Parenting is Seasonal – Marriage is for Life

The empty-nest years should be some of the richest in our married lives because by that time in life, we have had countless shared experiences through so many highs and lows as a couple. We have experienced great joy together and great pain together and have weathered various trials. We have labored through our early marriage and parenting years and come out the other side still intact! Yet, unfortunately over the years, I’ve heard too many stories of marriages falling apart in the first years of being empty-nesters. After weathering so many storms and sharing so many triumphs together, why do couples suddenly decide that their marriage is over?Our natural selfishness has been suppressed for 18 plus years by the selfless demands of parenting. So, how can it all fall apart so quickly?

The answer is that it can’t. The reality is that it started falling apart a long time before the kids grew wings and left the nest. And this is a reminder that there are so many things working against marriages today that we have to watch out for because our Enemy is the master of subtle deception. One primary way he attacks us is by making us extraordinarily busy with the “things” of parenting that by all conventional wisdom, are good things. We all want our children to have great experiences scattered throughout their childhoods and we want to prepare them for future success as well. But our culture has developed an unhealthy obsession with our children that borders on idolatry.

Couples often start to lose track of each other shortly after the kiddos come along because the demands of keeping our children on track for their future “success” (according to the world’s standards) amount to more than a full-time job. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a key culprit here. FOMO used to be incited exclusively by individual verbal exchanges, but with the advent of social media, we have developed the ability to spread it through multiple fronts to multiple recipients with the push of a single button. Constantly seeing all of the great things everyone else’s kids are doing is a tough appeal for our fallen natures to resist—even when we know that everyone really only posts the good things and conveniently leaves out the tough stuff.

And so, as Christ-followers we need to resist the urge to buy into the parenting hysteria and remember to nurture the one relationship that will still be there when the kids are grown—our marriage. We must realize that we would be hard-pressed to survive a 20-year hiatus because our sin nature already gives us a predisposition to grow apart during these years. You see, Adam’s role in the fall of mankind was that of passivity—he stood by and watched while Eve was deceived and said nothing. He failed to lead. Men still have that tendency for relational passivity. Because while we men may be quite successful in the workplace, leading and accomplishing, we can still have no idea how to lead well in our homes, falling into passivity and not proactively pursuing our wives. Being relationally proactive and nurturing comes more naturally to women than it does for us guys. Uncovering the mystery of the inner workings of a woman’s soul seems like a high mountain to climb for many men, so we may choose instead to simply neglect to engage. Our wives, then, while frustrated at our lack of engagement, can still get their relational itch scratched through interactions with the children, parents, and friends. A wife essentially searches elsewhere to get her needs met because it’s easier than the seemingly insurmountable task of helping her husband understand her.

In reality, it’s just easier for most couples to default to the parenting relationship than the marriage relationship. They have some control in their parenting role; they don’t have to be vulnerable in their parenting role; children have to accept parents and their methods because they have little power in the relationship. Marriage would be a lot easier if it had that same dynamic, but spouses have equal power in the relationship, and it requires give-and-take and compromise. The unfortunate moral of this story is that good parents can raise good kids and still wake up one day to realize they’ve lost track of each other.

Bottom line: Don’t let your marriage become a casualty of the busyness of parenting! Husbands, don’t neglect to engage in uncovering the mystery of your wife’s soul. She will continue to be a mystery to you at times, but you can grow to understand her needs and faithfully work to meet them whether they make sense to you or not. Love her as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. He gave His very life for the church. So husbands are commanded to put a lot of effort into understanding their wives. And wives, in the midst of being crazy busy, it’s worth the extra effort to protect some emotional energy from being sucked out of you by the kids and set it aside for your husband. Respect him and remind him regularly that he (not the children) is your first love here on earth and that you appreciate what he does outside the home. In doing so, you will likely find that his engagement in your battles will come to life. And couples, remind yourselves regularly of the qualities that drew you to your spouse before you had children and trust that those qualities are still there. During those sacrificial years of parenting, it simply takes more effort to stay connected to those reasons you fell in love in the first place, but it’s well worth it!

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