Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 3, 2003
Empty nests breed rich love
The kids are gone and mom and dad are sweethearts
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Without hesitation and full of love, Rhonda Hunsche pays a compliment to her husband, Mike, for staying as loving as he was when they first met.
He accepts it with a gentle hint of embarrassment and takes note how his wife remains as caring and loving after being married for 25 years.
Like any other couple, their marriage has gone through different changes - having children, raising them, moving from one city to another and, fairly recently, the two children moving out on their own.
These changes can yield either of two results to the relationship of married couples. They can strengthen the marriage bond - or weaken it.
Some couples stick to their marriage for the sake of the children while others split and file for a divorce once the children have moved out and the mortgage has been paid.
"We have always made each other the priority," said Rhonda. "Our children are incredible. We're very blessed. But at the same time, we're very blessed to have each other."
Mike admitted they both miss their children. "When you have children and you see them grow up for 20 years and suddenly they're gone, you miss them because you spent your life with them."
But he also knows it was his wife, not his children, that he vowed to spend a lifetime with.
With the children gone, something was amiss - but something was also gained.
"You get to refocus your relationship with your wife or your husband and realize there's still something special about this person you've spent 25 years of your life with," Mike confided.
Since their children have moved out, the Hunsches have been spending a lot of time together and enjoying the time to talk about things they never had the chance to explore in depth because they were busy raising children.
"You can focus a lot of your energy that was directed towards raising your children back to where it originally started - your wife," said Mike.
Making the marriage a priority in the midst of everything is tops on Mike's list.
He is convinced the children are a hugely important part of the family, but couples must remember they are eventually going to leave. When that happens, couples will be alone with each other.
"And if you haven't nurtured that relationship, there can be problems."
Rhonda cautioned, "Nurturing the relationship does not start after the children are gone. That happens the whole time you're together."
She believes that's the greatest gift a couple can give to each other and to their children as well. "Don't be afraid to show your affection in front of your children. They need to see that and our children have said that to us."
With a smile, Rhonda noted how they danced around the living room, played together and had fun, and did not feel awkward about it because their children were around.
Some 17 years of the 40 years that Julie and Keith McMillan have been married were focused on raising their children. Julie looked after their four children and Keith worked hard to provide for them.
Julie said, "It was tough."
"We missed playing together as a young couple, we missed the nice, quiet, intimate time we should have had as a young couple. And that hurt our relationship.
"I'm the first to say, when the two children came, Keith didn't exist anymore because there was no time. We made some wrong choices way back then."
Keith added, "What was left for us was very minimal time. I think any couple that proceeds along the way of making their children the focal point of their relationship, once the children, leave something can break in the relationship."
Because of their long-time involvement with Marriage Encounter, they came to realize their children were "on loan" to them.
Julie explained, "We had learned some 20 years ago, before the children start leaving, that God's plan for us is our relationship is to be number one and our children second."
Having learned that, they were more mentally and emotionally prepared when their last child left home.
Catholic Social Services' Richard Feehan said one important thing that can happen once the nest is empty is the role change between the couples.
There can be a difficulty in transition.
Feehan noted, "The amount of time you prepared . . . and talked about (such change) with your spouse is very important."
People who have not prepared for the change will have a difficult time, which can eventually lead to moving out and separating from the spouse.
Feehan suggests the couple needs to look at their roles within the family and be open to change.
"Your role in the family involves not simply the jobs that you do, but all the other aspects like intimacy, the meaning of your work, and the relationship between yourself and your partner."
"It involves a whole round of dynamics in terms of self-definition."
A lot of people take pride in how they have raised their children. And if self-definition is focused on that, when the children leave home, there could be a dramatic change in one's self-definition, Feehan explained.
When Julie's children were little, she lived for them and her self-worth was tied up totally around them.
Through marriage enrichment, she discovered her own person. That's why when her first child left home, it was easier for her to say, "You're okay. You don't give up. You're a whole person. You have an important identity."
When her last child left, she was well adjusted and the transition was smooth.
Feehan also insisted, "When one person changes and the other doesn't, it is possible one or both cannot stay in the relationship."
In a life-long relationship, a two-way communication is crucial.
As Keith says, "Couples would sit across from each other and not have anything to say to each other."
But if there's a healthy two-way communication, growing in the relationship can be a lot easier.
(The McMillans and the Hunsches assist St. Charles Parish in Edmonton in ministering to couples preparing for marriage.)