People between the ages of 35 and 65 often wrestle with big questions regarding their meaning, purpose, and direction in life. In the world of work, the 40s begins a time of existential exploration. Feeling appreciated and acknowledged becomes an important contribution to our self-esteem and either keeps us going or if it is nonexistent it stresses us out. They have worked hard and acquired a family, home, status, and the material possessions that they desired, and now some doubts have appeared. The phrase work hard, play hard comes to mind. This is a time that having fun and being fun loving goes a long way in feeling happy at best or just peaceful at the base. When there is not enough good stuff it can be depressing.
It’s normal to question how to deal with a midlife crisis, and we have found that helping a couple address these issues together provides the most profound benefits. Whether you are struggling with a midlife crisis or a more mild midlife exploration, this period in your life can lead to greater fulfillment and satisfaction when approached correctly. In fact, the crisis can create an opportunity for positive change and growth that might have otherwise eluded you and your spouse for years.
How Serious Is A Midlife Crisis?
The reaction to a midlife crisis can range from buying a new car or having an emotional or sexual affair to asking for a divorce. Every person handles this stage of their life differently, and it also depends on the health of the marriage, the individual’s wellbeing, and the connection support that one has in their general community. It’s normal to deeply reflect on your life during this time, and some exploration of different paths is normal and useful. However, some people attempt to make drastic changes that have serious consequences and cannot be easily undone—like having a full-fledged affair.
What Triggers A Midlife Crisis?
Not feeling appreciated at work or at home is a hard burden to carry on our backs. As a result, some people dive into work where they may feel more appreciated and valued. They know what is expected of them. They feel more rewarded there than in their own home. Many men become human doings, not human doings. They become production machines and loose themselves. Even their wife and kids don’t really know them or what they are going through. It can become a vicious cycle because their wives feel rejected too—not seen, lonely, and unloved. Fun is almost non-existent. Everything seems out of balance.
A midlife crisis is often triggered by a significant event at this time in your life or can be a delayed reaction on past life experiences such as significant events and traumas. Some of the examples that we have frequently worked with are:
Stress Due To Children
Adding children to your household almost always adds stress to a marriage. Couples often shift from long dates and experiences with each other, to changing diapers, driving to kid based activities, and sneaking in romance whenever infrequently possible. There are many examples of how children can put a damper on your sex life from being afraid the kids may hear you making noise during sex, or they will walk in on you. That challenge is compounded ten-fold if you have kids with medical or physical challenges.
Signs Of Aging
Couples usually commit to each other when they are at their peak physical condition and appearance. That will change. As the wrinkles and gray hair starts to appear, skin sags, men start to bald and women grow hair on their face, life creates scars. It’s normal for spouses to be feel less attractive and less attracted to their beloved one. This can impact personal mental health as well as relationship satisfaction. We help couples find ways of celebrating a life well lived, from scars of childbirth to work wounds to normal aging. Looking at each body can be a reminder of the history you have with each other. It could put a smile on your face.
When a spouse retires, everything changes for both husband and wife. Not only does the retiree’s daily life go through a major change, which would be expected, but there are also big changes for the spouse’s routine as well. Couples often have issues with the retirement phase of life if they had spent little time together, had few common interests, and had little to no connection prior to retirement. After retirement, these issues will often resurface or take on a more obvious presence. Our work is to bridge your gap in habits and expectations and find new ways for you to be in your home and the world together.
Empty Nest is the stage of life for a couple when the last child leaves home and goes out on their own. While some children return to the nest again, many are gone for good. This is supposed to mark the start of the golden years, but for many couples it is a very stressful time. Either way this creates a shift in the marital relationship. For some people who have been over-close to their children, this stage of life may feel like a death experience and they may go through a grief process. It is actually an opportunity to celebrate all that you have done and bonding with each other again after all these years of raising a family.
Many things can contribute to the stress in a marriage, many of them have been described here. We usually deal with a few of them and teach you skills to deal with others in the future. The better each of you can learn to self-regulate and manage your own personal stress, the healthier your marriage will be.
Personal Health Challenges
People can experience a variety of health changes and challenges as they age. It can be as simple as taking longer to heal when you get a scrap or as serious as a cancer diagnosis. Facing ones own fragility or mortality can significantly impact one’s self perception and their marriage. Disability, medical procedures, medications while modern medicine keeps us living longer, it sometimes can complicate our relationship. Whether you are the “patient” or the care giver, there are benefits to having productive and positive conversations.
Death Of Close Friend Or Family Member
Death becomes a normal experience as people age. Parents may need elder care or hospice. You may lose loved ones to natural causes or accidents. Some have even experienced suicide in their circle of family and friends. These kinds of experiences can lodge in our hearts and minds taking up space that doesn’t allow for joy or fun. Feelings of guilt or shame can be toxic and can create or exacerbate depression or anxiety. Many spouses during this time start to isolate or become deeply introspective which can leave their partner feeling alone and rejected. Couples need to help each other purge that negativity and trauma until there in once room again for peace and love to fill our hearts and minds.
