The time of parenting teens is one of intense change. In the earlier stages of raising adolescents we buckle up, expecting to go through a period of conflict or uncertainty. In those early years we are often intently focused on the act of parenting but, ideally, as our teens mature we begin to parent less, support more and start sharing a life with a neat young adult. We start to see that light at the end of the tunnel. We also begin to see space in soon-to-be empty bedrooms for the big screen TV, along with more freedom and less responsibility. Hmm. Sounds kind of delicious.
But there may be another thing you have to deal with your marriage. That is about to change too.
Once the kids walk out your front door, you may find yourself face-to-face with your partner and have absolutely nothing to say. If the kids have been a focal point in your relationship, it may be time to take a look across the dinner table and get to know that familiar face again. After all, in a few short years, that person might become your traveling partner. Wouldn’t it be nice if you actually enjoyed each other’s company?
Couples who have been married 25 years or longer have the second highest rate of divorce because staying together "for the sake of the kids" is no longer an issue. And, with the challenges of raising kids removed, the relationship may also feel a little dull, especially if you haven’t taken the time to connect in the past.
Hopefully, raising teens has given you some valuable lessons about relationships. Living with a teen has probably taught you a lot of humility and patience. You may have also developed some pretty great communication skills along the way, including how to listen, how to talk respectfully, and how to resolve differences without completely losing it. Hopefully, you have learned you aren’ perfect and you aren’t always right. Your teen would have taught you this during her stage of criticizing everything that came out of your mouth. Maybe her lessons have helped you move on to the next stage of your marriage.
Somewhere along the way you have likely learned other relationship lessons as well. Possibly the most important one is that you are responsible for your own happiness. Your partner can only be accountable for so much. In his book, How to be An Adult in Relationships, David Richo says, "Mature adults bring a modest expectation of need fulfillment to a partner. They seek only 25 percent of their need fulfillment from someone else, with the other 75 percent coming from self, family, friends, career, hobbies, spirituality/religion, and even pets." Taking responsibility for your own happiness is also a wonderful departure gift for your kids, allowing them to separate from you without guilt or confusion.
A mature relationship accepts that there will be challenges and that the original romantic stage was really just a temporary state of insanity. Would you honestly want to go back to the time when the basis for falling in love may have been nothing more than liking how your partner smells?
It’s likely that neither you nor your partner knew what you were in for when you got together. How could you have? And even in its mature phase, there will still be times of conflict in any relationship. Most people who share a history experience phases of being unloving, even fantasizing that their partner will ride off into the sunset and forget their way home. Conflict is not only normal; it is a necessary component to any healthy relationship. Conflict allows us to be two separate human beings rather than one symbiotic blob. We have to be able to move through contention in order to rest comfortably in commitment.
Looking back, you may see that what you shared with your partner wasn’t just love, but also values and respect. You didn’t have to agree on everything and hopefully, over the years, you’ve learned to disagree with dignity. You may have learned that simply being right doesn’t really feel great if it shuts your partner down completely. Perhaps you’ve even found a place for the "yes, dear", as you’ve learned to suck it up for the love of peace and harmony. And though some may find the only way to achieve peace and harmony is through separation, it’s nice to know you have tried your best.
If we’re lucky, at the end of the day we learn that the purpose of a relationship is to enjoy happiness rather than to endure pain. And as our adolescent kids begin to experience that insane, romantic kind of love, we might be there to show them the mature model. Yes, we might seem kind of old and boring in our polyester pants or high-waisted blue jeans; but we can show them enduring love, healthy boundaries, conscious choice and direct, respectful honesty.
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