EMPTY NESTS AND EMPTY MARRIAGES - 9/4/01
cmfce at his.com
Tue Sep 4 12:40:12 EDT 2001
subject: EMPTY NESTS AND EMPTY MARRIAGES - 9/4/01
from: Smart Marriages
EMPTY NESTS AND EMPTY MARRIAGES
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
September 4, 2001
It's September. The children are off to college and many
parents are packing their bags, too.
Although some may be going off on vacation, many couples
will be headed for divorce court, say marriage specialists.
The "empty nest" can be a perilous time for married couples,
said Claudia Arp, who, with husband David, has written two
books on how to "retool" a marriage after the children leave
Many couples stay together as long as their children are the
focus of the family, Mrs. Arp said in an interview. The
whirlwind of work, school and social activities can be
all-consuming -- especially during the teen years -- and may
act as a buffer for problems in the parents' relationship.
When the children leave home, the natural next step is for
couples to move their focus from their children to each
other, Mrs. Arp said. But in many cases, husbands and wives
"look around at that other bird in their nest and think they
don't know them, they're not sure they like them and they're
not sure they want to spend another 30 years in the
marriage," she said.
The marital meltdown can be swift, said Mrs. Arp, often
stemming from a mountain of "little issues" that have
accumulated and created an emotional distance between
For instance, she recalled, a well-to-do man recently called
her in a panic, saying that after his children left, his
wife told him she didn't love him anymore and wanted out of
"I'll do anything; just tell me what to do," the man had
begged his wife.
Mrs. Arp said that based on her and her husband's
experiences running Marriage Alive seminars, "there really
is a way back" to a happy marriage if both spouses want to
work for it.
But the reason the Arps are sounding an alarm about
late-in-life divorces is because they believe it happens far
more frequently than couples realize.
According to data from the National Center for Health
Statistics, the overall divorce rate declined by 1.4 percent
between 1981 and 1991, the Arps said in their 1996 book,
"The Second Half of Marriage: Facing the Eight Challenges of
the Empty-Nest Years."
However, during those same years, the divorce rate grew 16
percent for couples married 30 years or more.
Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family
and Couples Education, said that "with baby boomers hitting
that empty-nest wall in droves, we might see a spike in the
divorce rates if we don't do something."
"In our focus on preparing newlyweds," she added, "we often
forget how fast things can unravel at the other end of
"It's certainly possible that there could be a peak in the
divorce rate via the numbers of baby boomers," said Craig A.
Everett, a marriage therapist in Arizona and editor of the
Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.
"However, there are other important factors in the
equation," he said. Both baby boomer spouses often have
careers, which may reduce their "empty nest" feelings, he
said. Also, "the new marital enhancement movement may
encourage couples who have been unhappy during their
parenting years to seek either therapy or educational
experiences at the time of the empty nest rather than
Some people who have studied divorce said they have not seen
dire data about the empty-nest years.
Alan J. Booth, a sociology professor at Pennsylvania State
University, said that in his studies of people in their 40s
and of midlife crises, "We couldn't find any spike in the
Moreover, his colleague -- University of Nebraska sociology
professor Lynn White, who has studied the empty-nest years
-- found that marital happiness grew after the children
The bliss didn't last long -- maybe a year or so -- "but
it's sort of a chance for a second honeymoon," Ms. White
Members of the Adult Kids of Divorce (AKOD) club at
www.yahoo.com , who were all 18 or older when their parents
divorced, said they didn't need statistics to tell them that
something terrible was happening in too many families.
AKOD club co-founder Susan Cherepon said the 1999 divorce of
her parents after 25 years of marriage was "absolutely the
worst thing that ever happened to me, bar none."
"It rips your whole world apart," said Miss Cherepon, who
lives near Boston. "Everything you thought you were sure of,
suddenly you're not sure of."
"It was a terrible time. I went through all the pain and
grief that any child does when this sort of thing happens,
but I had the added bonus of having zero support because I
was an adult," said Susan Hackett of Toronto, whose parents
divorced when she was in graduate school.
Many AKOD members said that divorce caught them by surprise.
"My parents appeared to have an ideal marriage -- married
for 30-plus years, laughed a lot, always made up after
fights, so the fact they were divorcing, splitting up, was a
shock to me," said Rachel Michelson of Sunnyvale, Calif.,
who learned of the breakup while she was planning her
"I often thought [divorce] would happen growing up, yet
after the 30-year mark, I felt sure we were through the bad
part," said Kelly Stewart of Wartburg, Tenn., whose parents
are in the process of divorcing. "My father thinks things
are still salvageable," she said, but her mother believes
she can "do her art thing" only if she is free of him.
Several AKOD members said postponing the divorce didn't make
it any easier.
"Regardless of whether I am 7 or 27, I am still my parents'
child and it is still my family that is breaking up," said
Karen Eddins of Brooklyn, N.Y.
"I don't believe there is 'better timing' when you are
talking about your parents' divorce," said Mandy Hagood of
Austin, Texas, who was 25 years old when her parents parted.
"I've often wondered if it would have been easier had I been
a child," she said, since hearing details about the breakup
even as an adult was traumatizing and led her to question
her own marriage.
Some marriage specialists say few resources are available
for families who are wrestling with late-in-life marriage
problems. The Arps said they wrote a second book last year
with Scott M. Stanley, Howard J. Markman and Susan L.
Blumberg because of a lack of practical advice on the issue.
Jana Staton, a marriage therapist in Missoula, Mont., uses
the 1999 movie "The Story of Us" to help married couples
avoid empty-nest divorces.
The movie is about a 15-year married couple played by Bruce
Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer, who separate and consider
divorce while their children are away at summer camp.
"This is the only movie I've seen that really looked at the
anatomy of a marriage" with respect for the union and its
difficulties, said Mrs. Staton.
"A lot of couples think they can wait until the kids are out
of the house before dealing with their marriage," she said.
"The message I want to give is not to wait."
This article was mailed from The Washington Times
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