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Marriage Advice: New Rules for a Good Marriage

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Myth: When the kids leave home, there will be nothing left to keep your marriage together.

Most parents have pangs of sadness when the kids are finally gone, moments when the house seems impossibly quiet or they catch themselves having a lengthy chat with the cat. And some couples really do struggle — but many renew their commitment to each other. "With the kids out of the house, marriages can bloom — when there is a sense of shared purpose," Gottman says. That communion can sometimes get pushed aside in the daily round of raising a family and making a living. "Some couples may have let that feeling of togetherness die," he explains. "Then it's not the kids' leaving the nest that somehow makes their marriages seem empty. They've already been empty a long time, and when the children leave home, the couple finally notices."

But for many husbands and wives, "marital satisfaction actually goes up once the kids are gone," says James Bray, Ph.D., a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. After an adjustment period of six to 12 months, spouses often realize that they have more leisure time, more money, and more freedom to reengage with each other. And without children in the house, there's often less cause for conflicts.

New rule: Your marriage can flourish in that new freedom.

When your kids move out, keep your life full and your relationship central. Compile lists of what you and your husband can do now that you couldn't before, suggests Bray, whether it's traveling to Tahiti or having sex on the sofa. "Celebrate! You've succeeded in raising independent adults," he says, "and now you have the opportunity to decide what to do next. Will you get more involved in town politics? Learn to tango? Go out to dinner more often?" Whatever it is, make sure it's something you both enjoy as you rediscover each other.

Myth: Every guy has a midlife crisis — any day, your spouse will drive off in a new red sports car.

It's true that men sometimes do crazy things when they reach a certain age. You may feel like snickering at some of their attempts to regain their lost youth, like the balding executive who gets a spanking-new Harley — or a much younger girlfriend. Such drastic changes are fortunately far from commonplace outside the soaps, but psychologists say that most of us will go through a period of midlife reevaluation.

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