Family Life Cycle and Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us (Part 5)


launching children
Just a friendly reminder that you might want to read these articles before you started reading this entry.

Family Life Cycle Theory (Reuben Hill, 1949): Stage 5: Launching children and moving on

Once the first child leaves for college, the couple enters into the stage of launching the children and moving on. When the last child leaves the family, the couple enters the empty nest stage. The important tasks for the couple are to realign their relationship with the adult children as they did when they were a young adult with their parents, to “fill” space once occupied by their children, and to deal with the issues from the aging parents.

Research shows that this is the stage where the divorce rate is the highest. I often have a lot of couples enters therapy after being married for more than 15 or 20 years. As I explained to the couple: “You have been co-parent for the last at least ten years together but have stopped being a couple since then.” The co-parenting relationship becomes the top priority when the couple transition from couple to parents. Often, due to the time constraint, the couple’s relationship becomes the bottom of the priority.

After at least ten years only being parents together, many people expressed that they do not know what else to talk to their partners other than their children’s issues. By the time the children all left home, and there is nothing to talk about, it made them question whether they should continue to be a couple together.

At the same time, if one or both partners also face the loss of their parents, friends, or siblings, it often leads the individual to question his/her own life and, as a result, examine his/her marriage. Usually, I hear the clients tell me that they want “the rest of my life” to be with someone special and doing something special, which may be different than their partners’ plan.

In my office, I have worked with many couples at this stage who said: “I love you, but I am not in love with you.” This is what I believe: love is an emotion, and it flows. However, staying together to make the relationship fulfilled is a choice. Being in the marriage is not just about making each other happy. It’s also about whether you can walk through the tough time with each other. What do you want to do to find the happiness is a choice and can be re-discovered in the couple’s relationship. So, if you find yourself at this stage and couldn’t “feel the love” in you about your partner, do not give up and seek help as soon as you can.

Cedar Cove Example: Grace Sherman
Grace Sherman is the head librarian at Cedar Cove. She married to Dan Sherman with two daughters Maryellen and Kelly. Dan is a Vietnam veteran. Grace and Dan got married when they were pregnant with Maryellen. Then, Dan went to Vietnam and came back with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He committed suicide in the story.

Even though the storyline added in Dan’s PTSD, Grace’s description of her married life before Dan’s suicide depicted the issues the couples facing at this stage of the family life cycle. Grace described that the marriage wasn’t pleased but content.

Her marriage had never been completely happy, but over the years Grace and Dan had grown content to each other.There was a lot to be said about contentedness —- conversation over dinner……
~ Grace Sherman, “16 Lighthouse Road”

Many people stayed together throughout the childbearing age because of their children, especially when they can be good co-parent for their children and good partners together to manage the household. However, due to the different priorities, they didn’t invest their time to be partners with each other. Just like Grace said in this paragraph, they were content with the relationship but not happy.

Their marriage had never fulfilled Grace’s expectations. She’d been eighteen and pregnant with Maryellen when she married Dan. ……..For Maryellen’s sake, they’d managed to patch things up long enough for Grace to get pregnant a second time. Later, because of their daughters. Dan and Grace had tried hard to make their marriage work……Dan deeply loved his daughters. Grace never questions his devotion to them, but she seriously doubted he was still in love with her.
~ Grace Sherman, “16 Lighthouse Road”

There are two implications here. The first one is the couple relationship and the co-parenting relationship. Positive co-parenting relationship buffered the negative couple relationship and held the marriage together until the needs of the co-parenting relationship from the children decreased, as discussed above.

The other important issue is the mental health issue and its impact on marriage, which needs more discussion here.

From this study done in 2003, we know that mental health and couple relationship feed into each other. When I went to the conference in 2017, the new research study continues to find depression have the impact on the relationship satisfaction. It is not about which one cause what, but mental health and the couple’s relationship has a significant effect on each other. The results from these studies remind us the importance to seek help as soon as you can for your own and your marriages’ sake.
Extended Readings:

Relationships and Mental Health

Depression and Marital Satisfaction

Divorce, Co-Parenting, and Mental Health

[Couple Communication] “We Don’t Have Time to Talk.”


Original Work:

Cedar Cove Series by Debbie Macomber.

Family Life Cycle Theory by Rubern Hill (1949)


Cedar Cove: Family Life Cycle series

Cedar Cove to Couple Relationships (Prologue)

Family Life Cycle & Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us? (Part 1)

Family Life Cycle and Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us (Part 2)

Family Life Cycle and Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us (Part 3)

Family Life Cycle and Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us (Part 4)

Family Life Cycle and Couple Relationship: What Does Cedar Cove Teach Us (Part 5)




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