The chicks have flown the nest. Now what? Author Dave Harvey believes that when young adults leave home, it reveals what a couple has built throughout their marriage. Of course, there will be some adjustments as responsibilities shift and couples rediscover each other. A husband and wife may even realize that they're living as strangers, and their spiritual walk is on life support. Harvey reminds couples to get help if needed and stir up the fires that once were flames. It's never too late to build a marriage that's great!
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Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Great Commission Collective, a church planting ministry in the US, Canada, and abroad. Dave founded AmICalled.com, pastored for thirty-three years, serves on the board of CCEF, and travels widely across networks and denominations...more
Dave Harvey believes that when young adults leave home, it reveals what a couple has built throughout their marriage. Harvey reminds couples to get help if needed and stir up the fires that once were flames.
Bob: There’s a fundamental question every married couple with children needs to be asking themselves; that question is, “Is our love and commitment to one another what’s holding us together, or is it our kids that are keeping us together as a couple?” Here’s Dave Harvey.
Dave H.: I think that is a chronic issue, where parenting creates this cause that allows you to tolerate a lot of marriage dysfunction. The kids create a kind of gravity, you know, like a centripetal force that keeps everybody together in the same orbit. Then the kids leave and the parents realize, “We don’t have a marriage; we’re parents.” They’re [children] no longer there, and they don’t know what ground they stand on.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Do you have a vision for what your marriage will be after the kids are gone? Are you nurturing that vision today as a couple? We’ll talk more about that today with Dave Harvey. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You guys, we’re in kind of the same marriage season—
Dave: Yes, we are.
Bob: —with kids having left the home.
Ann: Empty nest.
Bob: I was thinking about this this week; and I was going, “I didn’t know how much I would like this season, but I really like— [Laughter]
Ann: You and Dave are like twins.
Bob: —this is a great season!
Ann: Is Mary Ann loving this season? [Laughter]
Dave H.: I’m on that team as well.
Ann: Are you?!
Dave H.: Yes.
Dave: I love this season! Again, I was surprised.
Dave: I mean, obviously, you’re disappointed when they leave—and you grieve in some ways—but man, it’s like a whole new life!
Ann: Yes, he was saying that like two days after they were gone. [Laughter] I’m still grieving, like: “I loved that girl! Now, it’s over!” I’m thinking, “Who am I now?”
Dave: Well, they come home; they just don’t stay. [Laughter]
Bob: We’ve been talking this week about seasons and about defining moments in marriage. Dave Harvey is joining us; Dave, welcome back.
Dave H.: It’s great to be back, Bob.
Bob: Dave has written a new book on marriage. He wrote a book ten years ago called When Sinners Day “I Do”; he’s written a new book called I Still Do: Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments.
A lot of couples, Dave, get to the season that we’re in; and they start thinking about divorce, because they have not been preparing for this season; or the emotional toll of the season takes them by surprise; or they just look at each other and go: “Who are you? We’ve been so focused on the kids; we haven’t been doing anything for us.” It’s interesting how this season affects people differently.
Dave H.: Yes, it’s funny; I was just reading a book by David Brooks, Second Mountain, and he had this quote; and I thought, “That’s it.” He said, “I don’t know of many happy marriages.” He said, “I know a lot of marriages, where parents love their kids.”
I think that is a chronic issue, where parenting creates this cause that allows you to tolerate a lot of marriage dysfunction. The kids create a kind of gravity, you know, like a centripetal force that keeps everybody together in the same orbit. Then the kids leave and the parents realize, “We don’t have a marriage; we’re parents.” They’re [children] no longer there, and they don’t know what ground they stand on.
Bob: You know, to be where we are—in a season of marriage that’s a sweet season in this chapter that we’re in, as we look toward the finish line—honestly, that’s kind of the season we’re in; right?
Ann: That’s kind of depressing. [Laughter]
Bob: But for it to be a sweet season, you would think, “Okay, you must have been working hard during the time when you had your kids in order for the marriage to be the way it is.”
Honestly, looking back, I wouldn’t say we were really good. We got wrapped up in business-related things or kid-related things, and we probably pressed pause on building our marriage during that season. I think we find ourselves in a situation where—now, that the kids are gone, and we have un-pressed pause; and it’s just the two of us—we did have again a transition season, where we had to adjust to the new normal, where you drive home, and you walk in, and it’s quiet instead of there being a lot of activity in the house; or where the things you have to talk about don’t include the daily activities of the kids. You’re thinking, “Well, if that’s not what we’re talking about, then what are we talking about?”
Did you and Kim go through a transition when the nest finally emptied for you?
Ann: Yes, was it harder for Kim?
Dave H.: I think it was harder for Kim. I think that there was a way that we both experienced it; but it was different for her in her role and me in my role, as mother and father/husband and wife.
