Adult Children Keeping Marriage Strong Love On Motherhood Parenting

Empty Nest, Here We Come – Like It or Not

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

I have been so blessed to have a full house from the time I met Dave. He already had three children, and they quickly became my own as our relationship developed. Once we were married, we added two more, with a total of five children occupying our time.

As kids get older, it is expected that they’ll move on eventually. My youngest son, Parker, is headed off to college this fall. Our youngest child, Anika, will be graduating next year and doing the same. Although our second-oldest, Kira, came back and then stayed after leaving for college, this is a temporary situation. She and her husband have plans to settle in England, and their time in our household is limited.

This will leave Dave and I with an empty nest, finally. However, this does leave us thinking, “What now?”

I will miss my children. I will cry (and have cried) many tears at the idea of them moving out and starting their own adventures, and I will look forward to future gatherings of our family. I’ll acknowledge that our nest will feel a little empty, and the stillness and quiet will shock both of us a little bit.

At the same time, an empty nest is something to look forward to. Dave and I have prioritized our relationship during the busy lives of our five children, and he is still my best friend. We work together, travel together, have raised kids together, and delight in our grandchildren together. We will always be there when our children need us, but once they are all moved out, it will just be us.

We can cook whatever we want, watch whatever we want on TV, go where ever we want on vacation. We will get to enjoy our time together, without the constant interruption that is a natural consequence of children. I’m sure there will still be days that I cry and miss my children terribly, but there will also be days when I rejoice in having the quiet companionship of my husband.

Dave and I have loved every second of raising our children, but we are so excited to have uninterrupted time together. I will welcome visits from children and grandchildren every day, but I will also welcome the month-long jaunts through new countries. I will welcome the brand-new adventures that are much more affordable with two people than with seven. I will welcome the quiet, and yearn for the noise, all in the same breath.

Although our children will always be our pride and joy, I am grateful that Dave and I did not neglect our own relationship over the last 20+ years. Children do grow up and start their own lives. Invest in your relationship every day, because this is your life partner. To keep marriage strong, you must be able to survive with the kids and without them. The empty nest will sting a little as your children leave, but it doesn’t mean that your home and heart won’t still be full.



From Possible Babysitter to StepMom

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

My husband and I met online. That’s not unusual these days, but in 1997, it was a rarer occurrence. We met in an AOL chat room – a place I was spending more and more time as my marriage fell apart. Dave was a divorced dad with full custody of three children. We were just friends – we talked online in the mornings while he waited for the bus to come pick up his son; we occasionally saw each other at the live events the people in our chat room, the “Idaho Room,” went to. I often coordinated the live events, as the official “party coordinator” of the Idaho Room, which included Thursday night karaoke nights and the occasional Saturday night dance night.

When Dave stopped showing up at the Thursday night karaoke nights – he was a great singer and one I looked forward to amidst the less sober, more enthusiastic crowd – I asked him why he was no longer coming. As it turned out, he was stuck home because he didn’t have – and could no longer afford – a babysitter. We chatted a bit about his situation – how his ex-wife was supposed to have 50/50 custody of the kids but had chosen not to, about how he’d quit his high-paying job to work at a restaurant so that his hours would match those of his kids when they were in school, how he’d missed two weeks of work because they’d all just had the chicken pox, and about how he couldn’t just leave his kids with just anyone because his son had special needs.

The perfect solution was clear: I would babysit and give him an occasional night out. I didn’t have kids, but my own sister had just had a baby, so I was perfectly comfortable playing the role of doting aunt to three more munchkins. We arranged for me to come over so the kids could meet me – which was when we realized we had been living just around the corner from each other for several years.

The next night, I went over to meet Dave’s kids. Derek, the oldest, was shy and sweet. Kyle was an adorable six-year old who had Down syndrome, was mostly non-verbal, and was mentally around 18 months old. Kira, Kyle’s twin sister, was a toothless wild child who greeted me from the coffee table she’d jumped up on. I spent a little time with them, then Dave and I sat down at his kitchen table to talk.

