Lifelines: Empty Nest Syndrome
EMPTY nest syndrome can be a painful experience that doesn't always get as much sympathy as it should. This is partly because the process of a child leaving home successfully is regarded as one of life's pivotal transitions, such as the first day at school or getting married.
Nevertheless, there can be a mix of pleasure and pain which leaves sufferers feeling paralysed and listless. It is sometimes accompanied by 'seeking' behaviour, where the parent or carer wanders from room to room, looking for the 'lost' child. It is not only mothers who suffer but also fathers or a grandparent, or whoever is the main carer. The vital thing is to try and understand the feelings and not make fun of them. This is a grief reaction like any other. Some people experience a sense of meaninglessness while others become belligerent or rush into affairs. Many relationships start to get into difficulties at this stage and both partners need patience to try and understand each other's point of view. n
Gone off sex
We have been married 24 years and our last child has finally left home. I have been longing to get our life back but my wife won't talk to me. Sex has more or less stopped and she doesn't even cook anymore. What should I do? Is she depressed?
It sounds more like a period of mourning while she is trying to come to terms with the loss of her role in the family. For many women, being a mother and looking after the family is the main focus of their lives and it is not clear what they are 'for' when the last child leaves home. Give her space to get used to this major transition while unobtrusively supporting any new initiatives she feels able to make. Once she finds herself a new role, her energy is likely to come back, and with it her libido, so you might get more than you bargained for!
Can't give up
I have a caring and thoughtful partner and twin girls who've just started school so I have more time on my hands. I have my old job back, but I am wrecking everything by having sex with one of the guys at work. I know I should stop but I can't give him up.
Are you feeling trapped by your commitments, or looking for something to fill the space in your life? You say your partner is caring and thoughtful but you don't mention love. Would it help to suggest a meal out together where you can talk about what you each want from the relationship now the emphasis has shifted a bit? I suspect you both are looking for a bit of romance and might find it nearer home if you try.
Our daughter is about to get married and all I want is to give her the best possible send-off but my wife keeps cancelling things we have organised, telling us we are being extravagant. Why is she being so unreasonable?
She might be jealous.
Everybody knows about the special relationship between father and daughter and perhaps your wife is feeling a bit sidelined. She might even be afraid that this is the shape of things to come, with her being discarded as you look for pastures new. Some people cover their fears with irritation. It sounds as if your daughter's marriage may be a big loss to you too, so now is the time to try and talk honestly to each other and share your real feelings. You may find you have much in common.
Helen Weston is head of professional practice at Relationships Scotland in Edinburgh, with overall responsibility for training and practice. She is a COSCA-accredited trainer and a BACP accredited counsellor, with specialist training in relationship counselling and supervision.
• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on August 29, 2010
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