Revive Our Hearts Podcast

— Audio Player —

Facing the Empty Nest as a Couple

Leslie Basham: Barbara Rainey says when children leave home, it can affect moms and dads differently.

Barbara Rainey: Well, it's part of the adjustment of the empty nest is that so often, our husbands are still tracking in their career, and they may have another five or ten years left before they're thinking about retirement. Sometimes husbands are also in a mid-life crisis. They're reevaluating, but oftentimes it's not. We feel, as women, like all the adjustment is ours.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, September 12. Yesterday, Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey began talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about adjusting to new seasons of life. We'll pick back up on that conversation with these authors of Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest. We'll start with a question from our audience.

Starla: I'm at the very beginning of the empty nest. I have three children. Rachel is 27. She's married and has a baby, and then Chris is 24. He's in the air force, and Daniel is 21. He's going to get married in two weeks, and so I have gradually felt the empty nest coming on. I'm really starting to feel it now that in two weeks our youngest will be married, and . . .

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Are you planning your meltdown?

Starla: Well, I, you know . . .

Lots of laughter

Starla: . . . I don't know if I'm planning it, but I'm definitely starting to feel it a little bit because where I am, I'm busy. I'm involved in ministry with a Bible study, and I am very uncomfortable with my quiet, lonely times. I feel uncomfortable with it. I don't feel content in it. It will hit me blindsided, and then I don't know what to do with that.

I am very much encouraged by this group of women here because it's so good to hear that it's okay to be quiet. It's okay to lean into the Lord and listen because I'm one of those people that I'm doing things all the time—what's the next thing? What's the next thing?

When I am at a time where no one's home at Christmas Eve, which is going to happen this Christmas for the first time ever, Phil and I are looking at each other and saying, “What in the world are we going to do?” There's a yearning, a feeling of sadness that I don't like.

I want to run away from that, and so I need this group of women and people who've gone through that a little bit ahead of me to say, “It's okay. You're gonna be alright. Lean into the Lord,” That's what I need to hear.

Nancy: Let's talk about loneliness.

Barbara: We can do that. Well, one of the things that became so clear as we worked on this book and as we talked to women—and we talked to lots of different women—is that loneliness is a very common theme because so many of our relationships that we had when we were raising our children, were the mothers of our children's friends. That circle sort of disappears, and also, the loneliness of, as Starla was saying, being home alone without the activity, without knowing that the kids are going to be walking through the door at three o'clock.

When you have your kids at home, your whole schedule revolves around their lives and their schedule, and so you know you have to be home by three o'clock when they walk in the door. That drives so much of what we do, and when you don't have that to drive your daily life anymore, you just kind of feel this emptiness of, "Well, what do I do?"

I don't have to be home at three, or I don't have to be certain places at certain times. I don't have to cook dinner tonight because I don't have a bunch of mouths to feed anymore, and our husbands have laughed about that.

Susan Yates: They've really laughed about that.


Susan: Dennis and John are starving.

Barbara: They are starving.

Nancy: It's a new weight-loss program.


Nancy:Husbands of Empty Nesters”—it’s a new diet.


Barbara: We've discovered that there is a loneliness that comes in the empty nest. We may have known that it was going to be there, but we didn't quite expect it to feel like it did. We've discovered that that was true for both of us and lots of other women.

Susan: I think we've also seen that what happens to us as women often is that we have put our relational life and our social life a little bit on hold during those teen years because we wanted to be where our kids were. We wanted to be at their events. We, perhaps, had a lot of acquaintances, but we didn't have time to really go to the next level, to really heart-to-heart sharing because there were just too many family demands.

Then, once the kids leave, we are a little out of practice with that, and in a way, we need to learn how to re-engage with other women. We have found this to be a huge common thread is, “How do we now re-engage? How do we find that soul sister?”

It's important on so many fronts, but one of the reasons it's important is that there can be a tendency to look to our husbands to fill that emotional gap that's being left because the kids are leaving and to expect him to understand and to empathize and to appreciate. That's not really fair to our man. We do need to be communicating with him, but we can't expect him to fill that emotional gap.

We need to be going to God first, obviously. We need to be communicating with our husbands, but we need girlfriends who are experiencing the same thing. Finding girlfriends is one of the cure to the loneliness, and it's also a way to really enrich your marriage because it helps us not to put unfair pressure on our husbands.

Barbara: Well, one of the things—and this is a little bit of a different subject, but it does relate to what Starla said—is the whole subject of re-engaging with your husband. For me, one of the great treasures, and this has just been in the last year, because in a sense, even though I really had an adjustment to the empty nest when our youngest went to college four years ago, it's taken on a new feel and a new level since she graduated and is moved away and on her own because there was a sense in which I was still connecting with her at a different level.

