We have well-documented data on what happens in the 18+ years that a couple’s kids live at home, but what happens when alone time is restored? It’s not to say that couples don’t have sex or intimacy when they have children. Most people (but not all) have sex even when they have kids. Regardless, your levels of intimacy and connection do change when you have kids. How could it not when you have little ones running all over the place keeping you busy?
Once the kids leave home, though, there’s a kind of lull: an uncertainty as to what you should do next. For years, you were so busy with basketball games, school plays, and making meals. You have all of this together time you didn’t have before. What was that like all those years ago? Going back to just the two of you can be a bit daunting.
Instead of freaking out, you can take action. It’s an exciting time to reconnect, explore, and deepen your connection. You have the wisdom of years spent together—use them to your advantage!
Here are some of the very best empty-nester tips for reconnecting sexually and emotionally once your children move out.
Tip 1: Don’t pretend everything will be like it “used to be”
Before you look at each other and say, “What did we used to do that was fun and sexy?” remember that things won’t be exactly the way they were. And don’t lament this fact. It’s a good thing! You’ve been through a lot together. There have likely been health issues, big life events, and many years since you were young and first started dating. Embrace it.
Dr. Holly Richmond, CST, LMFT, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist, says that putting pressure on yourself to make everything exciting and new again isn’t particularly healthy. Instead, focus on the amazing bond you’ve built together. “For most couples, they have the solidity, security and deep, connected love that many years have given them, so they don’t long to go back as much as they long to resurrect a feeling of aliveness and passion,” she says.
Now is a great time to think about and explore how you would like to be intimate with each other and what you want to do together.
Sex and intimacy won’t look the same as it did when you were in your twenties or thirties. Bodies change, functions change, and people change. That doesn’t mean that intimacy isn’t possible, or that the sex won’t be hot.
Tip 2: Be patient with one another
It’s important to set realistic expectations and to come to this journey with a lot of love and patience. “Now is a great time to think about and explore how you would like to be intimate with each other and what you want to do together,” says Lucy Rowett, a certified sex coach and clinical sexologist.
This whole experience can feel overwhelming. Be willing to explore those feelings of nervousness and intensity. You may have been married for many years, but this is a whole new journey.
Tip 3: Start dating each other again.
Go to dinner, take long walks, or go see a movie. “Go out on fun and intimate date nights where you can learn to enjoy each other’s company again,” Rowett says. “Practice flirting with each other, and start exploring different kinds of touch—even if it’s holding hands on the sofa to begin with.”
Richmond adds that novel experiences are a must. Try new places together, new adventures, and new activities. Never been to the ballet? Go for it. Always wanted to go on a bike tour? Do it! “And while you are on that date, no talking about the kids,” Richmond adds.
Tip 4: Stay curious.
It’s easy to think, Hey, I’ve known this person forever. Nothing surprises me! This is not the mindset that keeps couples happy for 50 years. You need to stay curious about your partner and keep getting to know them. People are forever evolving. Even though your partner is someone who you’ve known forever, you’re both in a new phase of life. Get to know the person you’re partnered with now and fall in love all over again.
Our sexuality does not exist in a static state; it’s constantly evolving and emerging if we give it the attention and time it deserves.
“Just because you’ve lived with this person for over 18 years, do not assume you know everything about them,” Richmond says. “I suggest that my clients literally lead with something like, I’m curious about what one of your ultimate sexual fantasies would be? or I’m curious what turns you on now versus what turned you on when we first met? This leaves space for exploration without judgment.” Prepare to be surprised! You might find out that your partner likes something you previously thought they didn’t or that they want to try something you’ve never thought of before.
Tip 5: Fill out a sex menu
All relationships are enhanced through play. “Closeness and attraction are enhanced with play and arousal and attraction are especially heightened with exciting play,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine.
Write down five things you’d like to try in bed and have your partner do the same. Then, swap lists. Take a day or two to simmer on the suggestions, circling the things you’d be interested in trying. This gives you insight into your partner’s fantasies without the pressure of having to come right out and say them.
If you’re not sure where to start, Rowett says that you could check out lovingsex.com or other sites with “instructional videos or erotic material that feature mature couples to get inspiration on how you would like to have fun together.”
Above all, be willing to explore everything from new sex fantasies to new restaurants together. Life is an adventure. Get excited about it. “Our sexuality does not exist in a static state; it’s constantly evolving and emerging if we give it the attention and time it deserves,” Richmond says.
Gigi Engle is a certified sex coach, sexologist, educator, and writer living in Chicago.