It’s impossible to log on to your social media accounts and not see a parent talking about their child’s first day of school – backpack strapped to their kid’s back, hair neatly combed, and a wide grin plastered on their face. For many families, this is just the beginning, while others are starting a new journey while their children, or at this point, young adults, are going away to college. In either scenario, many families are going through transition, and transitions are complex. Perhaps you’re in the camp of sending your kid out of your home for the first time. Transitions are filled with anticipation and excitement for possibilities, anxiety about the unknown, and feelings of loss moving from what you’ve known to something different.

The many feelings of launching your kids

Kids are growing up and many are leaving home for college, a gap year, or employment for the first time. Even though you’ve been aware that this day would come, it’s still filled with a myriad of emotions. When your last child leaves home (launches), this signals a significant change – it’s the end of a huge phase of life: raising children. This transition is a huge milestone for your family and when a chapter ends and a new one begins, it can feel like a loss. 

You may feel all sorts of feelings when your child launches, like:

  • Grief
  • Lack of purpose
  • Lost and lacking direction
  • Void
  • Relief
  • Anxiety

For some of you, this is a very challenging time. The organizing principle, your child, who has been providing structure to the everyday has left your home – the immediate quiet can be jarring. We know that couples’ relationships are vulnerable during this transition; some couples may divorce. Years of intense focus on raising children and investing in careers can often leave little time for couples to nurture their relationship. In fact, many couples may neglect important issues for years because focusing on their children can be a distraction from the couple’s relationship.

Once a child leaves home, couples are left face-to-face with themselves, their disconnection, and any problems left unresolved. It’s easier for problems to rise to the surface during this transition because there are fewer distractions or children to attend to. Can you relate?

The realities of empty nest syndrome

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel “empty nest syndrome,” a sadness and loss when your child has left home. Transitions, such as loss, are painful. In addition, couples who have felt disconnected, but connected around their child, may feel a greater sense of loss and conflict may increase. For instance, if you have neglected areas of your relationship, the disconnect over time could feel too great of a divide. Perhaps each person in the relationship has a different vision about life without your children at home, but you don’t know how to “get on the same page” with your partner. 

What’s next for your relationship?

If you’ve just sent your last child into the world to live on their own, it’s a great time to ask yourselves a few questions and reflect on the relationship you’d like to have. Take the time to discuss with your partner what will need to happen to achieve that relationship. 

Questions you should discuss when your youngest child leaves home for college:

  1. Who are we as a couple? 
  2. What is the purpose of our relationship?
  3. What do we like individually?
  4. What do we like as a couple?
  5. Do I feel connected or disconnected from my partner? 
  6. What problems have we not addressed for years that are coming to the surface now?
  7. Can we navigate these problems together?   

When therapy can help empty-nesters

It’s common for couples to reach a point in their relationship and wonder how they got there. Understandably, raising children can demand a lot of your attention, which shifts other priorities. However, there are risks to not giving time and attention to your relationship for an extended amount of time. This lack of connection can increase feelings of disconnect and over time, disconnect can feel unbearably lonely. 

If you could use help getting clarity on what direction your relationship should go now that your kids have left for college, a licensed couples therapist can help you and your partner create a clear and concrete map so you don’t lose your way and you have something to work towards purposefully, together. 

If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions and in-person appointments.