The Kids are Gone: Now What? - Part 2 (Transcript)

Dr. James Dobson: Hello, everyone. You're listening to Family Talk, a radio broadcasting ministry of the James Dobson Family Institute. I'm Dr. James Dobson and thank you for joining us for this program.

Roger Marsh: Well, thank you for joining us today for Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh and I hope that you're having a great day wherever you are. Thanks so much for making Family Talk a part of your day and for taking us with you. As you may know, we are a listener supported program so thank you for all you do to support us.

Today's program is quite an encouraging one and who couldn't use some good news. Things are tough out there in the world right now and we've got to stick together. Well, speaking of sticking together, if you are married and you have kids, when your last child leaves home, a new phase of marriage begins. It's the season called empty nesting but many couples struggle to adjust to this new stage of life. Well, today on Family Talk, we are concluding a classic broadcast in which Dr. Dobson interviews David and Claudia Arp. The three will continue their discussion about the eight challenges that empty nest couples face.

The Arps offer wonderful solutions and practical tips for any couple to stay connected and to grow together during this new phase of life. For instance, today we will learn answers to such questions as, how does a marriage shift from child focus to partner focus? How does communication change when the children are gone? How do you keep fun and friendship in your marriage relationship? Dave and Claudia really address the issues and challenges that couples face in a long-term marriage.

Now, first let me tell you about this amazing couple. Claudia Arp and her husband David Arp are a husband and wife team who share a passion for helping couples build great marriages through fun, relationship building dates. The Arps introduced the dating concept when dating wasn't cool. In fact, their first book, 10 Dates for Mates, a Gold Medallion finalist, launched their pathway to helping couples grow together while going out together. David and Claudia are the founders of Marriage Alive International Inc,. When they're not writing or speaking, you'll probably find them hiking trails in Northern Virginia, where they live or in the Austrian Alps in Tyrol, where they love to write and hike.

Roger Marsh: Now, before we start out on the second half of this interview, remember you can access or download part one by going to our broadcast page at As we continue today, I want to remind you that the Arps wrote a book titled, The Second Half of Marriage: Facing the Eight Challenges of Every Long-term Marriage. That will be the basis in part for today's program. By the way, the Arps have written over 30 books and have been married for more than 55 years so needless to say, this couple has lots of advice and wisdom to share. Let's get started. Here now is Dr. James Dobson.

Dr. James Dobson: We began this discussion last time talking about The Second Half of Marriage, your book. You made reference therein to eight problems faced by those at that time of life. Tell us what they are, list them for us, will you?

Claudia Arp: Okay. The eight challenges that if couples can surmount these challenges, we believe they can build a successful, loving, growing second half marriage. The first challenge is to let go of past disappointments and forgive each other and make that commitment to making the rest of that, the commitment not only to permanence but to growing in their relationship. That that's the starting place. If they can't get past forgiving each other and accepting each other as a packaged deal, they're not going to go much further. The second challenge is to create a marriage.

Dr. James Dobson: We're going to see how well you know your own book here. You reached for the book. What's the second?

Claudia Arp: Okay, the second is to create a marriage that is partner focused rather than child focused. To move past those years when you're just so focusing on your children, let your adult children grow up. You need to let go and then reconnect with them on an adult level. And then you need to refocus on each other.

David Arp: Well let me pick it up here. Challenge number three is to maintain an effective communication system that allows you to express your deepest feelings, joys, dreams, expectations to each other but do it in a positive way.

Dr. James Dobson: You say in there that communication in the first half is different than communication in the second half. How so?

David Arp: Well in the first half, you're communicating in sound bites and just short periods of time, the kids are always there. They're as we call it the ankle biters, they're always interrupting you. Your communication is very short and you don't have time for long conversations but in the second half, you do have time for those long conversations to talk about the meaning of life and what you personally want to see happen in your life personally over the next X number of years and where you want your marriage to be. And for some of us, for some of us men in particular, it's a little uncomfortable. We don't know. This is sort of new for us. It's a new language.

Dr. James Dobson: What do I say now? What's number four, Dave?

David Arp: Number four is to use anger and conflict in a creative way to build your relationship. And we've been talking about that, so important in this stage of life.

