Hi there and welcome to the couple’s expert relationship podcast, this is Stuart Fensterheim the couple’s expert. Today is February 23rd and it’s a pretty gloomy day here in Scottsdale, Arizona but I am just so happy to be able to take some time right now out of my busy schedule to talk a lot about how to have positive, close and connected relationships. There really isn’t anything more important than that because relationships in our lives just really have a way of either making our day look bright and cheerful or gloomy and dark.

Today it’s overcast here in sunny Arizona and my folks went up this weekend to Sedona, to the Sedona Film Festival, I’ve just heard from a couple of people around my office that it’s snowing up there, I am not sure if that’s accurate or not but if it is, more power to them! My brother came in to town from back east and I’m sure the last thing he was looking for was snow, they’ve had plenty. Anyway, today is sort of an interesting day for me because I was trying to figure out exactly what topic would be helpful to all of you and lo and behold it came to me. This weekend I had an opportunity to spend some good quality time with my daughter who by the way turned 18 on Saturday. That fact just really brought it to home of what I would like to talk about today. What I want to talk about is, as a couple when our kids our growing up and you look around and you realize that fairly soon it will just be the two of you, sometimes there’s an exciting feeling that comes with that but sometimes it feels pretty glooming particularly if the relationship has not been as close as you want it to be. The children have a tendency to take a lot of the emotional energy from the relationship and satisfied either one of you emotionally because they were an emotional substitute for what was missing in the relationship.

My wife made a comment this weekend after my daughter left to go back home to her mom’s, did I realize that probably this was the last birthday party that I’ll ever have in my house, and you know what she’s right, because I don’t know too many kids that once they go off and begin their own life have birthday parties back at their home. We’ll go out to dinner, we’ll do those types of things but to really have a party where she invites friends over, that probably is going to be the last one that I’ll experience with her and that can be pretty sad. So what I thought I would do is talk a little bit about what that’s like for couples and how to maintain a strong positive relationship even after the child leave home

 Stuart Fensterheim’s Daughters 18th year old Party

One of the things I do want to mention though because I’m still sort of reeling from the weekend is I really found great joy in this party that I did. What we ended up doing is inviting some of her friends over and all of them went out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant called Brio, and Brio did such a wonderful job for her. What they did is we were able to personalize a menu and what I am going to do is put a copy of it on my website if you want to see what it looked like. That basically had a happy birthday Rachel and then we were able to pre order the meals that her friends were going to pick and we gave them each a couple of choices of salad and a couple of entries that they could pick and everything went just so amazingly well, I was really proud of her and proud of the event that we were able to do for her.

Before I get into today’s topic, I want to remind everyone that all the show notes and transcript will be at my blog at so you don’t need to take notes while you’re listening to this podcast plus if you’re driving and listening probably not a good idea anyway,

Prevent relationships from crashing

just kidding! I really would like to publicly thank Brio in all the things that they did for us to have her have such a special event. If you want to do this, they are incredibly helpful and all you need to do is call over there and speak to the manager and they will be happy to help you do something very similar. In thinking about all of this and recognizing that both of my children will be gone within the next few months, it really brought about a lot of emotions for me. They were both happy and sad emotions to be honest and I’m really proud of my kids and who they’ve become so it’s not really a negative experience thinking about them moving out and going out into the world, I think the world will have some challenges for them but at the same time, I feel really good that they’ll be able to really maneuver and be able to take care of themselves.

I think that is a really positive statement that I can make for myself and the parenting job that both her mom and I have done with these children. The most positive though for me is to be able to really think about my kids and the fact that at 18 years old and 20 years old through our lives together, I have been able to develop with both my kids efforts as well as mine the ability to establish a relationship with my children that they’re both positive and rewarding for me and for them. I think we all sort of enjoy each other’s company and more importantly we like each other and that’s really a testament to all of us who have worked with these kids on having them become the kinds of people that they’re becoming.

Empty Nesting and Parenting

Happy Parenting with the Couples Expert

Empty Nesting and Parenting

What I’m going to talk about today is becoming an empty nester, but not allowing this stage in your life to have a negative effect on your marriage. So often in my office, I hear from couples who have raised children and, when the children are about to leave home, a lot of fear and anguish comes up. The typical concern I hear is the fact that now it’s just going to be the two of you, that the two of you are going to be alone without the interference of the children and without the distractions that children bring. That can cause some couples to turn and look at each other with the feeling that they’re living with a stranger—and there’s nothing more horrible than that.

What Does Empty Nesting

Mean to Me As A Parent?