She was still coming home, and she still needed us for certain things when she was in college. Now that she's on her own, we're sort of in a new phase of the empty nest. I really have let her go now. She wasn't really gone when she was in college.

Now that she's on her own, she's really gone, it's given us the chance to reconnect at another level. It's almost like we've become reintroduced. It's almost like we have re-engaged at an emotional level that we did not have before.

It's not that I'm dependent on him emotionally, but because my children are gone, and they're not dependent on me emotionally, and I'm not as connected to them emotionally, I now am more connected to my husband emotionally if that makes sense. It's been a wonderful gift because, in a sense, we have rediscovered what we had originally, that sort of got put on the shelf because of the kids.

That's been a gift that, honestly, I didn't expect. I've heard other women talk about it, but I didn't know for sure that we would go to that place again, that we would be able to find each other, in a sense. I mean, we were very committed in our marriage, and I would have said we had a very good marriage. We did, but it's so much better now because I have re-engaged with him at a level that I hadn't in many, many years.

For me, that's been a real benefit of the loneliness because I lost that with my kids, but it was so of God. It was so right that I lost that with my kids because I can again have that with my husband, and that's been a real gift.

Nancy: Now, I know for some women who go into empty nest that kind of just the opposite happens. They find that they and their husbands are strangers, and there can be some walls and barriers and actually a new level of divorce I understand at that age. Let me just ask for some brave, honest soul here, in a group this size—anyone who found that when you got toward that empty nest season, that there were some pressures or challenges in your marriage that maybe you hadn't anticipated?

Woman 1: One thing that I found is that there weren't any distractions anymore. If there were any altercations or anything, you always had the kids coming home, so you always had to redirect your focus and kind of buck up.

You dealt with them, but without any kids coming home, you look at each other and go, “Oh, we got to deal with each other; we've got to work it out" I'm so grateful God's given me a man that wants to and that we have continued to pursue that.

Like Barbara said, it's a different level, but it's good. We look at each other and go, “We made it,” but we haven't made it. We're still working on it.

Nancy: Yes.

Woman 1: But we're so glad we've made it this far.

Nancy: And by grace, we'll make it all the way home.

Woman 2: I think one thing that we've found—we were surprised by—is that once the children left, all of a sudden—when you're in full-time ministry—all of a sudden, all of our time became full-time ministry. In terms of staying at the office late and writing late, there's no defined boundaries of when to stop, and so we're working through that.

Nancy: So having to work at not being so busy that you miss—pass—each other.

Woman 2: Yes, miss each other.

Barbara: I can really relate to that. It's one of the things that we have had to work through. In those first couple of years in the empty nest, it was so easy for us to just each be doing our own thing. What was funny about what we were doing is, Dennis was in his office on his computer. I was in the kitchen, which is where mine was at the time, on my computer, and we would . . .

Nancy: . . . email each other?

Barbara: Yes, email each other. He would have something he wanted to send to me, and he'd just click forward. Then I'd answer him, and I'm thinking, “My, we're only ten feet apart here, for heaven's sakes. We're not in other buildings. We're not in other cities. We're in the same house!”

I would walk in there every once in awhile and say, “This is really ridiculous. This has got to stop.”

It was just so automatic, and he would work later, just as you're saying. I would stay out running errands until 6:30 or 7:00 at night, not come home and fix dinner because I didn't have to, and so we had some of those adjustments, too.

Sometimes we would set down, and when we would have dinner, we'd look at each other and think, “What do we talk about?” So much of our conversation had revolved around the kids and schedules and all of that for so long that we would look at each other and think, “Okay, now what?” Or what do we do with our time in the evenings other than sit at the computer and do emails and just do more work? It's a real temptation to just slide into those things and to keep doing more of what you were doing before and to not purposely pull back and do something together as a couple.

Nancy: Such as? What do you talk about? What do you do?

Susan: Have a date. You know, we started out our marriage—a wise couple said to us, you know, “Pick one night a week and go out on a date for the rest of your life.” We were pretty faithful with that during our whole childbearing years, though, inevitably you will have emergencies. You don't make it every week, but we made it a priority in our relationship.

It was really important for our relationship, but then somehow, as we hit the empty nest, we had gotten really sloppy at that. It's too easy to think, “Well, we're empty-nesters now. We don't need to go out.” But what happens is, you don't have that emotional break that Barbara's talking about. You find yourself continuing to talk shop all the time.

