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There is Hope
Most of us have heard of a midlife crisis and probably have some idea of what the term means. However, until we've been through one, or had a loved one experience one, we really don't fully understand it.
Midlife crisis is one of those terms that can be part joke and part real. It's often used in jest as a description for odd, chaotic behavior.
But if you're dealing with a midlife crisis (personally or with a partner), or think you might be, then it's no joke. You're going to want to know the truth.
At Guy Stuff we specialize in helping men (and their partners) deal with life challenges, and a midlife crisis one of the most common ones. Our counseling work has given us almost 20 years of experience navigating through chaotic world of a life crisis, whether at midlife, quarter life, or any other time of life.
This article will explain what a midlife crisis is in detail from experts who treat them every day. In the following sections you'll find real-life stories of men and women dealing with midlife crisis, explanation of what a midlife crisis is and looks like, along with answers to the most common questions we get asked.
By reading this article you'll sort through the confusion and figure out what to do next.
Jose had a good life. He had a wife who loved him, two great kids and a good job he'd worked hard to achieve. But, after a tough year – his dad died and his wife had a breast cancer scare – he decided it wasn’t enough.
At 48 he felt like he was now seeing things through different eyes, and his life with its endless obligations, routines and same old, same old felt like chains holding him back from being happy. So he decided he had to make some changes.
He wanted more fun. He wanted more adventure. He wanted those exciting feelings he had in his twenties. Jose worked with some younger, single guys who were always hitting the bars after work on Thursdays and Fridays. So the next time they invited him he figured,
Jose began telling his wife he had to work late on a big project and made going out with the guys his new routine. Within a few months Jose had started having an affair with a woman from work, let his hair grow long, bought a motorcycle (without telling his wife), and decided it was time for a divorce.
Even though Jose felt justified in everything he was doing, everyone else around him could see the phantom neon sign above his head boldly flashing . . .
Stephanie couldn't believe she was watching the man she loved fall apart right in front of her. She and Jose had been together for over 20 years and had built what she felt like was a great life. They each worked hard to have a nice home, provide for their kids and plan for the time when they could retire and travel together.
It had been a hard year. When Jose’s dad died and then she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer a month later, the whole family suffered. She thought that was all behind them now though – she was cancer free and her father-in-law's affairs had been settled. Yet the changes in Jose only seemed to have gotten more extreme. He was going out drinking with buddies from work, being defensive and secretive, and she was starting to suspect there was another woman. He'd even thrown out the "D-word" (divorce) a few times.
Her heart was breaking and she had no idea what to do. The husband she loved so much had turned into someone she didn’t even know anymore and she was terrified he was about to throw their whole life together away forever. She thought Jose was probably having a midlife crisis, but as much as she tried she couldn't get him to stop.
People often want to know the true definition of a midlife crisis. While it can vary some from person to person, a midlife crisis typically occurs when an individual becomes so unhappy with their identity and life that they believe real happiness can only be found by making radical, life-altering changes to themselves and their circumstances.
For those close to them the resulting wild changes in behavior can seem as though they happened overnight and cause massive upheaval. What a midlife crisis is for loved ones, especially a partner, is chaos and confusion.
Reevaluating your life and priorities during the middle years of life is completely normal. What we wanted, or thought was important, in our 20s may not be the same when we reach our 40s or 50s. Most of us go through a period of reflection sometime during the middle part of life, but it can occur earlier or later in life as well. For instance, some of us might decide we want something more or different from our partners, or that we want to make a career change because we're no longer challenged by what we're presently doing – these things aren’t uncommon.
Throughout life our focus can change and we may find a need to reorder our priorities. This shift in thinking is natural and so making changes accordingly is a normal response. Doing this isn't the same as going through a midlife crisis, however. An individual dealing with a midlife crisis goes way beyond re-evaluation and reorganization.
Someone like Jose who's suffering from a midlife crisis might suddenly ask for a divorce, start an affair, or quit a job without any attempts to fix the problems or planning for what will come next.
The stereotypical definition of someone going through a midlife crisis is the middle-aged man in the red sports car, wearing clothes that were meant for a 20-something, and desperately flirting with any woman he encounters under 30. Yet it isn’t just men who can experience a midlife crisis – women can too.
Although midlife crisis in men is more common, there are plenty of women who experience one as well. The behavior of men and women going through a midlife crisis can differ, however. Women tend to be more focused on changing their appearance, whereas men often focus more on changing their circumstances. Either way, both are prone to making poor, impulsive, life-altering choices.
Stephanie was right – Jose was in a midlife crisis. And although many of the behaviors can seem cliché’, there are a number of similar characteristics those in the middle of a midlife crisis will exhibit.
The feelings of unhappiness, confusion, and discontent that precede a midlife crisis are usually hidden and hard to see. But it's these hidden emotions that lead a person to make drastic behavior changes that damage and can ultimately destroy their lives.