Dr. James Dobson: We've done pretty good job of covering them so far.

David Arp: Well, we have a lot of pastors who tell us that when couples come in who've been married 25, 30 years, this is the issue. There's so much bitterness and resentment that's built up, it's so hard to deal with it. Challenge number five is to build a deeper friendship and enjoy your spouse. Fun in marriage is serious business. We need to put more fun. Dating is an important part of it.

Claudia Arp: When we did our national survey, we discovered and also research has backed this up, along with how you handle conflict the greatest indicator we found for a successful long-term marriage was the level of the couple friendship. And the more years they were married, the more important that factor became. And we started thinking about it and we thought, our culture's not marriage friendly today. And marriage is not held together from without, it's from within and it's that core relationship and the friendship is what builds that relationship. And you build your friendship by having fun together.

Dr. James Dobson: That reminds me a little bit of the mice who agreed that there needed to be a bell on the neck of the cat and nobody had an idea how to get it there. We all know we need to be friends in marriage. What do you say to the person that's been married 25, 30 years and says, "This person is not my best friend and sometimes not even my friend." Can be rebuilt at that stage?

Claudia Arp: Absolutely.

David Arp: We believe that you can take any marriage if the Lord is involved and you can allow the Lord to give you the forgiveness, yes, you can reinvent your marriage for the second half. We see it happen. We see the Lord really step in and perform miracles in couple's lives.

Dr. James Dobson: Sometimes an outside consultant or counselors.

David Arp: Counseling can be very important part of it.

Claudia Arp: We're working on a project for Christian counselors right now to turn our 10 Great Dates resource into something they can use in their counseling to help couples restore this friendship. And we believe that any couple who's willing to set aside time and date their mate, they can jumpstart their relationship.

Dr. James Dobson: 10 Great Dates means suggestions for what you can do together. Is that what that? I haven't seen that.

David Arp: Oh, that's good. 10 Great Dates is there are 10 fun dates but each date has a marital theme. Actually it's a marital skill but we just call it a theme and if you're the church on the corner that's offering fun dates and free or low cost babysitting, couples will come. And basically you're allowing those couples to, it's a short video date launch where Claudia and I just set the tone for the date and a little bit about the skill that you're going to be practicing and then you send them out for an hour and a half on their date and we hope they come back in order to have to get their kids.

Dr. James Dobson: If I caught that, this is part of your seminar to couples in the second half.

Claudia Arp: We have a book, 10 Great Dates and it's also a video resource for churches and groups. And this is the follow-up to our Marriage Alive seminars. Our churches are just using this resource standalone but it's a program. It's a marriage education program that will draw couples who would never go to a marriage seminar or a marriage Bible study but they'll come to the church for fun dates, especially if they offer childcare. And we're finding that what happens, the women drag them in the men the first few dates but by the third or fourth date, the men are dragging the women. And they're getting involved.

David Arp: It's very consistent, the husbands really getting into it.

Claudia Arp: And it's a great resource also for couples in the second half, we did it really broad base, it's for couples all ages and stages of marriage but it's a program around the country. It's going really well.

Dr. James Dobson: People really do get excited about what you have to say, don't they?

David Arp: Well apparently.

Dr. James Dobson: Some of them grab it.

Claudia Arp: We are pioneers. We've always been out there sort of pioneering new areas and so when we started pioneering the empty nest, it wasn't on anybody's radar screen but they're pragmatic and they want some help. And so we're trying to be prepared and be there for them and have resources for small groups and for Sunday school classes to help them build their marriage in the second half.

Dr. James Dobson: Now we'd gotten through five, I believe.

David Arp: Five. Claudia, want to pick up at six?

Dr. James Dobson: Yeah, let's take number six.

Claudia Arp: Okay. Challenge six is to renew romance and restore a pleasurable sexual relationship. And from our personal experience, we believe that our love life has been more creative and more fun since our kids left home than before. We remember those adolescent years, it was probably the low point in our love life.

Dr. James Dobson: Everything else.

Claudia Arp: Oh everything else. Three sons and they stayed up later than we did. And we were pretty exhausted by the time we got the last one out the door.

