I am stuck between my college kids and my husband. My husband and I have been married for 22 years and we have always been very close to our kids. They are both away at college now, and I remain in close contact through e-mail etc., yet my husband has been pulling away. He asks me all about what they say, yet he won't call or e-mail them, and when we see them, he acts very distant and hardly talks to them.
He used to hug a lot etc.. no more. I have asked him what is bothering him and he says he's fine. The kids are upset, because they were always close to him, and I don't know how to handle this.
Please help. Signed... Loves them all.
I suspect from your letter that your husband is experiencing a separation crisis from your college kids - a reaction to the "empty nest."
You write that "he asks all about what they say but when he sees them he acts very distant and hardly talks to them." It seems to me that he is angry and resentful. The separation may be difficult and painful for him, to the extent that he can't face his emotions. As a result, he withdraws and acts distant.
It is normal to go through a crisis when the children leave home. It is not easy, even though it is a healthy and positive process. When kids leave home, they leave room for something else. There remains a space in the house, a void that has to be filled. An empty space can produce uneasiness, discomfort, anxiety, emptiness, etc. until it is filled with something new.
An empty space can produce uneasiness, discomfort, anxiety, emptiness, etc. until it is filled with something new.
Sometimes children have the role of neutralizing or moderating the relationship between parents, and when they leave, the parents have to readjust to a new relationship dynamic. Some parents feel a loss when the children leave; others are threatened by the possibility of additional intimacy between them and don't know how to deal with the new closeness; yet others feel anxious because they are dealing with an important change without knowing what comes next.
It seems to me that your husband is sending you a message through his behavior: the two of you haven't dealt with the change in your life, and you need to sit and talk. He needs you to concentrate on him, instead of on the kids, and he doesn't seem to know how to say that.
I suggest that you:
- Tell your husband that you know he has a problem. He's afraid to confront his feelings, and you are there to help him.
- Tell him what you feel about your kids leaving home. Both of you are probably scared by the novel situation of being a couple again after so many years of being parents. Without the kids at home, you need to learn to confront each other, communicate, and strengthen your relationship as a couple.
- Let your husband bring up his feelings of pain, anger or fear if he feels like it. Listen to him without an agenda.
- Try to figure out together what changes you are undergoing, and discuss your plans to adjust to these changes. Planning your future can help to alleviate feelings of fear, pain and anxiety and will reinforce feelings of security and togetherness.
Arlette Simon, MSW