Bliss in an Empty Nest

My wife, Michelle, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in January this year. We had known each other for three years casually then we courted for another six years before tying the knot. That is to say, we have known each other for close to 40 years altogether.

We have three grown-up children; our eldest daughter is 28 years old and married to a fine young man, our son is 24 and youngest daughter 22.

Being together as a couple for 40 years seems like a long time. For some couples who have been together this long or even lesser, there may be little desire left for one another.

Singapore government’s Report on the State of the Family 2011 shows that divorces amongst couples who were married for more than 10 years is on the rise. In a similar report in 2009, it was highlighted that “empty-nester divorces amongst non-Muslim couples in their 50s had risen significantly.” The report suggested that, “It is likely that for many of these late divorcees, it was after the children had grown up that they found there were no other reasons to cling on to the marriage.

It saddens me to hear that there are couples who, after laboring together for 20 to 30 years building a family, and at the point when they are free from the responsibility of child-raising, suddenly found no other reasons to stay married to each other.

Michelle and I are entering into our “empty-nester” years. Instead of dreading it, we are looking forward to our next phase of life together.  We have lots of time together and we are enjoying the freedom as a couple once again!

Both of us feel that our love for each other has never been better. In fact, our desire for each other is still growing and glowing today! We have strong reasons not only to cling on to our marriage, but also to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

Well, this did not just happen. It certainly was not there when we first fell in love. Over the last 30 years, we have been through the challenges that are common to other married couples. We have had our fair share of disappointments due to unmet expectations, we quarreled over differing views on raising our children, and we struggled to find time for each other as we built our careers.

I reflected on why, despite the challenges, our love for each other has grown stronger instead of heading south. My conclusion is simply that Michelle and I have deliberately put in effort to become a great lover to each other.

A wise pastor exhorting a couple he was marrying, said, “People say that the pasture over the other side is always greener, I tell you that the greenest pasture is the one that you water daily.” What a simple and yet important truth!

Let me share the steps that Michelle and I took “to water our pasture” and which helped us to steer our marriage through the storms and away from the droughts.

  • Firstly, we were committed to make our marriage work. We took our vows seriously. This, I believe, is the over-arching factor.
  • As we ploughed through the early years of marriage, we learned to consider each other’s interest before our own. Giving up our individual rights was not easy but we worked on it because we were committed to each other and to the children.
  • When we became parents, we did not neglect each other. While Michelle’s maternal instinct kicked in, she did not forget her role as a wife. It was tough on her having to juggle her roles of a wife, mother and businesswoman. On the other hand, I, as her husband, shared the responsibility of parenthood and did not demand that she satisfy my needs. We also deliberately made time for our relationship; we would frequently go for dates and even short holidays without the children to keep our romance glowing.
  • I assumed leadership of the family. I took the responsibility on decisions for the children and our future. Michelle provided her wise opinions without insisting that I must take them. In other words, she supported and willingly followed my leadership. The truth is that I did not always make the right decision but she never blamed me for those wrong decisions.
  • When the children eventually needed less of our time, Michelle and I looked for recreational activities that we both enjoy. We gave up other individual activities to fuel these common ones. We have been going for ballroom dancing lessons together every week in the last seven years. We enjoy Pilates workout together once a week for the last three years. These activities further strengthened our level of intimacy.
  • We do our best to speak well of one another in front of others and especially with our children. We find the positives in each other and expound them frequently. The result is amazing – our perspective of each other changed for the better.
  • We fuel our sexual intimacy. After 30 years together, we are still having a great sexual relationship, even greater than when we were first married.
  • Lastly and most importantly, we build our emotional and spiritual intimacy together. We pray with each other daily and serve together in our church. This intimacy supersedes all other forms of intimacy.

Michelle and I work hand-in-glove continually at turning the dreadful empty nest into our love nest all over again. We work on it because we know that if we don’t, we may end up with “no other reason to cling onto our marriage.” That, we want to avoid at all cost. Our advice to couples getting hitched or those already married: YOU must decide to make your marriage work!

The blogger, Steven Chan, volunteers as a Board Director at Focus On The Family Singapore. He has authored a book, Eight Keys to Family Power, and writes weekly on two blogs: Great Lovers Make a Great Marriage  and Blessed to Bless Others.

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