Unfortunately, a midlife crisis isn’t suffered alone. It creates chaos, pain and uncertainty in the lives of everyone around the person in it. Marriages, families, even careers can be torn apart by a person going through the midlife crisis, and it's very difficult for those who care to know what to do to help or stop it.
Let's take a look at some common questions that get asked about midlife crisis, both by a partner or a loved one like Stephanie, as well as the person going through it like Jose. These are asked and answered from the perspective of understanding men in midlife crisis, but much of it can be applied to females as well.
A midlife crisis is real and happens to certain people – just not to everyone.
Since not everyone experiences one it's easy to wonder if a midlife crisis is truly a real thing or simply a myth perpetuated by the media.
In our younger years we are focused on establishing our careers, families, homes and through all of it our identity. During this period of life we typically feel as though we have all the time in the world. However, as we age our awareness of time passing and the things we've still yet to achieve becomes heightened. As a result, our priorities can change and we may find it necessary to make changes in our lives. This can be a normal response to life and making changes doesn't mean you're having a midlife crisis.
An actual midlife crisis is less common than most people realize. The large majority of us get through these years with just the normal ups and downs.
There can also be triggers that precede a midlife crisis. The loss of a loved one, illness, or financial problems are all stressors that can push someone who's already dealing with the uncertain thoughts and feelings common in midlife into a crisis.
So while nearly all of us will experience changes during the mid-years, not everyone will experience a midlife crisis. But for those who do, and the people around them, a midlife crisis is very real.
A man in midlife crisis looks a lot like Jose (described above in the Real Stories section).
He has reflected upon his life and current situation, and doesn't like what he sees. He may feel he has “settled” for nearly everything he has, or that he's trapped by his life.
And the more he thinks about it the unhappier he becomes. Not knowing how to change how he feels, he may think that real happiness can only be found by making large-scale changes to his relationship, home life or career, and in extreme cases, to all of these at once.
Midlife crisis men can use reasoning that ranges from thinking he deserves better than he has and that he needs to “go for it” while he still can, to seeing his current circumstance as too overwhelming and hopeless so he must escape and simplify. This is why men in midlife crisis make impulsive, poor decisions.
They can spend irresponsible amounts of money on extravagant purchases, make drastic changes to themselves or their lifestyle, or decide that their wives and families are weighing them down. He's hurting and confused. And much like a drug addict who needs to get another high, husbands in midlife crisis will do almost anything to feel better.
Sadly, all of these behaviors impact more than just him – they also take an enormous toll on their partners and families. If your man is starting to behave in ways that seem erratic or out of character, you're right to wonder if this is what men in midlife crisis look like.
Yes, midlife crisis in women happens as well. Although midlife crisis is more common in men, women are not immune and can also experience them. There are differences, however, in how the symptoms of a midlife crisis typically manifest in women.
The behavior of men in midlife crisis tends to be more focused on changing their circumstances through an affair, divorce, career switch or other drastic lifestyle change. Midlife crisis women, on the other hand, are often more focused on changing their appearance or engaging in activities that make them feel more desired. However, no response is exclusive to either sex and either women or men can do any of these things.
If your wife is in midlife crisis you'll likely know it. You may not know what to call it, but you'll feel the effects of her changes.
Dramatic, unexplainable changes are one of the tell-tell signs of a midlife crisis. These choices almost always look unhealthy, unstable and desperate. For example, a caring, attentive mother who suddenly wants to spend more time with girlfriends rather than her kids is a candidate for possibly being a woman in a midlife crisis. Find out more about Midlife Crisis for a Woman.
The causes of a midlife crisis and the triggers for one are two different things. Ultimately, a midlife crisis is caused by discontent and unhappiness (read more about this in the section above on men in midlife crisis). The reasons for these feelings can be wide ranging and be triggered by a variety of contributing factors.
Generally speaking between the ages of 40 and 60 years old (give or take a few years on either side) all people have a period of reflection on their life. During this time some people let go of goals that no longer seem important, make new plans they had never considered before, and reprioritize things in their lives. Most of us get through this adjustment period without great turmoil.
Certain circumstances and stressors can make these normal changes far more challenging for some, however, and cause them to experience a midlife crisis. For Jose it was the death of his father and his wife's health issue that got him reflecting on his life. Rather than responding reasonably to the thoughts and feelings that arose (or get help) he chose extreme and life altering actions.
Even though the idea that life is limited is usually a factor, this doesn't have to be the case, as a midlife crisis doesn't always occur at midlife. Again, midlife crisis is caused by unhappiness. Disappointment and regrets over life can arise at all ages. What makes midlife crisis different is the response – making sweeping changes in an effort to improve ones satisfaction with life.
