Dear Tzippora,

My youngest child has just left for university, and my home echoes with a lonely and empty feeling that I didn't expect. My husband and I are suddenly shy and awkward together. I guess I hadn't noticed how much of our daily conversation revolved around the technical details of our son's life, and now there is nothing to take its place. Sometimes it is a relief to disappear into a book or a newspaper, and not even pretend to make conversation. How can I break the silence?

Nothing Left to Say

Dear Nothing Left to Say,

Essentially, married life begins as an empty nest. Yet in order to become effective parents, a married couple must stretch their focus to accommodate the needs of their children. Like a rubber-band's increasing elasticity, the arrival of each child changes the marital dynamic. The needs of a growing family take center stage. However, once children begin to leave home, the stretched out rubber-band must now contract. It is now necessary to re-establish the priority of their bond.

At a crowded family table, nobody will notice if Mom and Dad don't have much to say to each other. Yet at a table set for two, there is nobody else's noise to hide behind. The best way to ensure that a couple is capable of sustaining a conversation on their own is to make sure that they set aside time as a couple throughout the parenting stage. A husband and wife must never allow their relationship to become buried in the chaos of family life. It is the surest strategy for alleviating the strain of the transition back to an empty nest.

However, even in your situation, you can still breathe new life and vitality into your relationship. Begin by opening up to your husband about the loneliness and awkwardness you feel. Is he experiencing it too? Even this simple shared conversation can pave the way for greater feelings of connectedness.

Choose new activities you can both share. Would your husband like to attend an evening lecture series, a concert, or a cooking class? Discuss your options. Plan a real vacation, not a visit to your child at university. If you can't afford a vacation together, fantasize about where you would go if you had the resources. Focus on the opportunities for exploration and growth that are now open to you as a couple.

Start to discuss ideas again. Prepare an interesting thought or a worthy piece of news to share at the dinner table. If you always ate as a family in the dining room, start eating as a couple in the kitchen. If you always ate in the kitchen as a family, move your meal to the dining room, and set the table with your good china.

Western society values youth, but the Torah has always valued age, and the wisdom that comes with life experience. Learn to enjoy this stage in your life, and happiness will lead the way to increased closeness and marital richness.