From birth until parenting, people are self-oriented. Once they have a family their children’s wellbeing becomes their primary focus. As fulfilling and pleasurable as child rearing may be, it distracts parents from their own individual and couple needs. Once the children leave home it is incumbent upon you to re-focus your attention on yourselves and restore the magic of your union.
We can classify life into five distinctive stages: 1. Maturation – lasting from birth to 18 years. 2. Individuation- The quest for self-definition and self –sufficiency. 3. Pairing-The stage of dating, mate selection and commitment. 4. The Parenting era. 5. Re-pairing for life.
During the first two stages you mature, leave home, develop your independence, embark on a career path and become an autonomous, self-sufficient adult. During the third phase, you prepare to share your life with a special partner, seek and select your life mate. Your focus is on each other, creating the bond of your union. This romantic and thrilling period is emotionally intoxicating, yet short lived.
Once you start a family, the exhilaration of being number one and cherished by your mate is replaced by your mutual focus on your new baby and raising your children. Though many couples attempt to keep their flame alive during the next twenty plus years, they often find it hard to balance their needs with the responsibilities of child rearing. Some pairs get slowly distanced from each other and become functional housemates and parents as their spark as soul mates and lovers diminishes.
The mystery of why couples who have been married for twenty five or thirty years find themselves on the brink of divorce, may be explained by the fact that the couple-centered energy may have been too short. The common dating period plus two years of marriage prior to children, in a twenty plus year span may be insufficient for cementing a solid love connection.
Studies show that children can be a hazard to marriage. Researchers at the University of Denver and Texas A&M found in an eight-year study of 218 couples, that ninety percent of the couples experienced a decrease in marital satisfaction once the first child was born. Professor Scott Stanley amplifies that though “Couples who do not have children also show diminished marital quality over time, having a baby accelerates the deterioration, especially seen during periods of adjustment right after the birth of a child.”
Stanley cautions against concluding that children damage overall happiness in life. “There are different types of happiness in life and that while some luster may be off marital happiness for at least a time during this period of life, there is a whole dimension of family happiness and contentment based on the family that couples are building.”
Other research by Stony Brook University social psychology researchers Irene Tsapelas and Arthur Aron found, ”that to maintain high levels of marital quality over time, couples also need to make their lives together exciting.”
Those who have been engrossed in childrearing and have diminished their couple-centered connection must hasten to rebuild their union after the children have left home to safeguard their marriage. It is also a good time for partners to re-dedicate their energies to each other, as they are still young enough, vibrant, healthy and active.
Malcolm Gladwell states in “Outliers” that 10,000 hours (ten years) of practice are required to become an expert in any skill desired. Most couples with children have not had that much time of shared intimate interactions in thirty years of marriage.
• Determine to keep your couple focus throughout your parenting years.
• Re-activate your couple courtship, romance, one-to-one attention to each other, as soon as you become empty nesters.
• Remember that being in a good marriage will help you age more healthily and live happily longer as you relish your shared love with your precious mate.