There are many warning signs for a midlife crisis. Let's start with some general midlife crisis symptoms and then look at a few specific signs.
Men's midlife crisis symptoms include changes in behavior, mood and/or personality, and these are usually pretty dramatic. There's a lot of confusion for everyone involved, both for the partner as well as the person in crisis. A common pattern is one day they say they don't want to be married anymore, then the next they want to try to make it work, and then they'll go back to wanting to be apart again. Impulsive behavior and emotional decision-making are the norm, resulting in a lot of chaos for everyone around them.
The signs of midlife crisis can vary from person-to-person, and also between men and women. But the overall characteristics described above are the same for everyone. For example, while both men and women will be more focused on their appearance, possibly changing how they dress, hair style, or going to the gym, women are more likely to go even further with their looks by pursuing procedures like cosmetic surgery.
While these aren't all of the symptoms of a midlife crisis for a man, or a woman, they are some of the most common. And there can be a lot of overlap between these lists as men can do all that is on the women's list and vice versa.
Jose is a good midlife crisis example. He made friends with younger co-workers and started doing what a single person might do after work, like going out for drinks rather than go home to his family. Then he ended up having an affair. All of this instead of doing what his life demanded and his wife needed from him – going to soccer practices, helping with homework, or just being there for his family.
A clear sign of midlife crisis behavior is that it's very self-centered. The person going through it will behave in ways that consider only their own feelings of enjoyment, happiness or fulfillment.
There is no standard answer to how long a midlife crisis lasts. The amount of time a man (and his family) will suffer with a midlife crisis is really dependent on the man himself. Much like an addict who won’t stop being an addict until they recognize they have a problem – a man suffering with a midlife crisis must acknowledge that his attempts to fix his problems haven't worked, and that he likely doesn't even know what his true problem is, other than knowing he's not happy.
In our experience counseling men and their partners, a midlife crisis in men typically lasts a minimum of 6 months to a year, and it can easily go longer than that. Sometimes it's shorter, but that's pretty rare. For men a midlife crisis is usually a long time in the making, and so it can take some time for it to resolve, especially since the choices men make to deal with it just add more problems rather than bring resolution. Their unwillingness to admit they've made mistakes, hurt those they love, and don't know what to do also extends the recovery period.
How much time it will take him to overcome a midlife crisis can also be largely impacted by those around him. As much as it may hurt to see the man you love behaving in such self-destructive and selfish ways, being understanding and patient without being condemning and intolerant of his choices will go a long way. This can be a very, very hard and tricky thing to do, especially if he keeps you at a distance, is having an affair or asking for a divorce.
Unfortunately, there's not a formula or list of steps that's guaranteed to snap a man out of his midlife crisis. Nor is there a well accepted standard for the amount of time a man experiences a midlife crisis. But learning the right and wrong ways to respond to him can help shorten it.
If you're asking yourself if you could be having a midlife crisis, congratulations! That's a tough question to be willing to consider, most men in a midlife crisis won't ask it, and yet it's the first step to getting out of one. So how do you know if you really are experiencing a midlife crisis?
The fact that you're questioning is a good and likely sign. It shows a certain amount of self-awareness and concern for yourself and those who love you.
If your answers to more than a couple of these questions are, “yes,” then it's very possible you're going through a midlife crisis. More important than being unhappy and questioning your life, however, is how you're handling and responding to these feelings.
Knowing what's happening is a large part of the battle and understanding that a midlife crisis is pretty common can help. If you find yourself in this situation, it's time to seek help. An experienced professional counselor can help you sort through these feelings, put them in perspective, and discover how to find the happiness and relief you are seeking. With the right kind of effort a midlife crisis can be stopped and you can discover a happy, fulfilled life.
There's risk of a number of destructive things happening during a midlife crisis. Unfortunately, when a person is going through a midlife crisis they become very self-focused and make extremely shortsighted, impulsive decisions. Not only does this cause enormous problems for themselves, but they can also destroy their marriage, family, and career, leaving many more people than the person in crisis hurting and confused.
Because many men lack emotional awareness it's not uncommon for them to become overwhelmed by their feelings. Dissatisfaction with their life can arise suddenly and trigger a midlife crisis, resulting in erratic and rash behavior in response.
Sadly, a person going through a midlife crisis is only focused on their own happiness and gratification, and has little to no concern for the well being of those around them.
The damage a midlife crisis can do to a person’s life and loved ones cannot easily be undone. The pain, betrayal and distrust that results can have a lasting affect upon relationships, reputations, families, and even careers. Since confusion is so prominent during a midlife crisis, asking for perspective from others, especially an experienced psychological professional is invaluable.