One of the ways that God graced us—and it’s not like it was hard work—but we really did have regular date nights/invested in the marriage; communicated to the kids that: “It’s first and primarily about the marriage. That the best way we can serve you is to have a healthy marriage,” and believe that. The kids leaving did not become this big, disruptive thing. It was something that we were, I think, prepared for.
Nevertheless, the change in rhythm—the sense that you have these people that you love deeply/that you’ve been so connected to, not needing you in the same ways, and moving on in life—I think a more mature couple would be saying, “Well, that’s great; God bless them”; but I think it pulled at our heartstrings in the same way that it does a lot of folks; we missed that.
But there really is another sense, where I think we have tried to say to our children as adults: “We love you, but we’re not going to be emotionally dependent upon you; so we’re not going to look to you for the things that we need emotionally. We want to be there to serve you.” I think it’s kind of, maybe, adjusted the relationship to a good place, where we’re not overly needy or dependent upon them.
Dave: What do you say to the couple that isn’t experiencing that? I’m thinking of—it could go either way—but the mom, who now the kids have left, and she doesn’t feel this incredible love from her husband. They’re distant; they’ve been parents more than husband and wife. Now the kids are gone, and she’s overly dependent on their desires and running to them.
Ann: —without being aware of it—because that generally happens—without being aware that you’re tied to them emotionally.
Dave: What would you say to them?
Dave H.: That’s why it’s a defining moment when the kids leave, because it really does become a defining moment for the marriage. It reveals what you really have built.
Dave H.: Yes, I think, if somebody’s listening and they’re in that position, don’t be ashamed/don’t be embarrassed. You’re standing next to the rest of us that go through these understandable and necessary adjustments, and that there are a whole lot of people that understand and can relate to what you’re feeling and where you’re living right now.
I think the danger that you have is the shame that you may feel about it—that you somehow feel like you should be in a different place; that it shouldn’t be like this; that somehow, because of the value system that you’ve embraced: the church go-to/the passages you’ve memorized—that you shouldn’t have these feelings or this experience.
But really, I think you should look at it as a rescue. There’s a loving God, who is surfacing this; because this is a time, where you’re being prepared to finish the race strong. Don’t sit on this—reach out; get help—be honest with your spouse about where you are and how you’re feeling.
Bob: I think, a lot of times, in this season, couples look at each other and say, “We don’t have anything in common anymore.” This is where you may need someone, who can sit down and say: “Let’s rediscover: you do have things in common. You have kids in common, even if they’re not still at home. You have things that you had in common, years ago, that brought you together that have atrophied. Let’s rediscover the commonalities.”
Dave H.: “You have God in common.”
Bob: Yes, that’s right. Although, some spouses would say, “No, that faded for one of us during the marriage,”—and that’s part of the frustration that the husband or the wife is feeling right now—is that their spouse is less spiritually involved than they were maybe ten years ago.
But you can come back and say: “What are those commonalities?” and “What are the commonalities we should be building our marriage around?” That’s where you can say, “Where does God fit into our relationship in the years ahead?” If one has drifted, let’s address that and ask the question, “What does this mean for who you are, and for where our marriage is, and for where it needs to be?”
But your point: you may need some outside help. This may not be something that a husband and wife can just do a weekend getaway and tackle on their own, right?
Dave H.: Yes, I think folks have to realize: “If you’re listening, and you have teenage kids, there is an experience that awaits you that’s going to shuffle your relationships with the kids. It’s an inevitable thing.” It doesn’t mean they’re going to be worse; in fact, I think it could be positioning you for them to be even better as you cultivate a relationship with your adult kids.
But this transition of the kids leaving home is a defining moment in life, because it really does have a seismic impact upon your relationship with your spouse; and then it necessarily redefines your relationship with your kids. I mean, I read a quote by C.S. Lewis, where he said, “The hour that they need me no longer should be our greatest reward.” You know, there’s a sense where we’re building for this day, and that this is a wonderful thing for a parent to achieve.
But we look at it—and we get this—but we look at it like a funeral/we feel like it’s a death—but it’s really this incredible victory to be able to deliver somebody into relative independence and for them to be able to kind of run their life, as an adult, in a way that is moving: stepping toward God in ways and stepping toward maturity in ways that can be celebrated.
Dave: I think we’ve found out—maybe I should say I have discovered—a couple of things. One, when the kids left—like Bob and I had said, I was really excited; we all said that—it was like, “Wow, this is better than I thought!”
Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: I thought we’d have more time—you know, like we’ve all said—you walk into an empty house; there’s not commotion. In some ways, you miss that, like: “Wow; it used to be…”; but there’s another part that’s like: “This is awesome! I can go out in the kitchen and get something. I can lie down; I can take a nap.”