I think the first think I’d like to do, though, is describe what the symptoms are that come with being an empty nester. The symptoms that typically I hear about tend to be parents suffering and feeling sadness, some anxiety, and excessive worry about the welfare of their children. As I was discussing earlier, I really feel like my ex-wife and I have done a good job at preparing our kids for the world—both from an emotional standpoint (giving them sort of a good heart) and also for them being a little bit street savvy so that they know how to take care of themselves.

I think that of all the things that happen for me through my time with my kids, it’s being able to help and shape them so that they don’t walk out of our home scared of the world—because sometimes this world can be a scary place. I remember early on when I would ask one of my kids to walk to the store, they were at first petrified, and it took a lot of encouraging and pushing on my part to have them be able to walk not too far from our home and not be afraid. I’m hopeful that those lessons and my taking some of those risks with them will pay off in the end for them to become more independent people.

So, what happens with some parents is that—along with their fears—they feel a deep sense of loneliness and a lack of purpose that is really a sad state of affairs if you ask me, because what I would hope for with most couples is that they would see the day their children leave the nest as an opportunity for them to really establish their identities with one another.

 Enjoy Your Relationship—You Deserve It!


Really enjoy this stage in your life! Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. For the most part, I feel like the parents who are most affected by this are those who have been stay-at-home parents or are people who are full-time parents who don’t really have careers or other obligations with which they’ve been very involved.

Now, I don’t want anyone listening to this podcast to think that I think it is a negative thing to be a stay-at-home mom. I think it’s actually a wonderful thing and I sort of feel bad that my kids did not have the opportunity to have a stay-at-home mom with them. So, there is sort of a negative side, but, the positive side is that if you have a career and have something other than parenting, you have an interest that you can then expand upon. Because if your primary role is not the parenting, then there are other things that you can get excited about in your life other than raising the children.

Parents who have a rocky or unstable relationship, though, are the most affected and most at risk for this, which is why I’m going to spend such a long time today in our podcast talking about how to improve that relationship and make you and your partner excited about your children leaving home, knowing that you’re going to have your best friend there and that the two of you will be able to have experiences that will bring you closer together.

One of the things that I want to share is that some of the feelings that come up for the two of you are absolutely normal. It is normal to feel sad during this kind of transition.


However, the attachment that you have to your child could be too deep, meaning that it has been a substitute for the relationship that you should have established with your partner. We also want to take a look at the deep relationship and the love that you’ve been able to share with your child, and the fact that you have a child leaving home who knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved by you. You have spent a great portion of your life raising them and making them a priority, and this can only have them feeling good about themselves, knowing how important they are.


Things to Remember When You

Have an Empty Nest


  1. One of the things that we talk a lot about in emotionally focused therapy is infant secure attachments. If your child has emerged from your home feeling securely attached, they have such an incredible beginning toward having positive relationships in their life as adults and with adult relationships. Feeling secure would then lead to them having the most positive, connected relationships possible. One of the really interesting videos (that I think I may have shared previously and maybe even put a link on before, but I’ll do it again) I recommend is watching on YouTube the Still Face experiment. It will show you how important having secure attachments really are.


  1. The second thing I want to share about being an empty nester that you need to remember is that you need to begin to define the kids’ leaving home as a new beginning for you and the children—a new life for all of you.


  1. Think of this change as a real opportunity for you to start a new life with your partner, with the ability to do many of the things that you might have been unable to do while you were raising children.


For example, if you’re someone who really would have liked to do things like sky diving, it’s an opportunity to do that. I am not quite sure if sky diving is the place that I would go…but let’s say you’re someone who loves to travel but traveling has been difficult because of school and because the holidays don’t really fit with what the airlines are doing. You now have the opportunity to travel much more now that the children are gone.


  1. Unless you’re paying for college, you will have more financial possibilities. Are you someone who’s excited about making investments? Maybe taking some risks with investments that you would not ordinarily take if you were stressed about having the finances to save up for college or having the financial obligations of raising a child? With no more gymnastics classes or dance classes or band or football or all those things that now are not necessary for you to do financially, you will have more resources to do a lot of fun things in your life




 Coping with this Transition


In coping with some of this, I don’t want you to be hesitant about leaning on friends and family and sharing with them how this has been a difficult transition for you. There is a real loss that you’re experiencing, and you really need support right now. You need them to reach out to you and spend time with you, giving you things to do that have been taken away now that the kids are out of the house.


So, use your friends, family, and colleagues to give you a social outlet. What I don’t want you to think about is that this is sort of like a death—because kids that leave home do come back, they come to visit. Sometimes they even come visit more often than you want them to come visit.


Positive Aspects of Technology

for the Empty Nester


One of the things that I talk a lot about with couples and families is how technology can sometimes get in the way of allowing you to have a close, connected relationship. But I think this is an opportunity where technology can bring about ongoing closeness and contact.


In today’s age, with all the technological advancements, you are provided with opportunities to stay connected with people more than ever. There are so many ways right now to stay connected: you can text, there is FaceTime, there is Skype, and there is Viber. There are so many ways that people can stay in touch now, you can have an ongoing dialogue with your children once they leave home, and since most kids love that technology, it allows you to do things with kids.


I had a couple in my office the other day who said one of the best things that had happened to them is that they’ve been able to play games with their kids through Facebook and in different ways than they ever used to play games with the kids. This is now their opportunity. They are allowing themselves to really engage with their children in a different way than they ever have, and I think that is pretty cool.


Taking Care of Yourself and Your Partner is Critically


 couples massageAnother idea that I have and another message that I’d like to send you is to please take this opportunity to do some really nice things for yourself and do them on a regular basis. Get a massage, take a class, do arts and crafts, take a yoga or Pilates class, work out—there are so many things that you can do. At the community college level, you can have experiences that bring you out of your shell and allow you to really expand your horizons.

One of the best things that I also would suggest is to do some volunteer work. My wife and I do that with a local dog-foster organization for Labrador Retrievers. As the kids get older,

Foster Animals to Help Add to Your Familyone of the things that we began to realize is that our pets are getting older, too, so we wanted to reach out to the organization because we’re both very much dog lovers. We began to foster Labs, (here is a picture of Joey, our foster Lab) and it has been such a wonderful opportunity for my wife and I to share something meaningful to us. I believe that this experience is going to allow us to stay strong as a couple once the kids are out of the house, so doing some volunteer work together can really be beneficial for the two of you



Be Kind to Yourself and Your Relationship


I want to drive home this particular message: if you and your partner have raised your children and they’ve walked out of your home in a pretty decent, emotionally positive way without getting themselves in too much difficulty through the years, you should celebrate this. You have done something quite extraordinary and it’s probably the most important job in our society. I think you need to pat yourselves on the back.


We all walk away from this experience as parents (particularly in this stage of our lives) and sometimes we’ve got lots and lots of regrets. We can identify and recognize many situations where we absolutely blew it with them, but I think we need to be kind to ourselves, that we need to give ourselves permission to not have been perfect.

If your children walk away knowing that you’re important in their lives and they have a very clear sense that they are important to you, you’ve done a really good job. I think that sometimes we get so caught up in making sure that we give the right consequences for kids so that we don’t let them get away with things, but more importantly, at least from my perspective, is, do they feel loved? If they feel loved and have a secure attachment with you, you have been an incredibly successful parent—pat yourselves on the back!


No Big Changes at This Time in Your Life


You need to also recognize that this is a time of transition for you. Just like in other life transitions, don’t make any big decisions for yourself and keep your decisions about your future at a distance right now. You want to get through this, get through the time when the kids finally do move away. Make big decisions later, realize that things are changing for you. You don’t know what your children’s needs are at this point (that will come with time), but realize that a lot is going to happen for you and resist the temptation to make any major decisions about your future.


No Time like the Present for a Vacation


I think you should celebrate though, and you should celebrate by planning a vacation for you and your wife. I am going to have that opportunity myself. My birthday is in September, and I’m going to be turning 60 years old. My wife and I are planning an adventure for my 60th birthday and it’s also good opportunity for us to celebrate just being the two of us.

Take A Vacation as a Couple with your Spouse




The bottom line of all of this is that most long-term married couples end up having some difficulties with their children moving out, and you need to make sure that your partner recognizes how important they still are to you.


There is no shame in getting advice and reaching out for help. I think that there are many ways of doing that—there are couples communication classes, marriage counseling, and there are books that you can work on together. A lot of people see therapy only as a last resort, but I think people wait way too long before trying it. I highly recommend that to nip some of these problems in the bud, get some help as soon as possible and make this phase of your life the best time of your life.


Have a relationship in the later years in your life in which you are close with your partner and both of you feel so wonderful that you have spent the years of your life together, raising your children, having the most fun in your life because you’re with your best friend—each other. Take care, and I’ll see you next time



Do We Need Counseling To Help Us??

Lastly what I’m going to be giving you is 7 ways that couple’s counseling can help people going through the emptiness syndrome. The reality is there has been a large increase in the divorce rate among couples who’ve been married 30 or more years, much of the breakups occur because of the empty nest syndrome that we’ve been talking about. Partners recognize just how different and separate their lives become and without intervention or help, they end up divorcing and it is really sad when you hear about people who’ve been married 30-40 years and ending up divorced. Couples in particular in their second half of the marriage need more help than previously. So how can couples counseling help some of this? And this is what it can do.