You've forgotten how to play together, simply forgotten how to play. So one of the things that we think is helpful is to simply, very specifically, take turns planning an event once a month. You plan one thing that's a date night, and have your husband plan one. Make it a surprise. That's twice a month that you'll do something special. You'll need to be very intentional in coming up with some practical solutions that will make this a really rich time in our relationship with our husband.

Barbara: I agree with Susan. It was really hard for us to continue the date night thing after the kids left because I thought, “Well, we're together. Why do we need to go away to be together?” But we realized very quickly that if we didn't go away to be together, our conversation became just these little snippets.

It didn't allow us, by staying at home, to have in-depth conversations about anything because it was too easy, even at home, to be interrupted by whatever, so we've worked on trying to reinstate the date night. We've just recently begun that, that we need to reinstate that time to have consistent communication and consistent time together that's not interrupted.

For instance, one night, we just went to the local bookstore, got coffee, got a bunch of magazines, and we sat there and just dreamed about places we'd like to go and things we'd like to do. It was just really fun. It was light-hearted, and so going to do something like that that is carefree, that is fun and light-hearted—it just felt really good.

Another time, Dennis and I were driving home from church, and it was January. We had one of our really warm January days that we can often have here in Little Rock, and we were driving home. There was a new neighborhood being built near our neighborhood, and we took off and drove off to this new neighborhood. We drove up and down the streets of this area that they were developing and looked at the new houses.

We pulled up in front of one and got out in our church clothes and tiptoed across some of these planks and just wandered through this empty house that was being built. Just spontaneous fun things like that. It just felt good to have those kinds of things to do as a couple again because we'd put so much of that on hold for so many years that we didn't even really know how to do it again.

We had to choose to do it again and take advantage of the freedom that we have and the health that we still have to be able to go hike and climb up on top of a mountain. It was fun to be able to still do that and to feel young again. Those are the kinds of things that we need to be intentional about at this stage of our marriages and find some fun things that you would enjoy doing together and be intentional about planning them.

Susan: I think our tendency as women is often to complain that our husbands won't talk, and I think the reality is that we, as women, need to learn to ask good questions. I have found that we need to ask questions that call for more than a one-word answer and questions that aren't threatening.

Questions like this—as Barbara and Dennis would be going on a hike. “Honey, as you look back over your life, who would you say is somebody that you would look up to as a mentor or a hero or that you admire, somebody that's been involved in your life? Maybe it was a colleague. Maybe it was a boss. Maybe it was somebody in your youth.”

I think it's really helpful to get together with a bunch of other women and think of good questions, open-ended questions that aren't threatening. See if you can come up with a list of 12 great conversation starters. If we could do anything we wanted—we had unlimited funds, perfect health, four days—what would we want to do?

We forget how to dream. “What's your dream vacation?” It's just helpful to think through good questions.

Barbara: I have something that I wanted to add to that, too, in the way of a question that you can begin to discuss with your husband. Just in the last six months, a question that Dennis and I have been just batting back and forth with each other that's been kind of an on-going thing—and I think we need sometimes questions that we can discuss for several weeks—and that is, we just looked at each other and said, “Okay, let's assume that we only have ten years left to live,” because none of us know.

We may not even have 10 years. We may have 20 years, but let's just assume, for our discussion, that we have ten years left, ten good years that God is going to give us.

  • What do we want to do in those ten years?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What do we want to see?
  • Who do we want to get to know in relationships?
  • What other couples do we want to spend time with?
  • What do we want to do with our children?
  • What do we want to do with our grandchildren?
  • What do we want to do in our ministry?
  • What books do we want to write?
  • What things do we want to learn?

We even talked about taking a class together and learning something that neither one of us has any background information in.

I have good friends who are empty-nest couple, and they started taking a Spanish class together. Neither one of them had any background in Spanish, but they decided they wanted to take a class together. They're learning to speak Spanish in their empty-nest years, so that question would be a good one for you to discuss with your husband, to set a time frame.

You may want to say, “Let's talk about the next five years,” but just explore what that might look like in every area of your life. Dream together about what you want to accomplish in that time frame and see what things God might put on your hearts to do together as a couple.

Nancy: I know, Barbara, you and Dennis have taken time to not only say what are the things you want to do, but what is God's mission for our lives as a couple? How might that look different than it has in . . .?

Barbara: in the past

Nancy: . . . in the past? One of the big changes here, as I watch these couples, is, if the man is still in his career years, his life is not changing as much as your life, once your children get out of the home. There's some recalibrating needed as a couple to say, "Are there different ways, missionally, that God may want to use our lives? Is there something as a couple—ways we could serve the Lord that are a little different than what has been the way we've done that in the past?"

