Cartoons often depict middle-aged people amid a midlife crisis indulging in out-of-character purchases and activities – red sports cars, motorcycles, skydiving, and dressing like teenagers, with a spouse at their side wondering, “What is going on? Who is this person that I no longer know? Are we heading to divorce court?” Setting those images aside, a midlife crisis involves much more than acting like a person who is twenty+ years younger, and it does not always lead to separation in a marriage.
What is a Midlife Crisis?
We all experience transitions in life. We wouldn’t be living our lives if we never experienced them. A midlife crisis is a period of transition, which typically occurs in people, both men, and women, between the ages of 40 to 60 years old. It is called a crisis, but it is not a syndrome. Midlife crisis is psychological, and when it occurs it can be pivotal. A person experiencing a midlife crisis is typically acutely aware of their age, where they are in life, what they have accomplished, and what opportunities are ahead. Contrary to the popular belief that a midlife crisis often leads to divorce, studies indicate that transition periods bring a mix of challenges and opportunities to relationships. Some conflicts take on a positive note when people use them as an opportunity to reconnect and kindle interests in their relationship.
What a Midlife Crisis Looks Like
Everyone is different, but a midlife crisis can closely resemble an identity crisis, which may involve:
What have I accomplished in my life?
Am I living my life to its fullest?
How much time do I have left in life, and what do I want to do with it?
What is my purpose in life?
Emotional Turmoil and Intense Feelings
- Depression, anxiety, or mood changes (i.e., irritability, resentment, anger, boredom)
- Lack of confidence
- Intense nostalgia
- Withdrawal from normal routines
- Health concerns
- Sleep pattern changes
- Weight gain or loss
And yes, a person dealing with these intense emotions and feelings may spend more money than normal or may indulge in activities that are out of character.
How to Turn a Midlife Crisis into a Period of Growth
Imagine a sprocket and a chain on a bicycle. Both are necessary pieces that ensure that the bicycle moves forward when it is pedaled. It can still feel like hard work to a person when pedaling uphill, but when the parts work together, the bike moves in the direction that the individual wants to go. In comparison, a midlife transition can feel like an arduous challenge, but both partners can help their marriage glide along the path when they work in unison. Transitions in life, crisis or not, can be transformed into opportunities for change and growth.
“Most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas A. Edison
Here are resourceful ways you can help yourself grow through the experience and make your love work while in a midlife transition:
1. Recognize and Acknowledge Signs of Depression
These signs might include irritability, change in mood, or behavior changes. Realize that depression doesn’t always look like someone feeling sad. It is more characterized by a loss of motivation or interest in things that a person used to be interested in. Depression and other emotional challenges need to be addressed by both people in a relationship.
2. Avoid Criticizing Yourself or Your Partner
Focus on supporting your self-care and self-esteem. Ask yourself these questions, and make each of them work for your marriage as well:
- Are you living up to your personal values?
- Are you engaged with your spiritual beliefs?
- Are you being a good steward of your resources (other relationships, work, etc.)?
- Are you maintaining physical and mental health in your life?
- Are you setting boundaries – saying ‘no’ to what is not acceptable?
Related: Living With a Critical Partner
3. Always Keep Open Communication at the Forefront
This means that you can talk about most anything with your partner without shame, fear, or retaliation.
When we talk through our problems, we release what we are holding inside. This gets our struggles into the open, and into a space where our partner can help us find a solution. When we release what we feel emotionally trapped in, we are able to see our situation more clearly, and it helps us to work our way through it.
Beyond open communication, the other four Elements of a Healthy Relationship – equal power, having your own lives outside of the relationship, trust and honesty, and resolving conflict respectfully – can help you steer your midlife conflict in the right direction, but also will help you work together as a couple and strengthen your partnership.
4. Give Yourself Time and Grace
Forget about being perfect. Be easy on yourself. We all experience ideas and thoughts that can feel whimsical and not in line with our marriage. Allow yourself to dream, and then do not apply pressure on yourself to figure it all out. Sometimes, when we feel scattered with our thoughts, all that we need is to give ourselves time to breathe – and then, clarity can follow.
Do You Need Help with Sorting It Out and Creating Growth in You and Your Marriage?
Sometimes, the shifts that we encounter in life can feel overwhelming and confusing, even after we have given ourselves and our marriages our best. Are you ready to discover how to turn your life transition into growth for yourself and your marriage?