How Do I Relate to My Husband?
About the Guest
Marriages, like tides, ebb and flow. Today on the broadcast, authors Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates give some practical advice for reconnecting with your husband during the empty nest.
Marriages, like tides, ebb and flow.
How Do I Relate to My Husband?
Bob: I don't know.
Dennis: They do? Our engineer, Keith Lynch, says they still sell them.
Barbara: So it's the gear; you're wanting to know if the guys have a guide for getting gear.
Bob: It's a tech guide to the empty nest.
Dennis: It is "John and Dennis's Guide to Gear."
Well, we're not talking about our gear guidebook; we are talking about Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest. Welcome back to Susan Yates and my wife, Barbara. Ladies, welcome back to the broadcast.
Susan: Oh, we're having fun, thank you.
Barbara: Thank you.
Dennis: We are having fun. Susan and her husband, John – or Johnny, whichever you prefer, have been … Have been speaking at our Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences for now coming up on a dozen years, Susan. Can you believe?
Susan: No, it's gone by so fast.
Dennis: John is an Anglican pastor at one of the oldest churches on the East Coast of Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia, and Barbara and Susan have teamed up to write this book and, Bob, I really like this book because it's talking about how to really re-engage with your husband in the empty nest.
Barbara: And you like that.
Dennis: And that's what we want to talk about today. Susan, you said when you started this chapter in the book that there were two traps that you saw you could fall into – what were they?
Susan: Well, you know, it was very interesting, Dennis, because I didn't actually give a lot of thought to the empty nest before I hit it. But as I did mull it over, I realized that for me, personally, I could go in one of two directions, neither of which would be very healthy.
And the first was that as I approached the empty nest, and the children left, I have realized that I could have a tendency to expect Johnny to fill the emotional void that was going to be walking out of my life when the children left. In other words, I would expect him to make me feel needed, to make me complete, to affirm me, to appreciate me, to understand me. As I mulled that over, I realized, you know, that wasn't the proper response. I couldn't expect him to fill the emotional void that I would now have because the children had left. So that was one tendency.
The other extreme that I could go to was this. I could go to well, he will just work more and longer hours, and I will just do my own thing, I'll do my writing and speaking, and we'll sort of connect whenever it's convenient.
Dennis: You actually gave that some thought?
Susan: Yes. I felt that could be a possibility – either I would become too emotionally needy and dependent on him, or I would go the other direction, and I'd think, "Well, I'll just get very busy with my own life and do my own thing, and he'll do his own thing, and we'll connect whenever it suits," and I realized that neither was right.
Bob: And can I suggest that unless somebody is intentional about where they're going, it's pretty easy to end up in one of those two spots, don’t you think?
Barbara: Exactly. It's one of the things we talked about in the different places in this book is that we, as women, need to be intentional about how we're going to use our lives, how we're going to reinvest in our marriage, how we are going to relate to our adult children. Those things aren't just going to naturally happen in a good way. We have to think through, "How do we want to do this? What do we want it to look like?" and then be intentional.
Dennis: I think most men are totally unprepared for what their wives are about to experience as they move into the empty nest. I know I was doing my best to help Barbara as we anticipated it some two-three years in advance; but even my best efforts, I look back on and think, “This is such a different season.”
It just has new temptations and certain things you can’t anticipate, Susan. I don’t know that I would have ever had the thought that I would have been the person to have met Barbara’s emotional needs or that she would have expected me to do that. But I could see how that could happen.
Susan: Yes, that can happen, and I think that can happen through many seasons of our life, because we expect our husbands to make us happy. The reality is, no man can love you as much as you need to be loved. Only God can.
And we have to learn to go to God for that, rather than to our husbands first.
Bob: Let me see if I can kind of bring this down to a practical illustration of how this sense of expectation might occur in a marriage relationship. One of the things that your assignment in life demands of you is that you travel a good deal, right?
Bob: And Barbara, because you've had kids at home, you've traveled some but not a lot because you had to be there for the kids, right?