Dr. James Dobson: Do you know how many people feel like it's over by that point?

David Arp: Oh a lot. We had a lot in our seminars. Couples come up to us all the time say, "I think we've forgotten how." That was in the early years of our marriage but we do believe that this is another area you can reinvent in the second half.

Claudia Arp: We lead them back to Genesis 2:24 which is the verse on marriage that Christ quoted in the New Testament that we're to leave our father and mother and cleave to each other and become one. And we said, those are the three principles are the foundation of a Christian marriage, the leaving other things, making your marriage a priority, cleaving to each other, becoming soul mates, best friends and becoming one, building a creative love life. And God commanded us to do it and He didn't say it's just for the early years. Get busy. He's the one that put that passion within your heart to be played out in the framework of a loving Christian marriage. Get busy loving each other in your empty nest.

Dr. James Dobson: Now here is another instance where you may need some help in understanding that. Maybe physical reasons if there's a lack of what's called a libido or desire. There may be a lot of reasons, some of them emotional and sometimes it requires a little assistance.

David Arp: Well, in our small group last night, this was one of the first questions that came up was about the sexual relationship in the second half. And they said, "What's the difference between the second half and the first half?" And we just said the second half is more of a stroll. The first half was a sprint and now it's more of a stroll. We have more time. Our bodies react slower so that is a good time to be playful, to experiment, to just to enjoy the process.

Claudia Arp: You have the whole house and you have time but you have to be proactive. You have to be intentional because if your love life has been on the back burner during those adolescent years and the parenting years, it'll stay there unless you move the pot. And so you have to take the initiative. And so we encourage couples to take getaways. You might say, "Well, why do I need to take a getaway?" Just to change your environment, just to get out and do something different and to be adventuresome. Go select a good book on love life and read it together.

Dr. James Dobson: If I had to offer advice to a couple that's lost interest in one another and wants to rekindle it, the very first thing I would do would be to say, concentrate on the other 23 and a half hours a day. Pleasure one another in other ways. Show love to one another, build a relationship. That's what makes a woman respond. You just can't concentrate on the sexual experience itself if you haven't laid the foundation by drawing close to one another. That's what makes human sex different than animal sex is because it comes out of a deeply emotional commitment to one another.

David Arp: You have a relationship.

Dr. James Dobson: You have to start with that.

Claudia Arp: Right. One little tip that we give in our Marriage Alive seminars is we encourage couples in the morning when you say goodbye to each other, kiss for 10 seconds, just 10 seconds. And then when you come home in the evening, kiss for 10 seconds. That's 20 seconds you're investing in your marriage each day.

Dr. James Dobson: But Claudia, what do you do for the other nine seconds?

David Arp: That's exactly it.

Claudia Arp: That's it.

David Arp: Because usually couples look at us, we just look out across the audience, they'll look like, well, what's the big deal about 10 seconds? Well, time it. Hold up your watch and count. 1001, 1002, 1003, we're beyond most people right now. And 10 seconds is longer than you think. And we get more emails about the 10 second kiss and how it's revitalized that intimacy in their relationship, just 10 seconds.

Dr. James Dobson: Shirley and I had an opportunity to go to the inauguration of George W. Bush and we were in the Texas ball that night. And apparently he hates to dance and yet it's traditional that they dance. And so he told the audience that, he said, "I've never danced for more than 30 seconds in my life. I'm going to try to beat the record." And so they started dancing. They danced for about 12 seconds and he looks at his watch.

David Arp: How long is this going to last?

Dr. James Dobson: Yeah, it was tough for him to get through it. Some couples that have been married for 20, 25, 30 years might find it difficult to kiss for 10 seconds. But what a great start.

David Arp: You start with one second and then work up.

Claudia Arp: Just start. Work up. But we just got an email from a couple saying, "We've been practicing the 10 second kiss and my husband said that our marriage has made a turn because we're paying more attention to each other. We're being more intentional." Anything, the dating, dating as an attitude. We turn almost anything that we do into dates. Every fall we have a flu shot date.

Dr. James Dobson: Flu shot.

Claudia Arp: Flu shot date where we go and get our flu shot together. And we just make it a date.

Dr. James Dobson: What a great thrill.

David Arp: But Dr. Dobson, I probably wouldn't go get the flu shot if we didn't make it into a date so we go together. I hold Claudia's hand while she gets her shot first. I want to see if it's okay then I get my shot. And this last year we started a new tradition after we got our shots, we kissed and Dr. Bob, our doctor, he said, "After 28 years of medicine, I've never seen a couple do this before."

Dr. James Dobson: What a celebration.

David Arp: Yeah, but you can take any, it's an attitude. You can take anything and turn it into a date and just interject a little bit of fun along the way.

Dr. James Dobson: I got to tell you, you got to be hard up for a date.

Claudia Arp: Well another date that we do is our airport date because we do seminars almost every weekend. We spend a lot of time in airports and all the things you hear about delays as you well know, really happen and flights are canceled. And when we're discouraged and tired, what we'll do is we'll just go to a flight that's been called. It's not our flight because our flight's delayed and we'll pretend like we're saying goodbye to each other. That one person is going to get on the flight.

David Arp: I don't know if you realize it but airports are one of the few places where you can kiss passionately in public and get away with it.

Dr. James Dobson: And nobody looks at you.

David Arp: Oh yes they do. They do us. And that's part of the fun because they look at us and say, "Gee, that couple a little old for this kind of stuff." That plane loads, we don't get on because it's not our flight. And then we'll just go to another gate where they're loading and we'll do the same.

Dr. James Dobson: You got to be kidding.

David Arp: No. Do the same thing.

Dr. James Dobson: That's called fun. I agree.

Claudia Arp: It's called fun but it's an attitude. You can go to the grocery store together, to run errands together and turn it into a date.

Dr. James Dobson: Shirley and I used to love to go to the farmer's market and just walk along and looking at the produce and the fruit. I don't know why we enjoyed that but we did. What's number seven?

David Arp: Number seven is adjust your changing roles with aging parents and adult children. And this is probably the greatest felt need that most couples dealing with their adult children, having aging parents who need medical help or maybe need to move in with them. All those issues sort of go into that particular challenge.

Dr. James Dobson: It's called the sandwich generation.

Claudia Arp: And there are so many needs and stresses and hurts in this stage of life. And what we tried to do in this challenge was not to solve all the problems of adult children and aging parents but was to challenge the couples, whatever your situations, however desperate it seems how can you make your marriage the anchor relationship? How can you be united together and support one another? We can all handle stress so much better if we know there's one other person that understands how we're feeling right now. And so to be that person for your spouse.

Dr. James Dobson: We could do an entire program on that subject. We're almost out of time here and I have one other very important subject I need to ask you all about but give us number eight very quickly.

David Arp: Okay number eight quickly is the eighth challenge is evaluate where you are on your spiritual pilgrimage, grow closer together, to God and together serve others. And we end on this thing because we can grow closer together spiritually at this stage of life. We have the time, the spiritual and the financial resources to get involved in ministry, to short term ministry. You got a lot of your volunteers who want to come, they want their other lives to count at this stage. And you can do that.

Dr. James Dobson: Now let's deal with the most difficult perhaps of all the subjects we could talk about in the second half and that is the specter of widowhood or a widower, the possibility of the loss of that person that you have dreamed with and grown with and raised children together and now you come to this stage of life and let's suppose it is as it is for Shirley and me, that this has been the most wonderful thing that's happened to you. And yet hanging over us is this prospect of one going on to Heaven and the other one not for a while. And that's really scary. I know Shirley and I never completely get away from that because I've had a heart attack and a stroke and I'm feeling great and doing well, but still that's there.

Claudia Arp: It is and it's very scary and that's close to our heart too because we're basically the same stages of our marriage and this last year I had some surgery and found out later I could have died. And we've had people say, "Well, aren't you too close? What if you're too close? And isn't it going to be too hard when you lose, when one of you loses the other?" And we thought about it and we thought, Well, no, we're not too close. God's desirous for us to be one. We don't want to be meshed in each other." We want our other interests but we have never heard anyone say, "I'm so sorry I worked so hard on my marriage. We worked too hard on our marriage." And we thought, well, if one of us loses the other, it will be with no regrets because we took the time to build our marriage now. We took the time to build our friendship while we had that time to take. And as hard as it will be, I cannot imagine life without Dave but I know that that God is there and Christ would see me through.

