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Ask Shari: Communication, Lifestyle Differences, and Empty Nest Syndrome

Shari Hardies is here to answer all of your relationship questions!

Q1.) Dear Shari: Recently, my boyfriend and I are having some communication problems. We have been together about a year and a half and moved in together about 4 months ago. I never thought we were bad at communicating and have always been on the same page and in-tune with each other, however, the past few months, things seems to be changing.

Lately when my boyfriend comes home from work, he rarely wants to engage in any meaningful conversations. I am not expecting these at ALL moments when we are together, but he keeps brushing me off and is perfectly content with just veg’ing in front of the couch or browsing the internet. I am afraid that we are drifting apart. What advise can you give to help coax him out of this? Thanks!!

A1.) Hi Drifting Apart: I can almost feel the anxiety in your words, I am so sorry you are struggling! First things first, let’s get you to a place where you can breathe and look at the situation objectively. You mentioned that you recently moved in together, that’s a huge transition! And one that typically presents challenges and really pushes a relationship to morph.

All of the well-established stage theories of relationship development indicate that at some stage in the relationship testing and strengthening will be experienced. So the good news is that this is probably just some relationship growing pains. With that said, I would recommend reframing your needs and focusing on how to get your needs met.

For starters, is it the change you are observing in your BF that irritates you, or the actual lack of interaction? Are you beginning to take this personally? Are you bored? Disappointed? Scared? If you can pay attention to your emotions and how you feel, you can determine what the need is and how to meet it.

For instance, if after some soul searching (or therapy if you need it), you determine that this is really different from what you expected and you aren’t feeling it, then you know you are asking for a change in behavior. You may need to explain to your BF that his need to veg out on the couch at night leaves you feeling lonely. He can discuss his need to veg out and then together you can find a way to get everyone’s needs met.

Another example would be: if you do some processing and realize that it’s the discovery of other unfamiliar or inconsistent sides of your BF’s personality that is scaring you, you will know that the ownership for change is on you.

Determining the emotion and the needs allows a person to remain focused on solving the issue and keeps them from responding to other factors that may be thinking errors. I recommend being honest with your BF about the situation and let him know that you are processing your feelings. Maybe he can even help! I hope you are able to process this situation and get your needs met! Good luck!

Q2.) Hi Shari! I would like your advice on how to deal with lifestyle differences in a relationship. My girlfriend and I used to both be a heavier set couple. For years neither of us cared about our looks or weight, and enjoyed our activities and interests together. However, about 2 years ago I started on a journey of self-improvement and have since then lost about 150 pounds and live a completely different lifestyle than I used to.

Although my girlfriend is extremely supportive in what I have accomplished, she has not really followed suit, which means that we have a lot more differences now than we used to. Not only is our day to day routine different but so is some of our mentality on life. We still care and love one another, but I can feel these differences slowly tearing us apart. Is there anything we can do to get back to where we were? Or, are there ways that I can encourage her to try to adapt to this healthier lifestyle?

A2.) Hi Growing Apart: Thanks for sharing and for writing in. I am so amazed by your story! Making a change like you did is no small accomplishment, it is truly a transformation and it makes sense that some things about you are going to be different. I appreciate the way you obviously love your girlfriend, but I am concerned about the last question in your email.

Do you want, or even need your girlfriend to be into fitness and health? I know that seems like a really stupid question, especially when asked to someone that is reaping the benefits of changing to a healthy lifestyle. I assume that you would naturally want your girlfriend to be healthy, but do you want her to change like you did? I think it is really important for you to prioritize your expectations and needs.

If you discover that you really would prefer your girlfriend start to attempt a healthier way of living, then you have some choices to make. It is unfair to have expectations in a relationship that are not expressed and understood, she will always be letting you down without even knowing it. If your girlfriend wants to make some changes, that would be great! It needs to come from her and be for her though.

I would take care to sort out what you can appreciate in the differences between you and your girlfriend, maybe there is more in common than you think. Try to consider an abundance model as opposed to a deficit model, meaning think about what does work between you and try to embellish it!

I would start to talk to your girlfriend about her experience in this journey and see what changes she wants to make. I hope it brings you relief to hear that this can be worked through, especially if you want to work it out. I believe a compromise may be in order, enjoy the activities you do away from one another and make sure that there is plenty that you can share.

Q3.) Good morning Shari!: I am going to make this short and sweet, as it is not an abnormal topic, but I appreciate the advice you have given to others and want your advice on the situation.

My husband and I are sending off our youngest to college this year, and frankly, I am a bit nervous of what that means for the two of us. We still have a loving relationship, but naturally over the years it has become more about the kids and less about our relationship. With all the time and silence in the house I am nervous about how we will deal with the new emptiness. Any advice or tips would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks so much!

A3.) Hi Empty Nesters: I’ll make this short and sweet as well, PARTY TIME! All humor aside, I know this transition can be anxiety provoking, as well as confusing for couples. I believe this is the time when you get to do all the things you wish you could have, but couldn’t because you had kids to care for.

If you are worried about an empty home, make more plans to stay out of it. After all, it’s just you two now! Take walks on trails after work, go have a picnic, have an art class together whatever you two would enjoy. This is the time when you can discover new interests, or return to old fun activities that you once shared both independently of one another and together.

As with all transitions, I would like to remind you that something has ended and something new has begun. Please take time to honor the change in the home, and feel your emotions. This will be something you can support one another with.

It may be time to slowly start to look at old pictures, art work, and cards that your children have compiled. Remember that you are grieving and grief will show up in odd ways if you are not aware of it. I would recommend talking about what you lost as well as what you are looking forward to. Validate that this is hard as well as exciting, it truly is both!

I wish you well on your journey to the next level of your marriage, congrats and enjoy!