Dennis: Did she set you up to ask this question?
You've been reading our mail.
Bob: I've been reading the book. Did you have an expectation, Dennis, that when the kids were gone …
Bob: … Barbara would just be ready, willing, and able …
Dennis: Without a question.
Bob: … to go on as many or any trips that you wanted her to come along on?
Barbara: No, the word is "all."
Dennis: All trips.
Barbara: All, yes.
Bob: And were you thinking, Barbara, that when the kids were gone, you would get your frequent flyer card out and join your husband?
Barbara: And sign up?
Bob: All around the world?
Barbara: No, I did not. I thought I might go on more trips. I might travel more but I did not have the expectation or the desire to just switch from being a mom to following him all over the country and doing everything that he did.
It's not that I didn't want to spend time with my husband, it's not that I didn't want to join him in things that I had not been able to do previously because of the kids, but I wanted to find out what God equipped me to do, and I didn't want to just switch from following my kids around and helping out with their world to following my husband around and helping him with his world.
I had this sense of wanting to discover more of who I was because, as Susan was saying in another broadcast, we put our lives on hold so much for our kids, not just our relationships with our friends, but we put our talents and our interests and our gifting on hold, in many ways, in order to raise our kids. And so I saw the empty nest not just as an opportunity to join my husband but also as an opportunity to discover more of what God might have for me.
So I saw it a little bit differently than he did.
Dennis: I want to make two very important point here, all right? Number one, it took me a while to hear what she just said.
Barbara: That's correct.
Dennis: As a husband, I had so locked into the idea of her joining me in my pursuit – and I wouldn't say it was just me being selfish, I just was looking forward to spending time with her and enjoying her company as we would travel, all right?
Barbara: That's right.
Dennis: But for the husband to hear what Barbara just said and for it to click in the brain where he goes, "Wait a second, she just made the point I didn't want to move from following my kids around to following my husband around. I wanted my own purpose that I could clearly see before God," and initially, Bob, I was threatened by that because it was, like, "Well, isn't my purpose big enough? Our purpose together?"
Now, I know some of our listeners have kind of even bowed their backs hearing me say that, but that was my initial response. But after a while, it began to sink in – my wife needs her own purpose and passion and adventure that goes with mine and that is hers and hers alone.
The second thing I want to say is that the trap that Susan mentioned about co-existing – that would have been the trap that Barbara and I would have fallen into – two successful people co-existing, keeping busy schedules, Barbara’s more around the home, mine more around out there, and instead of sharing a mutual purpose and having a common objective on the horizon, we could have just co-existed, like you talked about.
Bob: Well, I think it may be the most common thing a couple experiences, where a wife has been busy with her things, a husband’s been busy with his; there’s been a growing isolation. Now the kids are gone and you look at each other and you’re not sure who the other person is or if you like one another.
Barbara: That’s right.
Susan: That’s right.
Bob: If you have not been purposeful in maintaining a relationship over the time when the kids are at home, and you think, “Well, we’ll wait ‘til the kids are gone and then we’ll re-engage that,” it’s going to be very difficult.
Dennis: Well, Barbara and Susan talk about this in their book; that the relational weaknesses that are in the marriage will resurface again in the empty nest years.
Bob: In a big way?
Dennis: In a big way. That’s why I would say to any couple that's moving in this direction, especially in the childrearing years, and you see the empty nest on the horizon some maybe five, even 10, years in advance, do some good offensive planning. Go to a Weekend to Remember as a couple and begin to elevate your vision of marriage and family beyond the children.
Bob: Yes, we are hosting these conferences in cities all across the country, and if our listeners are interested in finding out when a conference is coming to a city near where they live, they can go to FamilyLife.com, and there is more information about the conferences there.
And, Barbara, it's important, because the statistics I've seen show that while the divorce rate is high in the first few years of marriage, it kind of goes down for a while and plateaus, but you get to the empty nest, and it pops back up. And if there's not an actual divorce going on, in many cases there are emotional divorces going on, or there are extramarital affairs starting to happen. This is a precarious season for a marriage.