Here’s what I didn’t anticipate: “This free time I’m going to have, I’m going to celebrate.” No, what I did is—I dialed up more ministry/started doing more things—didn’t even realize it. We’re eating out more than we’re eating at home, because we’re out doing things. We got busier in the absence of the kids being there, not sort of saying, “Let’s cherish some rest together.”
Ann: When are we going to rest? [Laughter]
Dave: Here’s where I was going—and Ann’s going to be like, “Yes,”—I’ll be really honest; she has said to me several times this year, “I feel like we’re business partners.” That was never something I wanted; but it’s like: “Yes, we’re driving hard in ministry; she’s beside me; that’s a beautiful thing, but we’re business partners.”
That made me realize—as a husband; and I’m sure it’s the same for Ann—“I need to pursue her, romantically, as an empty nester now.” That doesn’t go away; but I’ve drifted into: “I’m a dad; she’s a mom.” Now the kids are gone; it’s like: “Wait, wait, wait. We’re a husband and wife. We need to, not just date, but kiss/hold each other.” You know what I’m saying?
Dave H.: Yes.
Dave: That had drifted away, partly because of me; I’m just driving, and now I’m driving even harder because I can.
I think a lot of couples probably experience that in some way, whether it’s ministry or their job or whatever. You just start doing a lot of things together, but you’re not in love again.
Dave H.: Yes.
Ann: Dave, can you counsel us right now? [Laughter]
Dave: I think he is, Ann.
Dave H.: Well, these are the ways I’ve failed; so I can share with you out of my weakness.
Dave: I think there might be—you tell me—one of your other defining moments was when dreams disappoint.
Dave H.: Yes.
Dave: Sometimes these two sort of combine; it’s like, “Now I’m an empty nester; and I’m sort of disappointed, where I thought I’d be or where I thought our marriage would be.” Is that true?
Dave H.: There’s a vision people carry for what marriage will be like, when the kids are gone or in old age, that evaporates through the rigor and work of raising the kids; and they’re not even aware that it’s gone. That’s where the kids end up becoming the glue, so they don’t even realize they’re not living out of a vision for the future; they’re just managing the present.
As a result, the kids leave and, again, these things surface. They realize, “Oh my goodness, the dream I had about who we were going to be/what we were going to be—it’s not only not there—but I don’t see it ever being able to come about!”
Ann: How do we re-establish that dream? How do we dream again with our spouse?
Dave H.: I think we have to evaluate whether the dream was a legitimate dream. Was it a dream that—
Bob: —a fantasy.
Dave H.: —a fantasy; because a lot of times it’s not informed by reality/informed by age.
One experience I had, not long ago—I’m sitting in Starbucks. This guy is talking, and I think he’s talking to a guy that is his pastor. I wasn’t eavesdropping; the guy was talking loud enough for all of Starbucks to hear him. [Laughter] He’s basically telling this guy/this other guy, who’s counseling him, that he can’t believe that his wife won’t have sex with him every day. He can’t understand how this could be the arrangement, and he feels like he should have justifiable reasons to divorce her for not having sex every day.
I’m sitting there, and I’m thinking—I mean, the guy’s probably 70-something years old—I’m thinking: “Yes, isn’t this the way that it is? We have these expectations/this dream for what it’s supposed to be like in old age; and man, that can drive us to the point, where we’re even talking about separating, because it’s this principle that we have to uphold.”
Bob: You end your book in an interesting way. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a marriage book that ends with reflections on a short story from a Russian author; but talk about the story and about why you brought this in at the conclusion of the book, I Still Do.
Dave H.: You know, the final chapter is on—The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which is a short story by Leo Tolstoy—the theme of the chapter is how grace is greater than the time and the moments we waste.
Ivan Ilyich is a fascinating character that Tolstoy created. I mean, he kind of represents the morally-shallow person. He’s a government worker—which has nothing to do with him being shallow—but this is the way Tolstoy portrays him: government worker, kind of dutiful, somewhat intelligent; but he’s self-obsessed; he is the consummate poser and always positioning himself, not according to inner convictions, but according to the environment/according to people that are around him.
He lives for the praise of other people, and probably most apparent in the character development is he lives this unexamined life. Ilyich is not developed as somebody who is evil; he emerges from the pages as somebody who’s ambivalent. That is directed towards his marriage: he has this wife. He lives this distracted, wasted life, where he’s ambivalent toward this marriage: distracted about his marriage and, overall, just passive. It kind of comes at you as an inconsequential life.
One day, Ivan detects a pain in his side. Because he’s self-obsessive and totally almost narcissistic—the pain is never diagnosed; you never even know whether it’s a legitimate pain—but he begins to die because he’s imagining this pain that is so significant that he basically creates the reality that he fears. With the dying comes this terror of the realization that he has wasted his marriage/that he has wasted his life.
Then, right before his death, there’s a burst of light and a burst of truth. Again, you have to just appreciate Tolstoy’s writing and how he creates this character. He creates this deathbed conversion—it’s just phenomenal writing—so he’s converted; then he dies.