Many people spend more time at work than with their family or preferred hobbies. If you already do not like what you do for a living this can lead to major career dissatisfaction once you realize that you regret how you have spent many years of your life. If you do like what you do for a living it is more likely you will regret how out of balance you have been with life, work, and family. It has been said that no one on their death bed has ever wished they spent more time at work. Furthermore, the fear of dying is less about mortality and more about spending time with those you love doing things that you love to do.
Questioning Purpose And Meaning In Life
It’s valuable to question your meaning and purpose in life, however this existential journey can also cause a lot of distress. Instead of trying to handle this experience on your own, it is helpful to process your thoughts and feelings with your spouse not only for your benefit but also to strengthen the marriage.
When people don’t appropriately deal with childhood and other traumas, it usually impacts their self esteem, makes them more emotionally guarded, and leads them to be more emotionally triggered during conversations. Unresolved trauma leaves a minefield of potential conflict that must be addressed for a healthy marriage. This is especially true for Adverse Childhood Experiences (known as ACES).
Changes In Libido
Changes in sexual desire throughout life are normal. Many middle aged couples struggle with feeling rejected or undesirable because their partner no longer seems romantically interested in them. Happy couples often adapt their definition of good sex as they age and find ways to build intimacy and passion in and outside the bedroom.
For many women, menopause is a major life transition. This is a time when she can no longer get pregnant, which for some women is a relief but for others the various mental and physical changes are overwhelming.
Does A Midlife Crisis Lead To Divorce?
Not necessarily. A midlife crisis can be the opportunity that encourages a couple to go into counseling to explore and work on their deeper issues. To the contrary, in a healthy marriage, you can use your spouse as a support through a midlife crisis as you process it together. The reason that such a crisis would lead to divorce is when you feel unsupported, dismissed, judged, or belittled during a time where you need more emotional support and tender care.
How To Cope With A Midlife Crisis
Many people cope with their midlife crisis through sex, drugs, or rock n roll. This is also a common time for affairs in a marriage. It’s normal to feel anxious or depressed during this time in your life as you are likely wrestling with large themes of existence and purpose. If you never found closure with past traumas or are unsure about your future based on your life decisions up to this point, it’s necessary to find acceptance, self compassion, and healthy decision making. Some couples can support each other through this process, but the truth is that most couples are often more successful navigating a midlife crisis with professional support.
How Can I Get Help With My Midlife Crisis?
Some couples are able to help each other through a midlife crisis, however most need some professional support. The purpose of support is to help the person in crisis identify the behaviors that are problematic, understand the underlying emotions that they are struggling with, and find ways to be vulnerable with their partner and have their needs met in a healthy way. During a Marriage Quest Retreat, we will teach you how to have these deeper needs met within your marriage so that the crisis is resolved and the relationship is more resilient in the face of future challenges.
Frequently Asked Questions
Moms are usually closer emotionally to the children than dads. Therefore, fathers often feel left out and unimportant in the family setting. If work goes well, they fill their emotional needs on the job. That keeps them satisfied until somewhere in their 40s. If they are not happy at work, they start exploring what life as for them and they slide into a mid-life crisis as early as 35 years old.
Women are typically very busy with raising children until they are in their 40’s, approaching their 50’s. When the kids move into their teenage years, moms are not needed, nor wanted, as much. This shift can create a challenge for their sense of purpose. This challenge along with menopausal changes can create a mid-life crisis in the 40s and 50s.
Not everyone goes through a midlife crisis experience. Some people have a mild exploration phase and others tetter on the edge of catastrophe. A midlife crisis can vary in length for each person. It can be resolved quickly with a good intervention from friends, family, or a trained therapist or coach. It can last for many years if not dealt with properly. Some sources say that a midlife crisis for men usually last longer than for women.
Yes, some people continue to explore their life’s meaning and purpose and question their self-worth for a long time, others go in and out of these mindful challenges. Sudden traumatic events can push someone into a crisis and deep emotional exploration. The good news is that if you deal with pain of some loss or the fears of mortality well you will have a happier end of life experience being at peace with yourself and your life choices.
Consider A Marriage Counseling Retreat
It is crucial to gain an understanding of the causes of a mid-life crisis so that the objectionable behavior will not be repeated. We find that, through a Marriage Quest Retreat, it is possible to use the mid-life crisis as a way to bring meaning and direction to a couple’s lives. The process can be used as a path to gain a new-found understanding of one’s goals in life and to gain help in finding a direction towards them.
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