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Dear 7th Grade Moms & Dads,

With school starting up again, I want to let you in on a little secret…

I know, I know… middle school parents typically don’t get a lot of attention. You are certainly not newbies, and at least one of your offspring is not yet on their way to high school either. 

So, why you?

I am writing to you because it’s time to let you in on a phenomenon that will begin happening six short years from now. 

How do I know? Because without fail, it happens every year. 

No one wants to talk about it, but I guarantee that one day, you will hear the whispers. 

It sneaks up on unsuspecting parents, sometimes seemingly without warning.

You see, sadly, six years from now, soon after these hormone-crazed 7th graders graduate high school, you will begin to hear that “so and so” is getting divorced.

You would never guess by all the happy, smiling family pictures blanketing social media at graduation each spring. It is like a secret—hidden in plain sight.

So why am I letting parents of 7th graders in on this sad reality? 

Because multiple studies have found that “couples typically allow problems and resentment to build up for 6 years before seeking help and beginning to work on resolving their differences and improving their relationship.”

Some of you have told me how “you tried everything.” Especially when addiction, abuse, and adultery wreaked havoc on your family for years. 

You and your kids invested valuable resources and all your emotional energy into helping your spouse with their addictions to no avail. I feel for the families that did not get the results they worked and prayed so hard for. 

But there’s another group of you out there…the ones like me who never think it will be “us” getting divorced. The ones who are so busy living parallel lives as wonderful parents but are not so great at being lovers. It is to you that I hope this message serves as a wake-up call.

These “waited till the kids are out of the house divorces” pain me beyond measure because I know if my husband and I had not sought help twenty years ago for our own marriage, it could have easily been us. 

If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to find ways to reconnect with your spouse now. Do not wait until the kids are out of the house to “deal with this.” I can assure you that it’s not easy to face challenges as a couple, but it will definitely not get any easier if you wait. 

Get the help you know you need before it’s you telling a friend, “I am just done,” as one woman recently wrote to me. “I was tired of being lonely in a loveless marriage.” 

The Gottman Institute, a renowned relationship think tank, notes that “timing is an essential element in whether marriage counseling works. Unfortunately, most couples wait too long before reaching out for help.” 

Today, you and your spouse have six years before your 7th grader graduates from high school. There is still plenty of time to change the trajectory of your marriage. You may not know how—you may not even be sure your spouse will be on board—but you do have the added benefit of time and, possibly even more important, “awareness” on your side as well. 

If your youngest is in high school or even a senior, I assure you there is example after example of couples who have done the hard work, and their marriages are stronger today because of it. It is only too late if one of you decides it is.

Why do we think we should have all this relationship stuff figured out? 

How many of us witnessed empathic and effective communication between couples growing up? Most likely, not many.

Some of you may have had the added blessing of being raised by parents who seemed to really like each other. Regardless, the chance that they openly discussed their issues and modeled how they successfully resolved them would have been extraordinary. This is not intended to blame, but it does begin to explain each generation’s lack of problem-solving abilities.

So if any of this resonates with you, where do you start?

Based on experience, I recommend starting with a “well-timed conversation.” In the case of my own marriage, I give 100% credit to my husband for bringing up the initial discussion almost twenty years ago. Although we both now agree his tone was a bit off—we can even laugh about it—but his message was painfully clear. Something needed to change, and we could no longer figure it out on our own.

There is never a perfect time to have a difficult conversation, but here are some things to consider:

1. Timing, Tone & Intention are everything: 

  • Find a time when emotions are not running high, and neither of you is stressed out.
  • Use the tone you would be most open to when receiving this type of information. Your tone will significantly affect how well your message is received.
  • Check your intentions. If your desire is to find ways for you both to improve your relationship, then you are off to a great start.

2. Work together with a licensed marriage/relationship counselor. 

  • If your partner doesn’t want to go, you go first. The therapist should be able to help you understand why you each react the way you do and help resolve conflicts. 
  • I realize it is hard to find one; keep trying. I know it’s expensive but getting divorced is much, much more. If you are buying a coffee drink a day—STOP—and most likely, you can divert that expense toward counseling.
  • Ideally, you would each have an individual counselor to work with as well. 
  • If the first counselor isn’t a good fit, try another. It can take a while to find a good match—we’ve had at least five over the years. *Remember, we are all individuals, and none of us absorb information or grow at the same rate—have lots of patience.

3. Three books to consider:

  • How We Love—Book & Workbook— by Milan & Kay Yerkovich. If you are tired of arguing with your spouse over the same old issues, this one is for you. https://howwelove.com/
  • The Seven Principles of Making a Marriage Work by John Gottman, Ph.D., is very comprehensive. I highly recommend going through this as a couple or with a group. https://www.gottman.com/
  • The 80/80 Marriage by Nate and Kaley Klemp—This book offers a new, refreshing way to embrace your relationship. It is the “lightest” read of the three. https://www.8080marriage.com/   

4. Three Podcasts to consider:

  • Search podcasts with “Esther Perel”: She is a Belgian-born licensed therapist with a wealth of knowledge on preserving relationships
  • Small Things Often: The Gottman Institute offers relationship tips in 5-minutes or less. Also, search podcasts with “John Gottman.”
  • Tied for 3rd Place: Sexy Marriage Radio, The Naked Marriage, One Extraordinary Marriage, and The Stronger Marriage Podcast.