The point that I kind of pull out of that, though, is that here you have this life that, from an earthly standpoint seems like it’s totally been wasted/a marriage that seems like it’s been totally wasted; and yet there is grace. There’s a power, that’s beautiful, that breaks in that is capable of snatching somebody from the fires of hell, even at death: it’s the thief on the cross; it’s the worker on the eleventh hour, who gets paid the same amount as the ones who started the day.
I think that the thinking believer knows that we’ve all wasted—I know I’ve wasted time: there are things I’ve wasted/opportunities I’ve wasted in my marriage—if you’re going to honestly assess yourself, it’s not like Ivan is this unusual character; we’re all Ivan in some way. But the good news is that grace is big enough and powerful enough to meet us in our waste and to redeem us nonetheless.
Bob: I think all of us, as husbands and wives and moms and dads, look back on our marriage—whether we’ve been married for five years or fifty years—we look back and go: “We have regrets. There are things we would do differently if we could do it again: ‘I wish we hadn’t done that,’ ‘I wish we’d known better here and there.’” This chapter reminds me that God is in the midst of all of that, providentially, and even in our mistakes and our failures—
Ann: —and it’s never too late.
Bob: That’s right; we can turn it. We can look back on that and say, “Yes, we’ve made mistakes,” but don’t let that define you. I’m thinking of the scene in the movie, Schindler’s List, where Oscar Schindler is confronted with the idea that he could have done more. As he’s starting to break down and going, “I could have saved more people,” somebody comes alongside him and says, “You did so much.”
We can look back and go, “I wish I had done this,” but God is at work in the midst of all of it for His purposes and for His glory. We can do as the Apostle Paul said, looking at his own life, and say, “Forgetting what lies behind, I’m going to press on from this point and live my life with fresh resolve for the purposes of God.”
It’s been so good to talk about this and so helpful. I do hope a lot of our listeners will get your book, I Still Do, because I think they will find it, as so many here at FamilyLife® have found it, to be a refreshing, fresh look at marriage from a different perspective than a lot of books we’ve read. Thank you for writing this, and thanks for being here.
Dave H.: Well, I’m honored to be able to enjoy these conversations. Thanks a lot for the invitation.
Bob: Dave Harvey’s book is called I Still Do: Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments. This has certainly been a season of defining moments, I think, for all of us. The book is available to order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, what we’ve been talking about this week—about being isolated in marriage; Dave Harvey called it emotional estrangement—David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. You and Meg have had seasons like this in your marriage, right?
David: Absolutely; I’m thinking of one of our more recent situations, where we were drifting apart—not necessarily because of sin, but because of just being at different places—and having to address it in our lives. It was just a few months ago, where I was waking up at three a.m. and thinking about things with ministry and work, and some decisions that were going to affect a lot of people; and then I would lean over and go, “Hey, Meg, you awake?” and she would go, “Yes, I’m awake.”
“What are you thinking about?” She would go into talking about kids, and some of the things they were processing in life, and things that were keeping her up. Then I remember the distinct moment that we finally found space to talk about it. She just said, “You know, I know we’re both going through a really stressful time; and I don’t understand why it’s never our kids, who are waking you up in the middle of the night.”
Certainly, it was a wakeup call/a comment that I needed to hear. [Laughter]
David: Let alone, you pile on top of that the internal dialogue: “And you’re the president of FamilyLife,” [Laughter] and what had to be processed there. But her being honest, made us pause/made us pause seriously enough to get emotionally in it together. It didn’t lead to any quick fixes and didn’t take away any of the stressful situations we were walking through, but it did lead to deeper levels of understanding, and of knowing and of caring for one another, and being in it together.
As you said, emotional estrangement is not what God desires. If we’re willing to reflect, to pause, to talk, we can go home and do that right now. Whatever’s kind of drifting us apart, even the small things, it leads to an understanding of one another; and God will meet us in that honest place and lead us toward unity and oneness.
Bob: You know, our hope/our prayer every day, here on FamilyLife Today, is the conversations you hear will help you, in the stressful seasons of life, be more prepared for them/be more ready to engage with one another.
If that’s been the case for you, as a regular listener to this program, can we ask you to invest in the ongoing work of this ministry so that we can continue to help tens of thousands of couples every day? That’s what you’re investing in: you’re investing in the marriages and the families of men and woman, all around the world, who are seeking to anchor their family in Christ.
You can donate to support FamilyLife Today online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. As you might imagine, this is a particularly challenging time for our ministry, as it is for a lot of ministries; so if you can be generous in your support today, just know that is so appreciated. We’re so grateful for your partnership with us.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow. We’re going to hear from a couple, who has been through a challenging season in their marriage and family—a couple of very unexpected health challenges. We’ll hear from Chris and Mary Herndon tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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