You are in a committed relationship, married or involved on an exclusive basis. You thought everything was glorious. Or, at least as glorious as it gets-all relationships have some rough spots. Now it seems that you are always fighting. Or he just doesn’t act like himself anymore.
He doesn’t like his job. He wants to sell the house and get a little place in the mountains or a sailboat and sail to the islands. You’re too fat or too thin or too short or too tall. He doesn’t like being home. He wants a sportier car. He changes his hair style, starts a diet and joins the local gym. He says his clothes are too old for him. He says you and he have grown apart. He needs time to think about ‘things.’ He wants space. He wants something but he doesn’t know what. He wants a divorce.
If he’s between the ages of 40 and 60 (give or take a few years), your man is blazing a trail through male midlife – he’s having a crisis.
We’re not talking about the man who has always been a womanizer, a schemer or generally not the nicest person in the world. We are talking about the man who has up to this point assumed responsibility and been the person you could depend upon in time of need.
What you must keep in mind is that he really doesn’t understand what he’s doing, he isn’t deliberately hurting you he just knows that something is wrong in his life and he’s searching for the answers.
Of course you’re sitting there saying, “Whoa! I’m supposed to just be quiet and tolerate his forays into other-woman-land and let’s-junk-it-all-and-sail-around-the-world-land or ditch-the-station-wagon-I-need-a-red-sports-car-land?” Well, yes. Of course you do have options here. You can rage and make demands that he clean up his act. And probably shortly thereafter you’ll find yourself in divorce-land.
You see, men don’t plan on turning unpredictable. It happens when they look in the mirror or in the eyes of their grandchildren and see themselves as old men. They have, up to this point, believed they were 25-year-old boys. One mid-50’s midlife graduate says it made him a better person. He remains with his original wife and their relationship has been redefined to better meet his needs. He has his space and a home in the country that allows him to “entertain” when he feels the need and she has her space and their home in the city that allows her a place to pound on the walls and scream when she feels the urge. Another mid-50’s graduate traded the pressures of family, home and business to drive a camper cross country supporting himself by doing odd jobs. The wife of a mid-60’s executive still waits for a long term affair with his much younger mistress to end but with each passing year she cares less and her community involvement grows.
Male midlife crisis devours relationships. It may be devouring yours. What you must understand and believe is that no matter what you do, or don’t do, the outcome will be the same. You do not have control over him, only yourself.
He might not be alone on this search, but you probably weren’t invited, and you probably wouldn’t have been regardless of the circumstances. You may be part of the problem as he sees it. You don’t understand, how could you? He may have met someone else who seems to understand him perfectly, or reaffirms his youthfulness (as with the mid-60’s executive, above). But how could anyone understand him when he doesn’t understand himself? He’s in an emotional storm that will test the patience and endurance of all those who love him as he comes to grips with the fact that he is no longer 25. He will hurt you. He doesn’t mean to hurt you, but he will hurt you.
It’s a punch right between the eyes when he suddenly realizes that he is getting older. There’s so much he hasn’t done. Time is running out. He can’t keep up this stress of being husband, father, breadwinner! He’s getting older – his hair is thinning, his waist is thickening, his muscles are flabby, his face is wrinkling, he has a t-shirt with little hand prints and ‘we love you, gramps’ in childish scrawl. He is feeling emotions he’s never felt before. And occasionally he is impotent.
It’s just too much!! He can’t handle it! He doesn’t want to be an old man!! Sometimes referred to as ‘male menopause,’ male midlife crisis is not nice for any of the players involved. It is difficult to say who hurts more, him or you.
Should you try to wait for this crisis to end, for your lives to return to where they used to be? It might take the patience of Job and the result may still not be the one you want. He will do what he must do when he must do it. Once he has made his passage he will not be the same. He is at a major turning point in his life, a normal part of the male maturing process that, should he be successful in navigating through the storms, will help him lead a fuller and more satisfying life, accepting the normal limitations inherent with the aging process.
Some men aren’t successful in the passage. Suicide rates increase for men as they age. Suicide offers the promise of release from seemingly unbearable emotional pain. Women know how to express their emotions, whereas men are taught to hold their emotions back, to ‘act like a man!’ For some, suicide is the only way to suppress the emotional pain associated with the midlife passage.
His Crisis – Your Problem
You need to be aware of what’s happening to your man. Being aware will make you less apt to blame yourself for the things going wrong. He will be blaming you as it is, because he knows he’s not at fault.
There’s not much you can do to speed up his passage through this crisis in your lives. He probably doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not to you. He may believe that you’re the whole reason he feels the way he does. It’s not true.
You need to understand that this is his problem, it will have to be his solution-what he’s going through is normal and you are not responsible. You can’t change it or fix it because you didn’t break it.
You will have to step back and let him whirl around in his search to find himself. He has a need to blame someone for the bad feelings he has, for the terrible way he’s acting, for the lousy way he feels. Don’t believe it if he says everything wrong in his life is because of you. And don’t try to explain his feelings to him because you can’t and he won’t listen.