Barbara: Yes, it's really a dangerous season because you do arrive, and I think all of us arrive at the empty nest. I don't care how good your marriage is, you are going to arrive at the empty nest with some gaps and some places where you missed each other, and there is going to be a sense because even Dennis and I felt it, too, and we – our vocation is helping people with their marriages.
But we arrived at the empty nest, and there were some places where we looked at each other and went, "Who are you," and we felt some gaps. And so it's very important that couples work on their marriages ahead of time but especially when you come to the empty nest, realize that it is going to be one of the adjustments that you will deal with when the kids leave. “How do I relate to this man? How do we make this marriage stronger and thrive ahead into the future?”
Bob: Susan, you talked with one woman who was at the empty nest or in the empty nest, and she was experiencing some temptations outside of her marriage. She was honest enough with you to say, "This is something I'm really struggling with."
Susan: She was, and it was an interesting thing. A bunch of us were having coffee together around her kitchen table one morning, and she shared with us – we were all close friends and all growing in our faith, and she had the freedom to say "I need to share with you a problem I'm having. I find that I am being emotionally attracted to a man who is not my husband.
He's a poet. I'm a writer. We are thrown together because our spouses are in the same profession, so we're together unavoidably quite a bit socially, and we are sharing books, we're sharing thoughts, he's calling me during the week, and I find that many times I feel like he understands me better than my own husband. And nothing has happened beyond that at this point, but I know that I am walking on dangerous ground, and I need to ask you to hold me accountable for ending this relationship."
Well, as we sat around the table with our coffee, her telephone rang, and she picked up the phone, and her face went ashen white, and she looked into the phone, and then she turned and looked at us, and she said back into the phone, "I need to ask you not to call me anymore. This relationship is not healthy, and it must end now."
Dennis: It was the guy.
Susan: And it was the guy. And, you know, we marveled at the goodness of God that He would allow that gentleman to call her right when we were sitting there together around the coffee table to be the support that she needed to flee temptation. That was just a great warning to all of us because, for women, most adulterous affairs begin at the emotional level, and we need to flee deep emotional involvement with a man that is not our husband.
I think we need to be aware of that as we approach the empty nest in the marketplace; that we need to run towards our husbands and re-engage with them emotionally rather than allowing ourselves to be tempted by someone else who appears to understand us better than our own husband does.
Bob: So, Barbara, if you were sitting with a woman headed toward the empty nest, and she said, "You know, our marriage is okay, I mean, it's fine. There are no big gaps. Yeah, there's some distance, there's some isolation, but I guess that's the case for every marriage. But I am a little afraid that once the kids are gone, it's going to feel quiet and lonely, and we're not going to know what to say to each other.” What would you tell her to do?
Barbara: Well, first, I would tell her that that's going to be normal, to feel like it's quiet and lonely, and you don't know what to say to each other, because I think that's the common experience, and to not be frightened by that; to expect that to be a part of the experience.
But then, secondly, I would say find something that you can participate in with your husband where you can grow your marriage, because I think what Susan just said about reconnecting with your husband on an emotional level is the real answer. Find a way to reconnect with him, because that was what you had in the beginning that so often sort of goes to the background because of the emotional engagement that we have with our children, and so when the empty nest arrives, we need to find ways to reconnect emotionally with our husband.
So it could be a Weekend to Remember, as we were talking about earlier; it could be reading a book together; it could be joining a couples’ Bible study; it could be even just taking a vacation together when your last one leaves home so that you begin to have common experiences that you are sharing together as a couple, and those things provide cement, and you need to find those.
Bob: Like going on trips with him, that kind of thing?
I'm sorry, I was trying to help you out here.
Dennis: Thank you, Bob. I need all the help I can get.
What Barbara is talking about, though - I think Hollywood has done such a great job of creating this romantic myth of what marital love ought to look like, all of our marriage days. We don't have great pictures of what it looks like in this season for a couple to grow old together, and yet when we stood before a pastor, and we promised, what did we promise? To love, honor, cherish, to have and to hold; you had all the promises of through sickness and health and poverty and wealth and all those matters were promised back then, and now you've had a chance to experience it.
