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The Silver Lining of Having an Empty Nest

Since the 1970s, relationship experts have popularized the notion of “empty nest syndrome,” a term used to characterize feelings of deep sadness, angst, and loneliness parents sometimes feel when the last child leaves home.

Several books and blogs have been written to help parents deal with the transition. Simon & Schuster even published a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” dedicated to empty nesters.

But a growing body of research suggests that the phenomenon has been misunderstood.

While you may clearly miss your kids when they leave home for good, the empty nest is not necessarily an unhappy place.

Improving Your Marriage Quality

New research shows that marriage quality and happiness actually go up when the kids finally leave home.

And it’s not that your life is worse off with kids. The study found parents were still happy with kids, but their marriage satisfaction improved substantially when the kids left.

While that may not surprise a lot of parents, especially if you’ve lived this transition firsthand, I have to admit I was a bit shocked by these findings.

Why do empty nesters have better relationships than parents with kids still living at home?

It’s a timely question, given that for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely to be living in their parents’ house than living with a spouse or partner in their own home.

Understanding why empty nesters have better relationships can offer important lessons on marital happiness for all parents, even ones still years away from having a child-free house.

How Kids Impact Your Relationship

One of the unsettling findings from the paper was the negative effect children can have on a previously happy relationship.

Although it’s a common belief that kids bring couples closer together, more research is finding that marital satisfaction and happiness drop after the arrival of the first baby.

The Journal of Advanced Nursing reported on a study from the University of Nebraska College of Nursing that examined marital happiness in 185 men and women.

Scores declined starting in pregnancy, and remained lower as the children reached 5 months and 24 months. Other studies found that couples with two children score even lower than couples with one child.

While having kids can obviously make parents happy, the financial burden and time constraints will add stress to a relationship. After your first kid, you’ll find you have only about one-third the time alone together as you had when you were childless, say researchers from Ohio State.

The arrival of children also puts a disproportionate burden of household work on women. After kids, housework increases three times as much for women as for men.