Dr. Mona Knows: How To Maintain Your Independence In Marriage...Cope With An Empty Nest

10/04/2007 08:00 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Please send your questions to me, Dr. Mona Ackerman, by posting them in the comments section below. I look forward to answering them and continuing our conversation!

Q: I have been going out with a wonderful man for two years. We are both in our thirties and have begun to talk about getting married. But I am having difficulty with the idea of letting go of my independence. I have worked hard to have financial security and a successful career in advertising. I am very fearful of losing my identity and becoming dependent, needy, and uninteresting.

A: Who have been your role models? You sound like someone who has not seen a well-balanced relationship, one where each partner is strong and viable on their own. When two successful and independent people decide to combine their lives, it does not mean that one has to reduce their own stature to accommodate the other. In this case, one strong, tall person standing next to another strong, tall person expands both their worlds more than each one could do individually. In other words, 1+1 does not equal 2, but rather 1+1=11. You won't lose your identity. You may indeed find yourself able to have even more identities.

I also very strongly believe that the concept of dependence is highly overrated. Why shouldn't we all be striving to find a relationship where we can feel so secure and trusting that to be able to be dependent is in fact relaxing. The goal is to grow out of our childhood dependence and become an independent adult, someone who has many interests and the ability to take care of oneself both emotionally and financially. Then we can add to this independence with a new adult dependence, a healthy and sound relationship. Wallace Stegner's book, The Angle of Repose, is renowned for its portrayal of a relationship that, over many years, grows into an interdependence where each party leans against the other. The perfect interaction!!!

Q: My baby left for college last month. I am absolutely miserable. I can't find the energy or motivation to continue my daily routine. I look forward to our daily phone call, and I want to hear every detail of his life. My husband is getting tired of this and wonders how far can I go with this? He thinks I am depressed and need help. Do you agree?

A: Whenever we find our lives disrupted and our routines off balance, it is a good idea to get help. Sometimes we are so embroiled in the heat of an emotion, it is hard for us to step back and to see what is actually happening. Are you actually missing your child and fearful for his new path or are you afraid to move on to the next stage of your own life?

In the first place, let's acknowledge that strong maternal feelings are essential to the sense of love and security we want our children to feel. I am always telling parents that it is better for a child to have parents grasping at his feet as he walks out the door to his next stage, than to have him standing at the door shouting his goodbyes to absent parents.

Parents always want to send the message that they trust their child's ability to care for themselves. To be proud of a child as they begin to structure their adult lives and to be interested in their activities is hardly the same as hovering over their every move. The latter doesn't imply mere interest. It also implies that they are still children and that they need to be monitored and directed.

You also need to take the time to understand the transition in your own life. Your daily rhythm and routine is now changing. If you have been a stay-at-home mom, your identity is shifting and your responsibilities are different. Can you refocus your interests and reinvent yourself? Can you find pleasures in a new goals? Or are you frightened of your new path in the same way that a college freshman usually dreads that first lunch room experience?

So, at the moment, you are probably not depressed; but you may be resisting your own need to grow and change. And don't forget: the nest ain't empty until your children have their own home!!