I never did end up babysitting those three kids, but they’ve been a part of my life and my heart since that night. Dave and I ended up talking all night and well into the next morning. Tearing myself away from Dave the next morning was one of the most difficult things I’d ever done. Looking back, I’m fairly certain that first night, talking together over rum and cokes at his kitchen table until the sun came up, was when we fell in love. And while there were complications – I was married, remember – my whole world shifted in that night. My divorce was final less than two months later.

Sometimes, you have to be with someone – or in a place or space – that is completely wrong, in order to recognize something so right when it comes along. I think that’s what happened with Dave and I – we had both struggled so hard and so long that when we found each other, there was no doubt – no questions – that we were so right. Dave and I were married in 1999.

The past 20+ years have been an incredible, amazing adventure – and we feel like we’re only getting started. I truly believe we were meant to cross paths, that we were destined to find each other, that all the pain and frustration and failed love that each of us had experienced individually only prepared us for experiencing such a powerful love that even to this day, the sheer joy brings me to tears.

We’d love to know your love story! Email your story to us at to be featured.

Keeping Marriage Strong

15 Rules for a Happy Marriage

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

15 Rules for a Happy Marriage

  1. Love the person for who they are, not who you think you can get them to be
  2. Say I love you every day
  3. Never go to bed mad
  4. Cuddle every night before you go to sleep
  5. Cuddle every morning when you wake up
  6. Prioritize each other over everyone else, including your children
  7. Don’t just tell your partner you love them, show it
  8. Take risks and be vulnerable with your partner
  9. Celebrate the little moments
  10. Don’t worry if you are different than other couples – be and do what makes things happy for the two of you
  11. Never stop dating
  12. Be friends
  13. Support each other’s dreams and goals
  14. Compromise often, give in whenever you can, and stand up for what’s really important to you when you have to
  15. Talk to each other – really talk to each other – every single day

Our first year of marriage was a while ago – almost 20 years. It was exciting, and challenging, and scary, because it wasn’t just Dave and I, but three kids, too, working hard to make a family. More recently, I’ve had the privilege of watching the relationship between my daughter and her husband as it has developed over the last two years. We first met Louis when he landed in America a few days before his wedding day; he, Kira, and their daughter have lived with us since then.

In watching them navigate those first 12 months has reminded me what really makes the magic in a couple – and it’s not the passion or the sex or the date nights or the time away from the baby.

It’s the talking.

None of that other stuff matters if you can’t talk to your spouse. Everything about those 15 rules is about talking, communicating, and most importantly – listening.

When Dave and I were first dating, living together, and finally married, the most important time we spent together was in a little porch room off the back of the house. We would sit for hours and talk. We talked about everything and anything that came to mind – we talked about the future, about our kids, about our jobs, about our beliefs, about our childhoods, about our pasts – we talked. And talked. And talked.

Kira and Louis, who also met online and lived in different countries, had no other way to build their relationship than through talking. While much-improved since the days Dave and chatted in the AOL chatroom (since they could see each other and hear each other and didn’t have to type well), conversation was all they had to stay connected.

All that talking from oceans apart prepared them for the challenges of that first year of marriage, and they not only survived it but thrived through it. In a few weeks, they’ll be celebrating anniversary number two. When it comes to surviving the first year of marriage, nothing is more important than openly and honestly communicating with each other, respectfully and lovingly.

Dave and I are together almost 24 hours out of every day. We live together, run a business together, sit next to each other most days while we work. We are raising kids together. We travel together. And we talk to each other, all the time. People ask us if we get tired of each other. We really don’t. We really do actually like each other, just as we are, imperfections and all.


Let's Talk Love

Using Stress to Keep Your Marriage Strong

Every relationship, if it lasts long enough, has to survive periods of intense stress. While there are certain life events that cause a great deal of stress, like changing jobs or schools, getting married or divorced, having a child or having a child go away to school or the military, moving, a death in the family, and other significant life events, even the everyday stress of managing the budget, taking care of the kids, dealing with your boss, and trying to find ten minutes a day for yourself can add strain to the marriage.

My husband and I are not strangers to stress: we’ve moved cross-country three times, sent one son off to the Army who was immediately deployed to Iraq, are raising five kids, have lost jobs, worked for jobs we hated, had to deal with ex-spouses and custody issues, lost love ones, and simply had bad days. I can’t imagine many couples who haven’t experienced many of the same things.

Sometimes stress gets the best of us, and we end up snapping at each other, withdrawing from each other, and taking everything personally.  Sometimes, it just seems easier to shut down than to work through it…but as we survive each big life stress – we’ve raised three of our five kids into budding adults; our son came home from Iraq in one piece; we don’t have any plans to move for a while – we’ve learned how to help each other through stressful times rather than turn on each other.

We still get stressed – just not as often with each other! We have worked hard to minimize the effects of the stress on our relationship, to focus on how we want our family to live and what kind of example we want our kids to have of a positive relationship. If you and your partner are facing any kind of stress (whether it’s the daily “I hate my job” stress or the “Everything in my life has been upended” stress) there are things you can do to not only protect your relationship but to help you handle your stress more effectively, and when the two of you are strong together, nothing can challenge it – not even an angry stepchild!

The most important thing is to recognize that you are both affected by whatever is happening, and to TALK to each other. Take the time to share your concerns with your partner. Make time for each other. No matter how crazy things are, make dates at least a couple times a month. Hire a sitter, call in sick to work, unplug the phone – do whatever it is you have to do to get that time.

When things become overwhelming, let your partner know that you are having a particularly rough time. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. The more the two of you stay connected, the less impact the stress will have on your relationship. You’ll face it together instead of tearing each other apart to survive.

We’d love to hear your best tip for strengthening your marriage…please share with us!

Doing it Alone

Finding The One

Finding the right relationship after you get divorced is not an easy undertaking. For some, it might not be the right idea for quite some time. I really enjoyed my single time after I got divorced. I married so young that I had never really experienced living on my own. But then, I found myself again longing for marriage and the “family” life. I tried to make it work and happen in a couple of places where it never would have and thankfully didn’t. When I became clear with myself the qualities that I wanted in a partner and the things that were really important to me is when I found my awesome husband. My biggest piece of advice would be not to settle. You have to know what the qualities are that you want and won’t do without and then don’t make any exceptions or excuses. Don’t try to force something that isn’t there!

When I met my husband everything just fit. We had many of the same ideas about what it means to be in a relationship. We both wanted to be with each other every waking moment. He answered the phone every time I called. There was never a question of where he was, or who he was with, or what he was doing. This was really important to me considering we were living in different states at the time. Trust was definitely at the top of my list of qualities that I wanted in a partner.

When it is right you will know. I learned that waiting for what is right is so worth it! Don’t put yourself on some sort of timeline. One of the most important things you can do is to be clear with yourself as to what kind of person and qualities you are looking for so you can be clear with the people that you see. Having this kind of clarity will encourage the confidence that you need in yourself to recognize when something isn’t right and then give yourself the permission to move on!

Keeping Marriage Strong

It’s The Thought That Counts

It really is the little things that give true meaning and purpose to our lives. I was reminded how much it truly is the thought that counts when it comes to special occasions. December 13, 2010 my husband and I celebrated our second anniversary. My husband is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever met. He always thinks of everyone else before himself. He is such an amazing man.

For our anniversary, he took the day off work so we could spend our special day together and celebrate the love that brought us together in the first place. We went out to breakfast and then he took me to an adorable outlet mall in Park City, Utah to spend the day doing one of my favorite activities…..SHOPPING! The thought that he put into our day did not cost a lot. But he showed me, as he always does, that he loves me and values our marriage, friendship and relationship.

I know I have said it before but I will say again how important it is as parents to take time for ourselves without the kids. We were lucky and the kids were in school! But we realize we have to constantly and consistently love and nurture our marriage and our relationship. This can be true and important not only for our love relationship but friendships as well. We have to fulfill our needs as people so that we have the fuel to give to our children too. It was so great to reconnect with each other and have a day escape to enjoy each other’s company and to be reminded what we are working for each and every day of our lives creating a happy, healthy, and loving marriage and family.

