According to Daniel Levinson’s research into man’s evolutionary Seasons, only 20 per cent of people find themselves in a manageable transition period; a time in which they attempt to understand themselves and the changes they are experiencing; a period in which to come to terms with their losses and explore possibilities for growing and enriching their lives.

The other 80 per cent go through an anxious crisis period, when every aspect of life comes into question. They become horrified by what is revealed, full of recriminations against themselves and those around them. Carrying on as before is not an option for them. They must choose a new path and/or modify the old one.

It is thus impossible for relationships to continue untouched in this turmoil where one partner might be going through a crisis period, feeling unhappy, unfulfilled and full of fear, guilt and regret.

Man’s greatest pain comes from dealing with the young/old awareness– the fact that the youth in him is dying and he is faced with his own mortality. This sense of ageing is accentuated by the change in generational status.

By the time we are in our thirties, we are expected to think and behave like a parent. We can postpone this for a little while but a man in his forties is usually regarded by people in their twenties as a full generation ahead. In the minds of those who are younger, he is ‘Dad’ rather than ‘friend’, more parent than a brother. However, this message is likely to come as a surprise, and then as an irritation, to a man trying to hang on to his youth. To quote one writer, “I used to go to the elderly for advice. Now, before I knew it, I am the elderly.”

That realisation often carries much anxiety. In fact, a 42-year-old man got up one morning in the UK, said goodbye to his wife without any warning and went to live alone for seven years ‘to discover’ who he was. That is the power of this phase on our lives. But, the discovery of our inner selves tends to frighten rather than to reassure us.

The child/parent becomes the full parent somewhere along the journey as she loses her own parents. At this point she knows more than ever that she too is going to die. Even if she lives a long life, there are more years behind her than lie ahead, and that awareness of her own mortality tends to be unsettling.

Most Vulnerable Time

The main point to note here is that if one party in the relationship is so self-absorbed with his/her own feelings and needs, where is the room for the other party and her needs? This would explain why the mid-life crisis stage is the most vulnerable for relationships. Put this anxious and troubled period against the familiarisation stage of a union and we have a truly explosive situation waiting to blast!

So a relationship can never be taken out of its context and it is always best to be at the selection or reinforcement stage in the relationship when this mid-life section is reached. This period has to be viewed against the backdrop of the individuals, their ongoing evolution and the sense of achievement and well-being in their own minds. It does not matter how good a relationship is between two people, that aspect is always vulnerable to the anxieties of either party at any staging post along the way.

Despite the negative aspects of the mid-life transition, it is also a great time along the journey. The emphasis is on new opportunities to develop a more rounded and balanced person. The new and underlying drives that begin to surface give us the courage to make the most of what we have, or to begin to change the things that are not pleasing.

The individual may go back to school, start a business, or change to a more satisfying job. He may begin to start spending quantitative as well as quality time with his children, and those around him. Early choices in life affect the destinations later on, so, perhaps the best advice is to choose carefully when one is young, though this is wishful thinking when the young have to experiment to get the measure of their own value! However, as long as there is personal honesty, time has proven that people usually ride out these dark days of doubt and disillusion and set themselves on a winning course.

The experts stress that acknowledging the turmoil, experiencing the pain, facing and resolving the age/youth polarities at this staging post is essential for continued growth and satisfaction. Refusing to acknowledge or experience mid-life anxieties and questions – or trying to go back and be 21 again at some unconscious level – is usually a sure way to get stuck, lost and disappointed in a one-way situation.

ELAINE SIHERA (Ms Cyprah – and is an expert author, public speaker, media contributor and lifestyle columnist. The first Black graduate of the OU and a post-graduate of Cambridge University. Elaine is a CONFIDENCE guru and a Personal Empowerment, Relationships and Diversity Consultant. Author of: 10 Easy Steps to Growing Older Disgracefully; 10 Easy Steps to Finding Your Ideal Soulmate!; Money, Sex & Compromise and Managing the Diversity Maze, among others. Also the founder of the British Diversity Awards and the Windrush Men and Women of the Year Achievement Awards. She describes herself as, “Fit, Fabulous, Over-fifty and Ready to Fly!”

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