IOWA Magazine | 01-30-2023

Iowa Expert Offers Tips on How to Adjust to an Empty Nest

2 minute read
UI Associate Professor Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart explains why a suddenly quiet home can be both challenging and exhilarating for couples.
Alt Text Couples face a new stage in their relationship after their children fly the coop.
portrait of Sylvia Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart


he transition to an empty nest is a time of mixed emotions and seemingly endless questions. After decades of centering on your children and orbiting around their schedules, the abruptness of having a newly child-free home can be discomfiting.

“For some, children leaving home highlights the distance that grew during the parenting years and culminates in both spouses starting a new journey, separately,” says Sylvia Mikucki-Enyart, a University of Iowa associate professor of communication studies and senior research fellow at the UI Public Policy Center. “Yet for others, it’s a time of renewal and reprioritization of themselves and their relationship.”

Here are six tips from Mikucki-Enyart that can help you navigate this phase of life:

• Communicate.

Discuss your thoughts and emotions openly, honestly, and directly. Disclosing your feelings will not only be cathartic but can increase intimacy and trust between you and your spouse.

• Provide support.

When your partner shares their feelings, ask if they want support (just listen) or solutions (give advice). Although tempting, don’t immediately jump in and try to make sad feelings go away or douse them with toxic positivity. Listening helps validate their emotional experience.

• Accept both/and-ness.

The transition to empty nest is exhilarating and saddening. It creates freedom and a sense of loss. This inflection point is full of both/and-ness, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

• Get to know yourself.

Your identity may center on being a parent, and that’s OK, but now is the time to learn about you the person, not the parent. Take time to explore local classes and determine what types of activities ignite your passion, provide comfort, or challenge you intellectually.

• Reacquaint with your spouse.

Just like you’ve evolved, your spouse has too. What are their interests and hobbies? What are their thoughts on current events? Take time to listen.

• Redefine your marriage.

While you are reacquainting, it’s a great time to redesign the future. Maybe you both dreamed of a lake house in retirement; is that still true, or would you rather travel more? Take time to create and nurture the marriage you want for the people you are now, not who you were 20- plus years ago.

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