Barbara: Well, part of the adjustment of the empty nest is that so often, our husbands are still tracking in their career. They may have another five or ten years left before they're thinking about retirement. Sometimes husbands are also in a mid-life crisis. They're reevaluating, but oftentimes it's not.

We feel, as women, like all the adjustment is ours, but it is a good time to go to your husband and say, “Let's talk about the future together, and what might we do? What things might we explore together, as a couple that we hadn't had the time or the opportunity to do before?”

Nancy: We have a lot of women listening who are not yet at the empty-nest stage and maybe not even close to it. I'd like to hear one of you address the importance for the younger women of prioritizing their marriage during the child-rearing years and what happens if you don't when you get to the empty-nest years.

Susan: We have a little raspberry patch at a farm, and in the early years of having the farm, I really nurtured these raspberries. I mean, they would produce the biggest red raspberries twice a year, in July and October, and we made jam. We made buckets full of sauce. I mean, we did everything with these raspberries.

My intention was to keep the patch cultivated, but as life got really busy, the honeysuckle began to creep in. Finally, after several years of my good intentions, but my benign neglect, we had to plow the raspberries under because the honeysuckle had won the battle.

As I looked at that raspberry patch, I thought, “This is so easy for me to do in my marriage,” because  so I think it really is important, Nancy, our tendency is to think, “I'll work on my marriage when life calms down.” Well, the reality is, life doesn't calm down. It just gets more complex as we are raising our kids, that we keep our marriage a priority.

It's pivotal in making the walk into the empty-nest an easier time with your husband, so have that date-night. Make times to communicate. Make him a priority.

Again, we've said for years that our children's security rests in the fact that Mom and Dad love each other, and as teenagers, they're watching us more closely than they were as little kids. You are really in a “Marriage 101” prep.

You are preparing them for what marriage looks like, and the most important ingredient in the family is that of forgiveness. I can't tell you how many times I've had to go to my husband and go to my children today and say, “I shouldn't have said what I did,” or “I shouldn't have done what I did, and I need to ask you to forgive me.”

I can't think of a single time I've gone when I felt like it, and I'd much rather tack on, “But if you had,” or “But if I you hadn't . . . after all, I'm the mom. I'm the wife." Half the time, I think I'm right, but we don't go to one another asking for forgiveness out of feeling. We go out of conviction and out of obedience.

It's as we go to one another that God can then begin the healing. Healing is not necessarily instantaneous. Healing takes time, but forgiveness opens the door to healing. If we want our children to be able to have healthy marriages one day, they're going to need a lot of forgiveness in their marriages.

The way they're going to learn that is by seeing us forgive one another in the family, so it relates not only to our marriages, but it relates to our relationships with our children, too, as we try desperately to be good mothers, to let them go in the empty nest, to support them as they're maybe doing some stupid things that all youth do.

We put our foot in our mouth, simply being able to go to them and say, “Honey, I feel bad about our conversation we had on the phone, and what I said was inappropriate.” Or, “What I said, I should have kept my mouth shut, and I need to ask you to forgive me and to be patient with me.” I think that's a principle to keep in mind as we nurture our marriages throughout our whole life but also as we walk into the empty-nest years.

Nancy: And not only asking forgiveness, taking the pathway of humility, but also the extending of forgiveness.

Susan: Right.

Nancy: What marriage can be healthy without that forgiveness going both directions? There's a lot of forgiving to be done because you are a sinner married to a sinner.


Nancy: Your children are sinners, and they're going to have sinners for children. They're going to marry sinners, and that's where the grace of God, and that's where family—marriage and family—can become such a picture of the redemptive grace of God, a picture of the mercies of Christ as forgiving one another as He has forgiven us.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been offering wise, Godly perspective on married couples facing the empty nest together. She's been talking with Susan Yates and Barbara Rainey about connecting with your husband in new ways as you transition into different seasons of life.

You'll head into major transitions quicker than you think. You need the advice offered in the book Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest. Their advice is practical on relating to adult children, becoming a mother-in-law, using your time wisely, and staying connected to God.

I hope you'll gain the insight this book has to offer no matter when the empty-nest years will be upon you. When you donate to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we'll say thanks by sending the book. Please ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959. Again, the book is called Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest. Ask for it when you call 1-800-569-5959, or you can safely donate online at

How do you stay connected with your kids, offer them help and advice, yet give them the freedom to live their own lives as adults? Well, Monday, Barbara and Susan will show us what it looks like. I hope you'll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Support the Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Darkness. Fear. Uncertainty. Women around the world wake up hopeless every day. You can play a part in bringing them freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness instead. Your gift ensures that we can continue to spread gospel hope! Donate now.

Donate Now

About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.