Ask the Expert: The kids are gone, should I go too?
Taking time to think and talk through what you are thinking and feeling might help you clarify what you can reasonably hope for from the relationship and what you might have to accept. Photograph: Getty Images
Q I have been married for 26 years and have drifted apart from my husband to the point that we almost live separate lives. Our three children are all grown up and the youngest left to work in England last September.
I also started back to work full-time a year ago and I love this – it has given me a new lease in life. I have met some really great people who I get on with and socialise with.
My husband is very critical at what he calls “my new life” and is always giving me digs about my new friends. He, on the other hand, tends to stay in all the time watching the TV and seems to have no drive to do anything apart from his work.
I am keen to enjoy this new phase of life and to travel and start new things. However, he just pours cold water on all my ideas. I find myself increasingly resentful of him and have started imagining myself leaving him.
But am also torn because he is a great father and our children all adore him. I don’t want to throw away 25 years of a marriage but I feel increasingly alone in the house even though he is there all the time.
A Your letter highlights a common experience for couples who spend many years parenting and raising their children together only to find themselves alone again when the children leave home.
Frequently, relationship conflicts and stresses come to the fore at this point that may have been dormant for many years as the demands of parenting were met.
The challenge can be that individual partners cope very differently with these changes. Some greet the new-found freedom as a great liberation and look forward to new projects and opportunities; others might be more stuck in the grind or be trying to recover what they feel they might have lost.
It is perfectly normal to question your relationship at this point and to wonder about the future.
Indeed, many couples decide to go their separate ways when their children leave home and some drift into living separate lives without making a clear decision either way.
However, other couples use this period as an opportunity to renegotiate and re-imagine their relationship with each other and to plan a new phase of life together.
It is of course your decision (as well as your husband’s) which path you go down, but it strikes me that there may be an opportunity to restart and reinvigorate your relationship together.
The challenge is encouraging your husband to join with you to positively embrace this new stage in life.
Understanding where your husband is at
The first step in moving forward is to try to understand what your husband might be thinking and feeling about what is going on.
He may feel quite insecure at the fact you have started a new career that has created a new social life in which he is not involved. He could indeed feel threatened by the new friends you have made and might sense that you are pulling away from him.