The Male Mid-life Crisis: Why?
It is not uncommon for a 40-50 year old male to come into my office with anxiety and confusion. “I don’t know if I’m in love with my wife anymore”, “I hate my job!” “I’m not sure I ever wanted to be physician, now I feel stuck”, “I hate the Puget Sound! Maybe we should move”, or “I want to travel around the world!” These guys are depressed and anxious. They can’t remember the last time they had a good night’s sleep. It’s as if they want to throw everything away that they have built for the last 20 years--take my word for it, they’re scared.
Naturally, their spouses are confused and frightened too. They come in to my office and wonder if their husband is having a nervous breakdown. Mild mannered Mel is raging around like a 13 year old. Straight and narrow Nick isn’t showing up for work. Loyal and devoted Dennis is texting a female co-worker 100 times a day. It’s as if their world has turned upside down. It isn’t pretty.
Their family and friends wonder why?
Some partners speculate that their husband has developed bi-polar disorder, because one minute they are up and the next down. Generally this is not the case. The average age of onset for bi-polar disorder is in the mid-twenties. It is relatively rare for a middle-aged adult to develop this condition without any previous history.
Sometimes, these existential crises (as in “What is the meaning of my life”) occur after an illness or death of a family member or friend. I remember when I was in my early 40’s, a colleague of my same age keeled over from a heart attack. It shook me to the core. I was at the gym daily, sometimes working out for 2 hours at a time. Finally, I realized that I was going overboard when I develop tendinitis. And I recognized why. My friend’s death reminded me of my mortality. My response was to become obsessed with fitness for a short time. But other men may question everything. It may seem like the perfect time to throw everything up in the air and see what lands on the ground.
In other instances, these adults have always taken the cautious and sure path in life. They married their college sweetheart, they chose the career their parents wanted them to take, they always followed the rules, and they stayed the course. Now in mid-life, they realize that they never questioned any of it. Now they question all of it.
Long-term relationships can also be chucked out the window. Joe, 45, got married when he graduated from college. He was head over heels in love with his college girlfriend. Now he wonders what it would be like to have a new relationship, a new sexual partner, and the excitement of courtship. He misses the feeling he had for his wife in college—now they seem to be stuck in a rut. Joe finds himself flirting with an attractive woman at work. And she is flirting with him. This is a recipe for a potential shipwreck!
In other circumstances, a quiet guy, who never really expressed his dissatisfaction in his marriage, wants to jump ship. It appears like there is nothing that prompted his change of heart. His wife thought that everything was fine. But it wasn’t. Bill kept everything inside, until the balloon popped. His wife thought he was going crazy when he up and left one day.
So what can a man do who is in the middle of a mid-life crisis?
First, don’t do anything. Hmm. This doesn’t make sense. But it does. The first step when you want to jump from your chosen path, is to step back on the trail and reflect. What’s going on? What am I feeling? What am I afraid of? What do I want? Reflection and contemplation enable us to have greater awareness of what is truly important to us. Impulsive decisions can leave a trail of destruction behind you.
Get help. This is when counseling can be very helpful. An objective listener can help you sort out what you are feeling and how to make good decisions for you. Change and even radical change may be necessary. But it can be very useful to chart a new course rather than to jump overboard.
Have you or loved one experienced a mid-life crisis? How did you handle it?