Men Are From Pluto
Women Are From Macy’s
There’s no doubt men and women are quite different in how they handle emotional situations and midlife is one of the most notable examples.
As a female, you have been trained to take care of other people, to be responsible for their well-being, to make things run smoothly. You have been taught when relationships don’t go well it is your responsibility to correct the situation. You look inside yourself for the answers. In the case of his midlife crisis, you won’t be able to correct the situation-the answers must come from him. You cannot change his behavior, he must. If you think you can change his behavior by changing yourself, you are in for a lot of anger and disappointment. This issue is not about you, it is all about him.
Men are expected to hide their emotions but that doesn’t mean the emotions don’t exist-they’re buried deep in the recesses of how ‘real men’ act. Men and women are from the same planet, no matter how alien the male of the species seems when he’s plowing through his midlife crisis. When you get angry it is okay for you to express that anger but “society” says he must be in control no matter the situation. Because he appears in control of his emotions it is easy to believe that he is unfeeling but even the most grown-up men sometimes have a need to cry. Unfortunately, it’s just not allowed.
His Financial Image
Society measures the worth and success of a man by how much money he has and makes. If he isn’t making the kind of money he thinks he should, he will be angry at the obstacles he believes are standing in his way. He may believe his family responsibilities are holding him back.
He needs more affection now and may reach out to you. If you respond with surprise or rejection because you don’t understand this new behavior, he may find the affection and affirmation of his desirability in the arms of a girlfriend. Nothing personal, you understand, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. And he certainly doesn’t mean to hurt you. During midlife crisis a man will do many things he wouldn’t have done before.
He’s scared of dying. His friends may be developing illnesses, some may have already died. He’s afraid. He’s resentful, frustrated and depressed. He feels trapped by his responsibility to provide for his family. He’s locked into a job or career that he no longer enjoys because he must keep the kids in college and make payments on the house and car.
If he’s like most men, he may be in responsibility overload and desperately in need of a break from financial responsibilities and the daily demands of work that he’s probably had since he got out of school. He may resent the fact he cannot make the choices that so many women can as far as choosing whether or not they want to work and at what. He needs a long break from responsibility but he knows that is an impossibility. If he stops, he loses everything he has worked so hard for, but, if he doesn’t stop, there is a good chance he will lose it anyway. He’s trapped. How he reacts to this extreme pressure cannot be predicted. Rest assured, though, he will react.
What Can You Do?
The crisis will not end in a week or two. It may take years to get resolved. You will need patience to let him learn to cope with the new feelings and emotions that are occurring in his life. You cannot do this for him nor can you demand that he seek counseling or talk the problem through with you. You may suggest it but you cannot demand it. It will do no good. It’s important that you understand and accept the fact that it is his problem, not your fault. Don’t take the responsibility for his pain and suffering.
Give him space. No matter how insecure you’re feeling, don’t cling, berate, belittle or try to push him in a direction he doesn’t want to go. If he wants more time than usual to be by himself or with his fishing or golfing buddies, don’t complain about how little time he’s spending with you. He’s trying to think his problems through and he’ll find a way regardless of what you say or do.
Now is the time you must develop yourself as an independent person. You must take responsibility for yourself and your happiness without depending on him for the closeness and intimacy that he probably is unable to give right now. Plan things without him. Depend upon yourself, not him. Allow him to do the same.
Do things by yourself and with friends. Make a life for yourself without waiting for him to participate. He may refuse to go to counseling but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t in order to better cope with your feelings during this difficult time.
Continue to treat him and all men kindly. This may sound like a silly statement, but your confusion and resentment about his current situation may cause you to “male bash.” “Dumb men” jokes may seem funny at the time, but they will be painful and hurtful to a man in crisis and to men in general.
Reaffirm your love for him, your desire for him, your attraction to him. Tell him and show him that he is the most important person in your life. Do it without smothering, clinging or demanding that he reciprocate the feelings to you.
If you make the decision to demand that he straighten up, to demand that he stop his erratic behavior, to demand that he return to the person you’re most comfortable with, you’ll be making a mistake.
If you make the decision to nag and whine, you’ll be making a mistake.
If you think you can make the choices for him or tell him what he should do to feel better or get his life in order, you’ll be making a mistake.
If you make idle threats about what you will do if he doesn’t change, you’ll be making a mistake.
You are not to blame for the feelings that are guiding his life at this time, however, your actions will help to influence the choices he makes.
As hard as it may be to stand back and watch him self-destruct, that is the role you will have to take. Your number one priority as he whirls through his midlife crisis should be you and your needs. You must protect yourself. Your beliefs will be tested, your faith will be stretched, your love will be bruised and perhaps torn beyond repair.
Like so many women before you you’ll discover incredible strengths of you own and you will come out of this journey amazed to find that his crisis may have opened a world of amazing opportunities for you – whether or not your relationship remains intact.
Coping with male midlife crisis is not easy. Not every relationship will survive the strain.
If you’ve read this far, please visit the Midlife Club Forum for the support and answers you’re seeking.
© Pat Gaudette, founder of The Midlife Club