And it may do well for a couple to simply go back and reaffirm their commitment and the promise they made to one another, and then do something like Barbara is talking about some way to invest in the marriage relationship.
I'll never forget seeing a movie that was made by some amateurs, and it was a 30-minute movie. It was a short story; but it was a movie about a couple who were right here, I mean, they were alone. The children had left, and it revealed a lack of relationship. I felt like the story wasn't very realistic because it found them finding hope alone in a log cabin.
Dennis: I'm not sure that's going to happen for most couples. I think what they need to do is to find hope with other couples around the Scriptures and around God's Word, and the experience of a Weekend to Remember and re-pledge their promise to each other, but then get busy building a marriage and a family according to God's blueprints.
Bob: As you were talking, I was thinking about two things. I was thinking, first of all, that connection with a couple that's a few years down the road from you who can say, "You know, we felt this, we went through this, it's okay." That can be so helpful, so encouraging, but the other thing I thought is there needs to be a renaissance of empty nest vow renewal services. You know, what a perfect time for couples to step forward and say, "Can we rent the church on Friday night or on Saturday, when there's not a wedding going on, and can we just have some friends over and renew our vows?"
Dennis: Or your neighborhood.
Bob: Yes, you can do it in your living room, for that matter; but let's start the new chapter of our life with a fresh ceremony that says all the stuff we said we were going to do, we're still going to do it, and now we know better, because we know what it's going to be, but you know what? We still do. And we intend to do until death do us part. What a great way to inaugurate this season of life.
Dennis: And then maybe to take that fresh renewal and to head out on a long vacation together.
Bob: In fact, as I remember, you and Johnny did this, headed off on a long vacation, and there was a convertible involved, is that right?
Susan: This is true. We decided right before our last child got married, that we were going to be a little sad. We anticipated again that we were going to be a little sad as the last one left. So we borrowed a beach house from friends, and two days after the wedding, we left the house a mess, the thank you notes unwritten, and we went to the beach, and Johnny surprised me by renting a red convertible with the top down - he thought he was 28 again - and we drove off.
And while we were away, we went to a little chapel, and we did go through the wedding ceremony again together, and, you know, it was interesting. In all honesty, as we left to go on this trip, I was a little bit nervous because I thought, "This is the beginning of something very strange; this is the beginning of just us again, after all of these years of having children, and is it going to feel awkward?"
And it did feel awkward for a little bit of time. But being away, we had a week away together where it was just us and, during that time, we could talk about, "This is the beginning of something fresh, and make a list, okay, what do we want to do in this next season of our lives?" And just, for the first time, after many years, be able to invest in building that best friendship again because the older you get in life, it's the companionship that becomes sweeter and sweeter and sweeter.
But I think what Barbara and I have discovered more than anything else is that we have to be intentional, we have to be intentional.
Bob: Well, I love the fact that you call this book, The Guide to the Empty Nest, because I think this is an area where we need to be guided. It’s an area where we haven’t been before, as men or as women. And so, to have somebody who has gone down the path and can say, “Here’s what I experienced. Here’s what I saw. Here’s what I felt.” That’s a great resource.
And we’ve got copies of Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online to FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call toll-free 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
You know, one of the things we really appreciate here at FamilyLife is hearing from listeners – those of you who get in touch with us and let us know how God has used the ministry of FamilyLife in your life. We hear some great stories about couples who have attended the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, or now we’re hearing stories from couples who have been to one of our Art of Marriage Video Events, and of course we love hearing from FamilyLife Today listeners who tell us about how this program intersected with them at a strategic moment in their life.
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We appreciate you listening, and we appreciate your support.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to talk about one of the real challenges for moms as they work through the empty nest years, and that’s the challenge of letting go. We'll talk about that tomorrow with Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates. I hope you can be back with us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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