Dr. James Dobson: When the subject comes up, I think of the movie Shadowlands. I don't know if you all saw that but it was about the C.S. Lewis' writings. And he had lost his wife and the entire story deals with him asking the question, would I have hurt as badly if I hadn't loved this much? And at the end of the movie, the final conclusion is that you can take two routes in life. One is that you can protect yourself from pain, make yourself invulnerable and not allow yourself to connect with others and therefore not suffer loss or at least as devastating a loss because you have built a fortress around yourself. The other approach is to make yourself vulnerable, to love and to value and then to hurt when loss occurs. And his final conclusion is the latter is better than the former. It's better to love.

David Arp: We agree with that absolutely.

Claudia Arp: That's so what couples face in the second half of marriage and many couples aren't willing to reinvent their marriage. They just want to stay in this quote, "comfortable relationship" but they miss that intimacy. And they miss that opportunity to live out before their children, their grandchildren, their communities, what it really means to have a loving Christian growing long-term marriage.

Dr. James Dobson: What a wonderful thing to have, sweet memories and not bitter ones when it's all over. And then we're going to spend eternity together.

David Arp: Absolutely. Well Claudia, what you just said reminded me too, that we're not doing what we do as far as our Marriage Alive ministry, just to help couples have happy marriages. There's a bigger purpose and that is we believe that a loving Christian marriage, where the love of God really is flowing between husband and wife and that forgiveness is evident, it's the best lighthouse we have for Christianity. It's a great best evangelistic tool we have. We have more people who come to Christ because they see Christ in our relationships.

Claudia Arp: Last weekend, we were doing a seminar in Houston and a couple came up to us and there were New Yorkers. And they said, "We've just got to tell you what happened to us last year." And they had visited this church and saw that there was an empty nest second half Sunday school class. And they said, "We got involved in this class. And we became Christians through the study of the second half." And they had just been baptized and they were getting ready to have a 40th wedding anniversary celebration where they were going to renew their vows. And they were like little newlyweds running around.

David Arp: They were full of energy and holding hands.

Claudia Arp: What a great advertisement for marriage and what a great advertisement for Christianity.

Dr. James Dobson: That's the way I feel about you all. I believe you've got a message and you have something to say to today's families. You're meeting a need and I just trust that as a result of your being here on these two days, that the Lord is really going to take this ministry to new heights. You're available. You don't want to run your legs off. I've already said that but you're available to speak. Is that right?

David Arp: Yes.

Claudia Arp: Yes. And we have staff that we're training.

David Arp: And we also have a wonderful website. It's a It's the opposite of marriage dead.

Claudia Arp: A lot of resources there.

David Arp: A lot of resources on There are a lot of interactive resources, there's a whole section with the second half of marriage. There's the sections dealing with dating. It's just almost anything you want to deal with as far as it deals with marriage and parenting, we have resources there to do that,

Dr. James Dobson: Well, it comes out of your own experience and the things the Lord has taught you. And I just trust the Lord will continue to bless your work and your future writings. Thank you for being our guests and we will meet again.

Claudia Arp: Well, we are so delighted to be working together in the harvest, the Lord's harvest here.

David Arp: It's been exciting for us and we thank you for the opportunity.

Roger Marsh: Wow. This has been an inspiring and most useful conclusion to a loving conversation among three people sharing from their hearts based upon their experiences in their own marriages. That was Dr. James Dobson with a classic interview that he conducted with Dave and Claudia Arp as they examined the question of the kids are gone, now what? Maybe you or someone you know is going through a similar transition, well if that's the case, please let us know here at Family Talk.

If you want to learn more about David and Claudia, their ministry, Marriage Alive International and more, visit us online at That's where we have those links. Once you're there, you can also listen to part one of their conversation or the entire interview if you'd like. The web address once again is

Well, that's all the time we have for today but make sure you join us again tomorrow for another edition of Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh and in the meantime, plan to spend some time with my lovely wife, Lisa. Maybe we'll even go on a date. God's richest blessings to you and yours.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.
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