My husband and I have finally become empty-nesters after many years of raising many children. Those years were so busy focusing on the children – sporting events, concerts, plays, etc. While I wholeheartedly enjoyed every minute of those years, I am now enjoying the freedom to focus on myself. So many things were put on the back burner! It’s exciting to discover just how much is possible with the time I now have.
However, my husband, doesn’t share my enthusiasm. He is very content and comfortable with the routine of our lives and very resistant to change.
One of the routines I would like to change is the one in the kitchen. I have always provided all meal planning and preparation. I find that now there are nights when I don’t even care about having dinner, much less want to be concerned whether another person is eating or not. I would much rather be enjoying a hobby after working all day at my job.
How can I make these changes in my life without scaring my husband to death or upsetting things too much at home?
I selected your letter because I often hear from people — okay, women — who are in your situation. Thrilled to finally be free of child rearing and excited by new found opportunities, they discover their spouses would prefer things stay just as they have always been.
Every long term relationship goes through rather predictable phases and an empty nest is one of the most significant. Perhaps because women have historically shouldered most of the domestic responsibilities, it is little wonder that they float around in their new found freedom, giddy from the discovery that time now exists for so many other pursuits. Meanwhile, their husbands are left wondering if having an empty nest is making their wives a little goofy! Dear husbands, take note – an empty nest can give a hard working woman a kind of joy and release she has been hungry for. Trust me, it’s a good thing.
Your husband needs to recognize what is actually happening rather than what he fears is happening. There is a huge difference. Quite simply, after a few decades of meal preparation, you have tired of the responsibility. To assign any other meaning or interpretation to this would be a mistake.
To be successful, you both need to make changes. Does your husband know how to cook? Has he ever planned a week’s menus? Does he know his way around a grocery store? (Bare with me guys – I’m in your corner. Trust me, I’d be hard pressed if I had to suddenly do a plumbing job!) If all of this is entirely new to him, this transition will take time. If your husband is no stranger to the kitchen, sit down together and do some simple planning. Take turns buying groceries, cooking, and cleaning up. Make sure the pantry is stocked with items that can be easily prepared. Then, stick to your schedule.
What if he orders pizza or brings home deli food? Live with it and treat yourself to the same convenience. And if he fails entirely to produce dinner on his night? Smile, grab some food, and head for you hobby. No finger pointing, guilt, or nagging if you want this to work.
And what about those nights when, exhausted from work, all you want to do is take the night off? Make sure your husband knows that it is the hassle of meal prep that holds no interest for you, not him. For many men, having a wife prepare meals is a measure of love. If this is your situation, look your husband in the eye, reassure him this is only about cooking burnout, and remind him that you love him.
Cooking is just one example of how marriages change after the kids are gone. What happens when a spouse wants to travel and the other doesn’t? What if you want to take a class or volunteer? Each of these individual interests has the potential to upset the proverbial apple cart. If you are about to have an empty nest or find yourself already living in one, know that it is crucial to sit down, address what is happening, reaffirm your commitment to your marriage, and identify what each of you needs. Approach this slowly and responsibly because that empty nest of yours can be an exciting time of discovery for both of you!