Unraveling The Confusing Stages Of Midlife Crisis


    6 Min Read


    Nothing makes sense anymore. Everything that was normal and predictable about your life is gone. You need to know if there’s there a method to this madness. So, you want to know if a midlife crisis has stages.

    Yes and no.


    Unfortunately, there isn’t anything clear or straightforward about a midlife crisis. But there are stages to one.

    However, the stages aren’t linear or logical – like A leads to B, then B to C, you get to D and then it’s over. Sorry, but no.

    A midlife crisis actually looks more like – A, then E, C, back to E again, G, skips B and D, goes to C again . . . and on and on it can go.

    I just want to know where I am at in this midlife crisis of his."

    If only it were that easy. Sadly, knowing where you are can be very difficult to determine because they’re so chaotic.

    Why Typical Midlife Crisis Stages Models Are Wrong

    There are a number of common models that are used to describe the stages of a midlife crisis. Most are overly simplistic, however, and don’t properly account for the chaos and unpredictability.


    Here are some examples –

    Trigger, Crisis, Resolution.

    This is way too neat and tidy to describe the process of a midlife crisis. I’ve never seen it be this simple and I’ve been treating MLC for over 20 years. Most of the time the trigger is never identified with certainty, and it’s usually not just one thing, but rather an accumulation. And resolution isn’t a certainty either. Resolution implies it’s fixed. Most don’t get fixed – they morph into a new normal.

    Denial, Anger, Depression, Withdrawal, Acceptance.

    These are the Stages of Grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. The process of grieving doesn’t follow a linear progress like these imply, and neither does a midlife crisis. MLC can include each of these, although acceptance is rarer.

    Denial, Anger, Replay (youth), Depression, Withdrawal, Acceptance.

    This model was developed by Dr. Jim Conway. As you can see these are the stages of grief with the addition of another stage, replaying youth. I would argue that going back to youth is more of a stereotype and what it looks like from an outsider's perspective, as opposed to what’s really going on on the inside for the person going through a midlife crisis.

    I am really confused about this whole midlife crisis with my husband: I don't know where he is at in the stages of his midlife crisis. In August I was sitting at work and decided to text him and I said ‘Hello, how's your day? I have noticed you are not you is there something wrong?’ and to my surprise he texted me back ‘I don't want to be married any more, I don't want to answer to anyone. I love you and the kids, I am lost, confused, angry and I try and control it, it's me, not you....’ and WOW! I started crying at my desk and thought ‘Oh my god this cannot be happening.’ He started letting his hair grow and everyone has told him but me it looks like crap... My husband acts as if he is a kid in a grown man’s body. Can you please help me and shed some light for me... I am so confused by the mixed signals he gives... He tells everyone to mind their own business. Does he ever come to his senses?” -Lucinda

    Real-Life Stages Of A Midlife Crisis

    What follows is a description of the development and process of a midlife crisis based on my years of treating men and women going through one.


    The midlife crisis stages can actually be separated into 3 parts –

    • Build Up

    • Blow Out

    • Work Through

    Let’s take a look at the stages in each of these parts.

    Build Up

    Pressure Building

    There’s a ticking bomb and no one knows it. Not the person who will at some point explode, or the people who are close to them. There are signs, but it takes a lot of experience to spot them.

    There is a pressure building is in the form of growing unhappiness, and the bomb blows when the pressure becomes too much, not necessarily because it's been triggered. This is typically a hidden stage of midlife crisis, but it's a part of every one.

    Behavior Oddities

    Something seems off, but it’s easy to ignore or dismiss. Often, they’re more,

    • Distant

    • Disconnected

    • Distracted

    • Moody

    But they deny it and explain it away with statements like,

    • "It’s just a tough time at work"

    • Or, "I feel cooped up. I wish it was summer so I could go outside more."

    These oddities can actually be an indication that he’s thinking more about his unhappiness.


    A lot of guys get angry, women do too, so this behavior may not be new. But persistent irritability or anger should be viewed as a red flag. While it doesn’t have to mean a midlife crisis is coming, it’s definitely a sign something internal is going on.

    Anger can be a sign of depression in men. A number of men have a low-level depression that can come and go or take the form of functional depression, so it isn’t always obvious or even seen as a problem.

