When we hear the term “midlife crisis” on TV and in movies, shiny new convertibles and bad toupees come to mind. We can’t help but laugh, because those are the stereotypical symbols we’ve come to recognize. Yet when you’re a person—especially a man—experiencing a midlife crisis in your 40s and 50s, it’s much less funny and much more real. Midlife crisis is men is a common experience and in order to understand its effect on a relationship, it’s good to look into the particulars of what exactly a midlife crisis is.
Typically, a male midlife crisis begins with inner boredom and/or disappointment. For some men, reaching middle age triggers a wake-up call, reminding them they still haven’t fulfilled many of their life’s dreams. These dreams could be anything from reaching a career goal to earning a specific amount of money. There’s something about entering a certain age bracket that can be very triggering for some people; the number 40 doesn’t change you overnight, but it might make you see yourself—and your life’s accomplishments, or lack thereof—in a different light.
Unfortunately, the midlife crisis in men mindset sometimes goes beyond feelings of restlessness and translates to physical actions. Some men might turn to alcohol and develop a drinking problem. Others might become obsessed with their appearance and experience an increased sense of vanity. Some men who suddenly feel misunderstood by their wives might seek comfort in the arms of another and have an affair, often with a younger woman. Remember, as men get older, they often lament the things they didn’t accomplish in their youth. Since they can’t go back in time, many do what they see as the next best thing: associate with a younger companion.
What should you do if your husband, boyfriend, or partner is having a midlife crisis? First, though it’s easier said than done, you must realize it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them aging. Then, take a close look at what exactly your partner seems to need; chances are his behavior will point to one area in particular. Maybe it’s physical validation in his aging body, or emotional validation in his confidence at work. Once you’re able to pinpoint why he’s having a midlife crisis, you can try to help him reground and restructure his life to focus on the good.
It’s important to remember the second part of the phrase: midlife crisis. On its own, we take the word “crisis” extremely seriously. Yet when paired with “midlife,” it can seem less so. Dictionary.com defines crisis as, “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.” At its simplest, a midlife crisis is a man facing his own mortality, and panicking at the thought of running out of time. If your partner is having a midlife crisis, try to remember that what he’s going through feels like a trauma.
When I went off to college, both of my parents’ lives shifted dramatically. I was their only child, and they were suddenly empty nesters. It didn’t matter that I still needed them and depended on them and called them every day; they suddenly felt purposeless. My mom adjusted to the change, but the transition was especially hard on my dad. At the age of 57, he grew a soul patch and re-discovered his love of playing in a band. He made new friends, stayed out late, and had a completely new hobby. My mom let him enjoy it (she was even tolerant of the bad facial hair), and eventually, his midlife crisis ran its course.
My dad’s was just a phase, but not all midlife crises are created equal. If your partner enters one, should you be worried? Should you talk about it, or would that be even more damaging to his ego? If it seems like a phase that will pass, you might wait it out to see what happens. But if your relationship begins to suffer, it’s best to speak up. While you want to be supportive of your partner, you also have to consider your own needs as well. If his actions show no sign of slowing down and are threatening your happiness, it’s time to intervene. The conversation won’t be easy, but it will put you back on the road to helping him regain his sense of purpose and satisfaction.