Doing it Alone

Fear of Loss in Love

I had just gotten done getting my hair colored. My stylist was finishing up and her next client came in. I was texting my husband as they were chatting but I was obviously aware of what they were talking about since we were all in the same room. This nice woman was speaking about a man that she had been dating for a short time. It was interesting to hear her talk about their relationship and how much fun they were having. And yet, in everything she said she seemed to be trying to talk herself out of enjoying him and the newfound companionship. She talked about how much her children liked him. Her parents had met him and approved as well. So what was her hesitation?

Curiosity got the best of me so I asked her what she was so hesitant about. She talked about a caring, fun, financially stable man and her face took on a sort of glow at the mention of his name. I had to know what was holding her back.

We had briefly discussed my wonderful husband and the fact that prior to getting remarried I had been single almost five years. She has been single for nine years. I had enjoyed my independence and was very proud of everything I accomplished in that time professionally and financially, all while being the single mother of four children.

She asked me if I was afraid to lose him. It is crazy how an acquaintance and such a simple question could give me the gift of realizing something about myself that I had not previously acknowledged. My response to her was, “I was so afraid to lose that for a long time I was too afraid to find.” I didn’t realize the true impact of my words until I was alone in my car driving home. But then I realized that really was more accurate than I had ever before understood. Of course I am scared to lose him. You don’t find your true love and not have those fears. But where would I be if I had stayed in that position of being afraid to give myself to love?

Some chances are worth taking. I am thankful for every single day and night we are together. We have such an amazing marriage and family and I am thankful every day that he came into my life and I took that leap of faith into love.

Let's Talk Parenting

Overcoming Grief Together

I never gave it much thought, but a lot of people don’t make it to the ripe old age of 80. Yet, we expect that everyone in our lives will live at least that long. Saying a premature goodbye to a loved one, whether unexpectedly or not, is one of the hardest things a person can go through. And it seems to happen to almost everyone. My friend’s mother died of a heart attack in her 40’s, my best friend from high school recently lost his sister, and my husband and I lost our own beautiful son exactly one year ago. Not that it diminishes the pain, but it seems that everyone loses someone who they expected and hoped would be around for a lot longer. And when it happens, we need to be willing to work with those closest to us to overcome it together.

I have seen first-hand the strain that grief can place on a relationship and a family. Because of my own experiences, I will focus on the way grief can affect a marriage, though the same principles apply to any relationship.

Everyone grieves differently, and this can lead to potentially disastrous misunderstandings. I’ve always been the kind of girl to wear my heart on my sleeve. There is never any question what I’m feeling. My husband, on the other hand, almost always maintains a calm surface, regardless of what emotions may be bubbling up on the inside. After we lost our son, I cried and moped for months. Long before I was ready, my husband outwardly resumed many of his normal activities. I remember one particularly difficult night where I accused him of not being as sad as he should be. I don’t think anyone could have ever said a more hurtful thing to him. Underneath his collected exterior was a tumult of grief and pain, and I had further wounded his broken heart because I did not understand the way he grieved. I could easily see how our altercation could spiral into a love-destroying cycle of insult and pain. Fortunately, we were able to talk it out, and my wonderful, loving husband forgave my horrid words. We learned early on that if we wanted our marriage to survive this terrible nightmare, we needed to understand each other’s grief and try to meet each other’s needs. It takes a lot of open and direct communication, even if such honesty makes you feel vulnerable. The fact of the matter is that with any change, you need to draw closer together or you will drift further apart.

Losing a loved one prematurely is one of the most life-altering changes that anyone can experience, and the grief can either make or break a marriage. You can no longer be two grieving individuals; rather, you must become one grieving couple, working to overcome grief together. If you do, your love will emerge stronger than ever, a diamond created under the intense pressure of grieving hearts.