After years of raising children, a new chapter begins for many couples: the empty nest phase. Once bustling households become quiet, signaling the departure of children who have left to pursue their own adventures. It’s a time of mixed emotions as parents grapple with the sudden void left behind by their grown kids.

But for some couples, this period isn’t just about adjusting to a quieter home. It’s also about examining the relationship without the constant demands of parenting. This newfound stillness can lead to a sobering realization for parents: they’ve grown apart, and the once unbreakable bond that held them together through the trials of parenthood is no longer enough to sustain their partnership.We spoke to Laura, a 59-year-old empty nester who divorced her husband of 27 years when their two daughters were adults.

The pandemic leads to divorce decision

Laura was 29 years old when she wed her husband and started building a life with him in Maryland. But even in the early years of marriage, they weren’t strangers to marital discord. 

“We would have arguments in front of the kids when they were younger, and they would start crying. Then we would both feel terrible for doing that in front of our children,” said Laura. 

She and her husband began couples counseling when she was pregnant with their youngest child, who is now 21 years old. They continued to see a therapist off-and-on for many years.

But it wasn’t until COVID-19 struck in 2020 that their relationship turmoil reached a boiling point.

“The kids were gone, we were both working from home, and we were driving each other crazy. We had nothing to talk about, and I couldn’t get far enough away from him.” 

A subsequent bipolar disorder diagnosis for her husband (which explained a pattern of anger management issues), combined with the pandemic and her new “empty nester” status, was enough for Laura to finally pull the trigger and admit she’d be better off alone. 

The couple separated at the beginning of 2021, when their daughters were 18 and 22, and divorced in 2023.

A fresh start after family home sale

When Laura and her husband sat down together to tell their adult daughters about their split, their oldest replied: “What took you so long?”

On one hand, her kids’ support and acceptance of the situation made Laura feel as though she should have divorced her husband sooner – but you have to be ready for life-changing decisions such as that, and she just hadn’t been ready. 

“I do wish at times that I had left sooner, because I’m 59 now. Some things would have been easier. But on the other hand, we didn’t have to deal with child support or custody arrangements,” Laura said, adding that “everyone has to do these things in their own time.” 

She and her husband split everything 50/50, and the divorce was amicable. Looking back, Laura says that ending the marriage wasn’t nearly as hard as living with her soon-to-be ex-husband while their house was on the market

“He started seeing someone while we were trying to get the house sold, and he would walk around so happy and giddy. His whole demeanor changed, and he would occasionally drop her name in a conversation,” she said. 

Laura was able to bite her tongue, but her youngest daughter – who was home from college at the time – refused to do the same. 

“My daughter was really protective of me and told her father that it was wrong to be dating someone while we were still living under the same roof,” she said. So he promised to dial it back and to stop seeing his girlfriend until after he and Laura had officially gone their separate ways. 

When their house finally sold, it was bittersweet for Laura and her kids. 

“It was painful to sell it because I loved our house, and I poured a lot into making it a home for our family. But it was also the money from the sale of the house that enabled me to start a new and different life.” 

Gardeners hands planting flowers at back yard
Trying new things – like gardening – can be fulfilling for empty nest divorcees. (Shutterstock / Alexander Raths)

From empty nest to new beginnings after divorce

After her house was sold, Laura began living by herself for the first time in her life. 

“That’s been an adjustment. I went from being a mom and a wife, living in a home with three other people and a dog, to living by myself,” she said, adding that she doesn’t see her daughters as often as she would like, as they live in different states.

Tamekis Williams, a licensed therapist based in Georgia, says that feelings of loneliness and uncertainty are completely normal for empty nesters who have decided to divorce, as they are going through two major life transitions at one time.

“Some parents spend years getting lost in their parental role, and they don’t know who they are when their kids and spouse aren’t there anymore,” Williams said.

“Empty nesters should work towards building healthy relationships with others as they move forward. This can give them company and an opportunity to enjoy life with others, which can bring a wealth of positivity to their lives.” 

Laura has done exactly that. She joined a group called New Beginnings, where she has been able to connect with others who have been through similar experiences. As for romantic relationships, she’s been on a few dates, but she’s taking it slow. She wants to feel happy in her own company before adding someone else into the mix. 

A self-described “eternal optimist,” Laura believes love will happen for her when the time is right. 

“I do want to fall in love in a stronger, deeper way than I ever have. I just have to find the right person,” she said. 

Williams says the post-divorce period for empty nesters often involves putting themselves first for the first time in a long time (or perhaps the first time ever). 

“Some people may be waiting for this moment in their life in order to reconnect with themselves. They can now live out dreams that may have been stunted or put on pause due to marriage and raising children,” she said. 

“Empty nesters can get to know themselves, and build a new life that may involve a new career or new love. The attention can be put back on them – they can work on their health, get in shape, learn new skills. The possibilities are endless.” 

Laura has indeed followed that advice. She’s taken up pickleball, started working with a personal trainer, and will soon fly to France to see Taylor Swift in concert with her daughters. She’s also starting a backyard garden at her new home. 

“I’m a firm believer that you create your own life, no one creates it for you. So that’s what I’m doing right now; I’m trying to create the next stage of my life to look the way I want it to look,” Laura said. 

She still speaks to her ex-husband, mostly about finances related to their youngest daughter. 

“I’m actually having dinner with him tonight because our daughter graduates college next month and we have a lot to talk about,” she said, adding that in a few short weeks, she will stand side-by-side with her ex-husband and his girlfriend, cheering as her daughter accepts her diploma. 

Although Laura admits the transition from married life to single life hasn’t been particularly easy, she says it was absolutely the right thing to do. Her advice for other empty nesters who may be considering divorce is quite simple: they should treat themselves with kindness. 

“Everyone goes through this at their own pace. Give yourself grace for whatever period you’re in, and whatever that feels like – and know this too shall pass.”