Looking to keep love alive after 40? Read on for a plan you can start today.

If you’re staring down the empty nest with more than a little anxiety about how to have a healthy marriage over 40, never fear. Here’s practical help on how to reconnect after the kids are gone.

As we packed our youngest child to leave for college, I felt a flash of terror at the reality of our next phase.  Did my husband and I still have what it took to sustain a healthy marriage sans kids?

Despite our best efforts to connect emotionally, our lives looked like a flurry of sporting events, trips to the mall and FAFSA forms.  We love our kids with our whole selves and parent from that kind of love, so maintaining balance has always been a challenge.

A recent report states that divorce over age 50 has doubled in the past two decades. But those who stay married and commit themselves to do the work required to have a healthy marriage can expect incredible payoffs.

Studies suggest that married people have better health, wealth and even better sex lives than singles, and will probably die happier.

Belinda Luscombe, How to Stay Married, Time, 6-2-16

Roughly a year into the “empty nest” I have a renewed perspective and a bigger vision for our marriage and future together.  Here’s what’s helped.

Watch What Happens

My husband wisely encouraged me to seek out counseling to help guide me through the transition.  It was the best gift I could have given myself.  A regular practice of airing my feelings with a professional kept me from looking to my spouse to fill the void the kids had left.  I came face to face with my fears, and chose to stare them down in favor of a new future.

In the flurry of kid-centered activities, a slow burn of irritation surrounded our differences.  We loved each other, but, too often, sharp words and impatience replaced the joy of each other’s company

Unless you address it, that slow burn of irritation can have 9 lives.

Time has passed and the kids are settled in their respective worlds. My husband and I have had a chance to really “see” each other again.  Literally, to look into each other’s eyes in a way we haven’t done since before children so many years ago.

Instead of ticking a mental list of his deficiencies, I realize I am amazed at his incredible character.  It was there all along, but I needed time and space to rediscover it.

Date Nights are Over-Rated

Despite our attempts at the every popular “date-night”, we had gradually centered our conversations around our children’s milestones, even when we were out to dinner and a movie.  Lately, we’ve had time to talk until the words naturally find their end-a luxury we hadn’t realized we had missed and an essential part of a healthy marriage.

Often we begin with a task to complete, but end up talking about something deeper, a topic one or both of us need to explore.  The end result is an intimacy neither of us expected.

Uninterrupted time to talk is a tiny present you can give throughout the week.

Dare to Love

Yesterday, I texted my husband to see if he wanted to meet for coffee after work.  Could that have happened when the kids were around?  Sure, but for some reason it usually didn’t.  More often than not, we found ourselves trying to fit an outing around the changing current of family life. 

Ah… romance to me is spontaneity. It’s not diamond earrings; it’s in a bunch of daffodils that are freshly picked from the field.

Kate Winslet

Now we are free to chuck meal planning out the window and decide what’s for dinner at the spur of the moment.  We keep our schedules on a much looser reign, and it’s heaven.

Your Powerful Man

There’s a certain magic that results from sharing so many life experiences with another human being.   As I cleaned out the kids’ closets after they left for school, mementos reminded me of all the ways this powerful man has been there for our family. Concert ticket stubs he bought the kids as Christmas gifts, clothes shopping he’s done with my daughter, Boy Scout memorabilia.

More and more, I am deeply attracted, even though neither of us is built like we used to be. The secret of a healthy marriage over 40 is, quite literally, staring me right in the eyes. Choosing to really look into those weary eyes and see the power behind them has made all the difference.