If you are approaching or are currently in the empty nest season of life (what I like to call the “encore” season of life!), I want to invite you to join me in the Empty Nest Full Life Course! This is a course to help you launch your kids into adulthood without being gutted by grief. For just a few more days, the introductory cost is only $79. Learn more here!
Looking for more marriage resources? Start with No More Perfect Marriages!
Do you feel like your marriage is hanging on by a thread (or you want to make sure it doesn’t get there)? Consider our Marriage 2.0 Intensive that we host at our home in Normal, IL. We only work with one couple at a time. We’d love to work with you!
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