    Withdrawing, whether in response to how they’re feeling (angry, unhappy) or for another reason, is also a warning sign of midlife crisis.

    Blow Out

    Outburst (Not happy. Need change.)

    This midlife crisis stage isn’t a certainty. Nor is it certain that it will come in the form of an obvious outburst, such as yelling –

    I don’t love you anymore. I need to move out.”

    Sometimes the message creeps out slowly over time and you have to put the pieces together to recognize it.

    Avoidance is a key element of a midlife crisis. So, an outburst that lets you know what they're truly thinking and feeling isn’t a sure thing. More likely, the outburst, if it happens, will be masking something deeper.

    Chasing & Running Away

    This stage of midlife crisis is a certainty – at least in some form. It isn’t, however, always in the form of pursuing another person, although midlife crisis affairs are the norm.

    Chasing happiness is at the center of midlife crisis. And along with it comes running away from everything in your life you believe makes you unhappy (whether true or not).


    Denial is another common element of a midlife crisis. Almost everyone denies there’s anything wrong in the beginning, even denying it to themselves.

    Most will also deny what they’re doing is wrong or causing problems. The denial wall can start to crack as time goes on though.

    Denying that they’re having a midlife crisis is very common also. It can be obvious to everyone else, but admitting that to yourself is another matter. There’s a stigma around MLC that further fuels this denial.

    Chaos (The New Normal)

    Another midlife crisis stage that’s a certainty is chaos and what accompanies it, unpredictability.

    This is one of most difficult aspects of a midlife crisis for partners. As they grasp for answers and some sense of normalcy, they get the complete opposite in return.


    Accepting this as normal is really hard, but fighting it just makes things worse. There are, however, strategies you can implement to minimize the negative impact on you.

    Work Through

    The next 3 aren’t a certainty but they can and do happen. In my experience they occur in less than half the cases (at least outwardly acknowledged anyway).


    It’s understandable how realizing you’re having a midlife crisis can be difficult. Realizing means acknowledging that something is wrong – and that wrong is YOU.

    No one wants to admit that.

    It takes maturity and a strong self-identity to do this and, unfortunately, both of these are lacking for someone in midlife crisis.

    Person in the Mirror

    Working through the underlying issues takes effort, time, and courage. So, facing yourself and the person you've become, along with taking responsibility for what's happened and the pain you've caused, doesn't always happen. Most of us tend to avoid things that are negative or uncomfortable. So, sadly, in most cases this stage of midlife crisis gets either skipped or not fully completed.



    This is the most important midlife crisis stage of all. Acceptance ultimately means accepting you and your life. Acceptance isn’t a decision, it’s a process. But working at it brings peace, contentment, and happiness.

    My husband is in MLC 7 years now. He is 67 yrs. He went through almost all the midlife crisis stages... but he is not stopping the affair. He still stays home even though I told him to move. We are married 40 years. He has had an affair with the same woman for 8 years and does not stop... and supports her for all those years, paying anything at her home.... he’s spent a lot of $$$. I am trying to think that he is crazy? Will he come to his senses? How do I treat him? I can’t be always sweet with him… I work hard. What hopes do I have to save my marriage?” -Eleni

    What To Take Away

    Now that you’ve got a better idea of what midlife crisis stages look like in real life, please take away these key points:

    • A midlife crisis isn’t linear or logical, so neither are the stages of one.

    • Most models of the stages of midlife crisis are too simple.

    • The 9 stages are broken down into 3 parts.

    • Focus on what part someone's in more than the particular stage.

    • It’s not necessary to go through every one of these stages.

    • The most important thing is getting to the last part of Working Through and completing each of those stages.

    I hope this explanation gives you a better idea of the process of midlife crisis and the stages that comprise it. And with it your confusion lessens a bit.

    What stages of midlife crisis have you seen? Tell other readers what it’s looked like to you and get their thoughts.


    Looking for More? Check Out These Articles

    Read Comments from Others with Similar Experiences Below

    Like what you read?

    Guy Stuff's Counseling Men Blog shares real stories from our counseling sessions, giving practical solutions and answers to the challenges men and women face.

    Use your email to subscribe below.

    Subscribe to get in-depth articles, right in your inbox: