Midlife can be a dangerous time for marriage. Some marriages won’t survive. Some marriages will be patched back together but key ingredients will be missing. Some marriages will be made even stronger.

There are many reasons why a person will stay in an abusive, unhappy or unfulfilling marriage. They can’t financially afford a divorce. They are influenced by family pressures and opinions. They don’t want to put their children through the divorce experience. They are too scared to leave.

For some people, reaching middle age causes them to rethink their priorities, to reconsider their options, to reevaluate their abilities. Sometimes they find that what they were too afraid to do years before now seems their only option. After so many years, fear is less a factor, family opinions don’t mean as much, and with the kids grown and gone that excuse no longer applies.

Women and men alike may make an abrupt life change at middle age. A woman who has spent her entire adult life being the dutiful wife and mother may decide that pursuing a career is the only thing that will make her happy.

A man who has spent his entire adult life working to provide for his family may decide that he’s earned a life with less stress and more fun. Even if he or she feels ready for a life change, when that change comes without warning, it’s a catastrophe for the spouse who is caught unaware.

What causes a person to walk away from everything? How can a person make a decision that may devastate the people closest to them? I don’t think there is any one answer that will satisfy everyone. Some people can easily pass into middle age while other people take a front row seat on the midlife crisis rollercoaster.

There is something quite frightening when we realize that we’re past our physical peak and there just isn’t enough time or opportunity to do all we feel we have to do before we die. Instead of accepting that what we’d like to do and what we can do aren’t necessarily equal, we begin a desperate rush to do as much as we can before the limitations of elder age stop us in our tracks.

Menopause is the commonly accepted middle age marker for women. When my mother began menopause she wailed as though her life was completely over. Women of a certain generation believed that a woman’s usefulness ended when she could no longer bear children. Most of us have moved past such thinking but there are still some women ? and men ? who buy into that archaic premise.

Unfortunately, some women will reach outside of their marriage for the reassurance that they’re sensual, sexual and exciting. They don’t think or perhaps don’t care what effect their actions will have on their husbands.

The pursuit of sex isn’t the only reason for midlife man to stray. Men may not lose the ability to father children but many men experience sexual problems that depress or panic them. They may attempt to prove that they’re still as virile as ever by entering into one or more sexual affairs.

Midlife man may not just be looking for sex. He may be seeking companionship that he isn’t able to find within his marriage. Whatever the reason, in a majority of marriages broken by his midlife crisis, the break comes due to the addition of a third person ? “The Other Woman” ? to the marriage bed.

Not all midlife marriages end because of a third person. Some end because one spouse just doesn’t want to remain in the relationship any longer. If asked, they can’t explain why they want out because they really don’t know the answer. All they know is that they’re desperate for something that they don’t believe they’ll find being married, or at least not being married to their current spouse.

If we’re lucky enough to live to middle age we’re going to have to deal with our reaction to what we see when we look back and when we look ahead. What we’ve done in the past should not be all that defines us. Entering middle age should not bring panic and chaos. In an ideal world, it wouldn’t.

© Pat Gaudette. All rights reserved.