    1. if you’re sitting down with a couples counselor especially one that is skilled in emotionally focused therapy or attachment theory, they’ll be able to help guide you in re-establishing and increasing the connection that you have with one another, many couples just have grown distant and don’t really talk any more so by sitting down with someone who can help guide the conversations, you can be more open with one another and talk more honestly about the things that have been missing in the relationship. You know it takes a lot of courage and willingness to be vulnerable with your partner but without vulnerability you don’t really have that close connection. So what we need to do is we need to share with our partners what our needs are and then work together at really accomplishing that, so both of you feel important to each other and feel that your needs on how you feel attached to another human being are being met in this relationship and the therapist too is based on attachment theory model can help you have the right kind of dialogues.
    2. It can increase your physical intimacy by talking in the therapist’s room, and it’s a really safe place to talk about the quality as well as the quantity of your sexual relationship. Counselors could then suggest ways to improve your sex life such as scheduling dates or increasing the dialogues on making the sexual relationship more fulfilling to both of you. There’s a book that came out recently that I’m going to be doing a review on called “Fourteen Days of Foreplay” that’s a book that was put out by a friend of mine that I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet and I’m planning on doing that in the next month or so and doing a review perhaps on one of my podcasts. The other thing I may end up doing is talking with her and she and I were talking the other day and she may come on this summer to be a guest on this podcast here and I am excited about that.
    3. Enjoy spending time together regularly as a couple, I talk a lot about doing that and I think that those couple that really spend the time to really set time aside for the two of you find their relationship stays fresh and alive. You know I really recommend spending the few hours alone together at least twice a month, if you can’t do it twice a month, once a month and you should do something a little different not just going to a restaurant and having a meal but doing activities that you both enjoy.
    4. Focus on increasing the amount of touch in your relationship, that includes of course non sexual touch as well as sexual touch but both men and women tend to have different affectionate needs. Hugging each other when you get home from work at the end of the day, a good night kiss, trading foot massages things like that really help increase the closeness and intimacy that you have with one another. Now that the kids are gone, there’s much more possibilities to have some playful sexual activities at home.
    5. A couple’s counselor can help you develop outside friendships and interests. You can’t expect your partner to be everything for you, so I think it’s really important as a couple and also as an individual to have friendships that are important and to nurture those as well as going and taking classes and developing interests of your own.
    6. This is probably one of the more important ones and one of the reasons that a couple’s counseling is highly recommended by this couple’s therapist for those going through empty nest is that there are a lot of things through the years that will keep you at a distance from your partner. This can be old hurts and resentments unless you really deal with those, those past pains or what I would like to call them as relationship injuries, unless you deal directly with those, the distance between the two of you will continue. The hope is now that the kids are gone, that you can begin to do some work on having a recovery from any of those past relationship injuries that may have been present in the past.

Renew Your Love with the Help of a Marriage Counselor



  • A couple’s counselor can really help you renew your love. The marriage counseling can reinforce your commitment to one another. It is not unusual for people who have gone through an empty nest syndrome and have gotten some couple’s counseling to find that they are so in love with each other that they decide to renew their vows. I don’t think there’s anything more beautiful than that. To be married and to be in a relationship with someone and to be able to renew your vows with one another in a more committed and more connected relationship, that’s really exciting for all of us in the couple’s counseling field.



The bottom line of all of this is that most long-term married couples end up having some difficulties with their children moving out, and you need to make sure that your partner recognizes how important they still are to you.

There is no shame in getting advice and reaching out for help. I think that there are many ways of doing that—there are couples communication classes, marriage counseling, and there are books that you can work on together. A lot of people see therapy only as a last resort, but I think people wait way too long before trying it. I highly recommend that to nip some of these problems in the bud, get some help as soon as possible and make this phase of your life the best time of your life.

Have a relationship in the later years in your life in which you are close with your partner and both of you feel so wonderful that you have spent the years of your life together, raising your children, having the most fun in your life because you’re with your best friend—each other. Take care, and I’ll see you next time.


7047 E Greenway Parkway Suite 250
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
Phone: 480-442-3306
Fax: 480-442-3306

Stuart is a Marriage and Family counselor with a private practice in Scottsdale Arizona who helps couples. Stuarts practice is exclusive to individuals, couples and families who are having relationship difficulties. Stuart has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Therapy helping families who are having difficulty feeling close and connected to one another. He assists families in finding ways to deepen their relationship by understanding what each persons needs in the relationship. He helps families develop a pathway to establishing a closeness where everyone feels important and special. For more information on his practice go to