These recommendations come from my personal experience from my 30-year marriage to my best friend and are intended for educational purposes only. Please do not hesitate to reach out at lisa@evolvingnestwithlisa.com if you have any questions on how my husband and I approached a particular challenge.

My sincere hope for you is to enjoy more friendship, love, and intimacy with your most important person. Love, Lisa

Glow-ups are all the rage on social media and certainly make an excellent visual. Search #GlowUp, and you’ll see a plethora of before and after images of people who seem to have conquered their weight loss challenges, and kudos to them. 

I am sure many of them DO feel as amazing on the inside as their outside suggests, but sadly numerous studies conclude, many do not.

So what does this have to do with marriage and empty-nesting? 

EVERYTHING! 

It’s hard to feel great about yourself when you’ve been busy doing everything for everyone in your life—EXCEPT YOU.

As our big kids leave the nest after the holidays, it can be especially hard if our identity has been primarily wrapped up in parenting. Almost overnight, the house becomes eerily quiet and a little bit lonely if we haven’t found other passions to pursue as well.

So, how does it affect our marriages? Well, most experts agree it is challenging to feel completely loved when we don’t feel loveable or at least when we don’t feel like ‘ourselves’ anymore. 

When was the last time you did something for yourself without making sure everyone else was taken care of first? For many of you, it has been way too long.

I love being a mom. I will always be “mom” to my three kids, now 18, 21, and 25, who I enjoy raising with my husband of almost 30 years. We’ve had quite a ride—it hasn’t always been ‘perfect’ but we figured it out, and had a lot of love and laughs along the way.

Even so, somewhere between playdates and PTA meetings, I lost what makes me—“me.” My life felt pretty complete with a wonderful husband (most of the time), great kids (some of the time), good friends (to laugh and cry with), a roof over my head, and two cars in the garage. Still, I felt like a little something was always missing—and honestly, I felt really guilty about it. 

Who was I to complain? Shouldn’t I just be grateful for all I have? What more did I need anyway?

I never stopped being ‘busy’ long enough to think about why I felt something was missing. I didn’t even mention it to my husband (except maybe with little passive-aggressive well-timed grunts here and there)—it was my guilty little secret. Like many GenXers, the thought of asking ourselves how “we are feeling” is like speaking a foreign language.

Friend, I am here to tell you firsthand, if there was any time in your life to learn a new language, metaphorically speaking—midlife is it. 

We have to change our internal dialog and start asking ourselves how we are feeling?
What do we think is missing in our life, or what might light us up again?

God willing, at fifty, we have thirty-five to fifty years left on this earth. If you haven’t asked yourself how you want to spend the remainder of your time yet, now is the time! 

As I began to get back in touch with who I was before I was a wife, a mom, a classroom volunteer, and an auction chair—I started feeling better about myself on the inside. 

It’s a work in progress, but I am more aware of my feelings and continue to ask, “Why am I feeling like this right now?” If this is not something you’ve already been asking yourself, you might try it. 

If you’ve also been wondering what else this season has to offer, here are some questions that might help direct you to discover your own ‘Part Two’:

1. What did you like to do in your teens, twenties, or pre-kids?

2. What would you like to do more if time and money were not an obstacle?

3. When do you feel best about yourself? Serving others or getting lost in an activity or hobby, or both?

4. What do others say you are good at? If you don’t know the answer to this one, ask a few good friends.

5. If you are not currently working outside the home, would you consider it, and what areas might interest you if there were no barriers to entry?

6. Is anything else holding you back from pursuing something new? Fear? Imposter Syndrom? 

7. What are one or two things you would like to add to your life this year that would have the most immediate and positive impact on your life?

A few years ago, I told a counselor I felt like, “I had lost the woman I set out to become in my twenties. I didn’t know who I was outside or being a wife and mother.” 

After asking me many of the questions above and I, not having a clue how to answer most of them, said, “Lisa, interesting people do interesting things. I want you to try something new—anything.” Mentally I repeated…’ interesting people do interesting things.’

What?! I was already doing lots of things. Dang it, I was busy—he kind of ticked me off!

But you know what? He was right. 

So, I started taking a few classes at my local community college, experimented with different types of exercise, joined a writing group, started snow-skiing again, and even signed up for a hip-hop class with friends. I found out I like to write, but you will not find me channeling J. Lo anytime soon.

If you truly don’t have an inkling about what you might like to do. Then, grab a friend and try ‘something.’ An evening with friends painting, creating, and sipping wine is a great place to start. 

Research confirms that learning something new forms new connections and neurons in our brain, giving us a rush of dopamine, aka “the feel-good hormone.” Who wouldn’t like more of that?

Since I’ve started exploring what lights me up and what motivates me to get out of bed each morning—my husband has noticed changes as well. He’s encouraged me to continue my journey and has become my biggest supporter. Feeling better about myself on the inside has also led to greater intimacy in our relationship, which we definitely want to continue to nurture.

We talk more often about what we both want more, or less of, in our relationship. We made a goal to put ‘fun’ back into our lives—spontaneous getaways, dinner with friends, visiting our kids, and finding new activities to enjoy together—some of which were unintentionally put aside in the busyness of life.

My only regret—is not having started my ‘Glow-Up’ sooner. The good news for all of us is that “it is never too late to start something new.” With love, lisa@evolvingnestwithlisa.com

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