Without intentional focus on the marriage, empty nesters may find they have no reason to stay together. The overall U.S. divorce rate has declined slightly, but couples married 30-plus years are splitting up 16 percent more often. Reason? The empty nest. "I've seen friends who were totally wrapped up with their children and found they didn't have much in common and no outside interests or commitments," says Cal Chaney, general counsel for a physician's group in Dallas and parent of two college-age sons. "Some of those marriages break up."

But fortunately, the empty nest also has the potential to be one of the best times of married life. "You forget in 20 years what it is like to choose what you want to do every night," says Audrey Jackson, mother of three sons in college. "We can cook what we like or go out to dinner if we feel like it. Our weekends are free to do what we want." With a little preparation and planning, you can enjoy your empty nest, too.

Stare Into The Emptiness
As your kids prep for college, you need to do some of your own prepping - and you shouldn't wait until they've moved into the dorm. Make a list of the positive and negative aspects of your soon-to-be empty nest. Write down your personal interests besides your children and set goals for this next stage of life. List the things you'll never do - and need to let go of - and things you want to do when the kids are gone. Don't be completely realistic here, and do include things you want to do with your partner. Dr. Clare Chaney, for example, plans to accompany Cal to some of the many conferences he attends, and they're booking a cruise with old college friends.