Midlife Crisis - What Triggers a Midlife Crisis?

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    What triggers a midlife crisis? Does it just come out of nowhere, or does something cause midlife to go from a transition to a crisis?

    This is the second part of the two-part series examining midlife crisis in men. Read the first post, Midlife Crisis - Facts & Fiction, for some signs of what a midlife crisis looks like.


    Knowing what it looks like is one thing though, knowing what triggers it is quite different.

    Recognizing Midlife Crisis Triggers

    Descriptions of midlife crisis symptoms can vary depending upon who you’re asking. However, there do seem to be some common behaviors that they all agree upon.

    The following is an excerpt from an article written by Cathy Meyer, What Are the Causes of a Midlife Crisis, explaining some descriptions of a midlife crisis by a few experts. I have included my own observations based on my clinical experience as well.

    If you talk to middle-aged men and women who have experienced divorce, you will find that many of them will tell you their spouse changed overnight and became someone who discarded all that was once important to him for a new life that was all about what he wanted.


    A midlife crisis was first identified by the psychologist Carl Jung and is a normal part of the maturing process.

    Most people will experience some form of emotional transition during that time of life. A transition that might cause you to take stock in where you are in life and make some needed adjustments to the way they live their life. Most seem to come through the process smoothly without making major life changes.

    In my experience most people dealing with a midlife crisis have a number of external and internal factors or triggers that push them into a state of crisis. The stresses of life can be overwhelming and childhood issues that were never dealt with can come to the surface during this time.

    There are additional external factors that may cause this time in life to be problematic. Some of them are listed below.

    Financial Strain

    Financial difficulties are stressful at any age. In middle-age, however, they can be overwhelming and push people into crisis mode quickly.

    The prospect of fewer earning years and mounting debt is more than some people can handle.

    They may feel compelled to walk away from everything and everyone associated with their financial issues, feeling that this is an easier solution than trying to fix things. This doesn’t work, however. Debt within a family or marriage isn’t easily separated from and the process of trying can just make things more stressful.


    Grief or Loss

    Death of anyone close to you is hard to deal with. Dealing with it at this stage of life can be particularly difficult.

    The loss of a parent or friend shines a light on the passage of time and brings the idea of your own mortality to the forefront. Coping with these feelings isn’t easy and can easily exacerbate an already challenging time.


    A person who’s natural reaction is to avoid conflict or challenging situations will find this time of life more difficult. Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, it only compounds them and at this stage of life that can cause even bigger problems, like a midlife crisis.

    Work and personal achievements

    When a person arrives in midlife and feels they haven’t risen to the point they had hoped for in their career, or accomplished the things they once dreamed about, it can be a challenging reality to accept.

    Realizing that certain things in your life will likely NEVER happen can be a difficult pill to swallow. This change from an “anything is possible” belief in life to a “I will never be able to do that” revelation can trigger a midlife crisis.

    Physical or health changes

    In our youth we are strong, flexible, and recover quickly from most things. Then, one day, we can find ourselves grunting as we get out of a chair, needing assistance to sit on the floor, or dealing with sicknesses far scarier than colds or flus.

    Bodies age whether we want them to or not, and they do so even if you’re in good shape. Many of us find ourselves taken by surprise as these changes occur and respond by sinking into crisis mode. For example, men now rival women as consumers of appearance enhancing treatments like Botox and Restilin, or other cosmetic procedures.


    Emotional Responses When A Midlife Crisis Is Triggered

    For some, a midlife crisis is even more complicated. It can be an uncomfortable time emotionally which can lead to depression and the need for psychotherapy.

    Those who have a hard time with this transitional stage and are susceptible to being triggered into a midlife crisis might experience a range of feelings such as,

    • Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided them with happiness for many years.

    • Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to them before.

    • Feeling a need for adventure and change.

    • Questioning the choices they have made in their lives and the validity of decisions they made years before.

    • Confusion about who they are and where they are going.

    • Anger at their spouse and blame for feeling tied down.

    • Resentment toward their spouse and families.

    • Desire for divorce.

    • Unable to make decisions about where they want to go with their life.

    • Doubt that they ever loved their spouse and resentment over the marriage.

    • An overwhelming desire for new and more passionate, intimate relationships leading to affairs.

    Are you a man struggling with any of these?

    If so, there's help available. If handling things on your own isn’t working you might need the guidance of a counselor who works with midlife crisis in men.

    What To Take Away

    No matter who you are, if so there will likely be some change in your thoughts and perspectives during midlife. That’s just a part of human nature as we age. Whether the changes during this time trigger a midlife crisis or not depends upon many factors.


    • External factors like grief, work, or financial stress can trigger a midlife crisis.

    • Internal pressure like feeling you haven’t checked off the right boxes, or physical changes in your body and health can as well.

    • A midlife crisis will affect more than just you – it will also impact the lives of those you love.

    • With help and support, and perhaps counseling, you can manage a midlife crisis and regain control of your life.

    With help your midlife doesn’t have to be a crisis. So, learn how to change your midlife crisis into a transition, one that leads to a better stage in your life.

    This is the second article of two defining midlife crisis. Here's the first one: Midlife Crisis Facts & Fiction. Sign-up for our blog below and be sure not to miss our next article.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 3, 2010, updated September 25 2018, and has been updated again with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


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