If your 50-year-old husband wakes up one morning and tells you life has passed him by, you may have visions of him zooming off in a red Porsche with a new partner half his age. Don’t panic! Your husband’s midlife crisis doesn’t necessarily mean you’re headed for divorce court. How he chooses to handle it is up to him, but there are things you can do to support him and keep your marriage in tact. (Dealing with a wife’s midlife crisis? Read our companion blog: 7 Tips for Surviving Your Wife’s Midlife Crisis!)
What’s A Midlife Crisis, Exactly?
Scientist Elliot Jacques coined the term in 1965. After studying life patterns of creative geniuses, he found that many underwent changes in personal style and a decline in productivity starting at age 35. At this age, Jacques wrote, people begin to bump up against their limitations and realize their horizons aren’t infinite. They grow discontented, question their choices, and wonder what they should do with the time they have left.
Do All Men Go Through A Midlife Crisis?
No. But certain men are more vulnerable to this life passage:
- Married men may feel trapped in jobs they hate but can’t quit because they need to support their families.
- Men define themselves by their ability to make money and perform sexually; if they’re not meeting their own standards, they may descend into midlife despair.
- Those with physical and/or mental health conditions may feel an acute struggle with their limitations.
Symptoms of a Midlife Crisis
According to Psychology Today, symptoms include:
- Discontentment that replaces previous fulfillment
- Restlessness, desire to do something different, but not sure what
- Questioning past decisions and the meaning of life
- Identity crisis: who am I and what do I want?
- Substance abuse or increase in unhealthy behaviors
- Increased or decreased sex drive
- Affairs, typically with younger women
- Decreased or increased ambition
- Irritable and critical (generally, his moodiness is not about you, but about his dissatisfaction with himself).
What You Can Do To Support Your Husband
- Realize is midlife crisis is normal. Many men go through this phase, although some have a more extreme response than others.
- Support his desires and join in when you can. As long as he can afford the new sports car, don’t give him a hard time for buying it. And don’t roll your eyes when he takes up a hobby you think is ridiculous; if he wants to learn to tango, make sure you’re his dance partner.
- Give him attention. Men want to be admired and appreciated. Tell him you love him and are attracted to him. Be kind and patient (yes, it’s a challenge).
- Work on yourself. If your energy is primarily focused on your family, it’s time to pursue your own passions: yoga, gardening, writing that memoir you’ve always thought about. Nurture your friendships. The more satisfaction you derive from your own interests, the less dependent you’ll be on your husband for your happiness. And remember: you’re not responsible for his happiness either.
- Self-care. You’re not supposed to look the way you did at 20 (or 30 or 40), but if you buy into the myth that women are invisible after 40, you’ll start to feel invisible. Don’t exercise to get a flat stomach; work out for health reasons and the feel-good hormones exercise creates. You may not be able to wear the clothes you did 20 years ago, but you can still rock a new style post-menopause. There’s nothing anti-feminist about wanting to look good for your husband. Don’t you want him to look good for you?
- Get couples counseling. If your husband’s midlife crisis has caused him to pull away, or if you suspect he’s having an affair, you need professional help. Tell him calmly that your marriage is having its own midlife crisis and your current situation is untenable. Ask him to go to with you to therapy. It may take a few attempts, but continue to raise the issue – without nagging and ultimatums. Men who resist couples therapy usually scramble to get it when they realize their marriage depends on it. If he refuses to go? Get your own counseling and decide whether or not you want to stay in the marriage.
- Work on life goals together. Being married doesn’t mean you automatically know what your husband wants, especially if his desires change. Sit down together and write down how you imagine the rest of your life to be. You may discover you have a common sense of purpose, which will unite you.
One important reminder: Bad behavior due to a midlife crisis shouldn’t be excused, and — although he may hint or say other otherwise — you didn’t do anything to give him a midlife crisis. As difficult as this time may be right now, focus your energy on being the best person you can be, and invite him to do the same.
During a midlife crisis on the part of either spouse, some couples may question the state of their marriage. We understand that having your spouse announce from seemingly out of nowhere, “I want a divorce!” is extremely upsetting and confusing. Do they really mean it? Can your marriage be saved? And how can you protect yourself, and your kids? We welcome you to schedule an initial consultation to speak with a family law attorney to understand the divorce process, and get an idea of all your options, including reconciliation! Knowledge is power, and can be what helps you get through this tough time with less worry. Please contact us today to scheduled your initial consultation.
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