"Your help has been invaluable to me, and I am very appreciative of the support you gave, in the beginning especially. Your heart is a good one and you are so knowledgeable about MLC. In my research on midlife crisis, your website was clear and accurate as it relates to (husband) and his behavior. In the beginning my level of despair and depression was great. Discussing what could be wrong and being reminded of the textbook nature of his behavior gave me hope. I needed the help of a male counselor who believes and understand the reality and destruction and complete helplessness of a left behind spouse of a midlife crisis."
There's no one sign that signifies a man is coming out of a midlife crisis. However, there are clues that things are changing and likely in a positive direction. At the beginning he withdrew from you, at the end he'll be more willing to engage with you. Seeming more comfortable with himself and his surroundings are all signs that his midlife crisis may be coming to an end. You may also notice that he appears happier, or at least less depressed and angry, and more at ease with you and accepting of your life together.
Remember, a midlife crisis is different for every person that goes through it. Because of that, the length of time a midlife crisis lasts and the way it ends will be different as well. Generally speaking, a man who's emerging from his midlife crisis will have a new sense of acceptance with his life. He will be more comfortable with things, such as you, his kids, etc., that he previously pushed away.
This doesn’t happen for everyone, however. Some men will stay in an adolescent-like lifestyle for years despite the negative affects on him and those he's supposed to love. For a man to come out of a midlife crisis effectively and without having destroyed the life he had beforehand, it often takes professional help in learning how to put the pieces of his life back together and what needs to change internally so this won't happen again. This help also includes your patience and understanding with that process.
Almost always the person looking for help and who finds a resource like this website isn't the person in crisis, but rather a loved one being impacted. Therefore this answer of how to deal with a midlife crisis will be directed to the partner. The next section will be addressed to the person in the midlife crisis.
Dealing with a husband in a midlife crisis is very, very difficult. There's no question about it. A midlife crisis is a selfish event.
Here are some more tips on how to handle the confusion that comes along with male midlife crisis. There are no guaranteed outcomes when dealing with a husband’s midlife crisis, but it is possible for him to recover and things to be good on the other side.
Learning how to get out of a midlife crisis isn't an easy process, nor is it an overnight one. While there's a normal transition and altering of priorities during the middle years of life for almost everyone, this usually doesn’t devolve into a midlife crisis. So part of getting out of a midlife crisis will depend on what made this become a "crisis" for that person in the first place.
Since a midlife crisis is so multi-faceted, how someone gets out of a midlife crisis is determined by how they reacted to the unique challenges that brought it on. Factors such as financial stress, marital problems, and illness or death can push people over the edge and into "crisis" mode. Additionally, the choices they've made during the midlife crisis will add to the issues that must be addressed and resolved in order move past it, such as having an affair or initiating a divorce. Getting out is complicated, for sure, but certainly doable. We help people do it every day.
Many times they don’t even see there's a problem, often believing their behaviors and choices have been justified. However, before they can end their midlife crisis (even one they won't admit) they'll need to recognize that there's a crisis to end, and work through the issues that got them there and the impact their choices have made on themselves and others, particularly loved ones.
This can be a very tough thing to admit. It takes a lot of courage to own your confusion and uncertainty, how you've reacted and the hurt it's caused.
It almost always takes the understanding, support and assistance of loved ones to get past a midlife crisis. Yet because of the hurt and pain you've caused them they may not be willing to give you that, but that can change with time. It also usually takes the help of a counselor to work through the mental and emotional areas of a midlife crisis since they're so deep and complicated. A midlife crisis is typically the culmination of issues that have been percolating below the surface for years and often decades. Both the sufferer and those affected will need help and time to work through and move past the damage a midlife crisis leaves.
Ending a midlife crisis has to start with the person going through it. Loved ones and counseling can help shorten it, but ultimately the person having a midlife crisis must be the one to take the steps and accept the help to find their way out.
Jose’s midlife crisis hit a tipping point when he came home late one night and found his 11-year-old daughter sitting on the couch. She was up far later than her bedtime. When he asked why she was still up she said she was scared and trying to figure out how to make him love them again.
Jose had been so consumed and laser-focused on making things new and better for himself that he hadn’t been willing to stop and look at what he was doing to his family. Something that's typical for men going through midlife crisis.
When he sat down with his daughter to explain that he did love them, she got angry.
And with that she ran to her room and slammed the door.
When Stephanie came out to see what was going on, Jose couldn't look at her. He didn’t know what to say. He looked around at his house and felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness. He hadn't intended to hurt his family, he just wanted to be happy. But he now realized he had just made a huge mess of everything.
Like nearly all men in midlife crisis, Jose had to hit a new low before the light bulb finally went off in his head and he began to see what Stephanie had been saying for months, maybe he really was having a midlife crisis.
Stephanie had heard Jose come in – late as usual these days. She wondered why he even bothered. He had been sleeping in the guest room for weeks, some nights he never came home, and it felt like he was hardly ever there.
His new long-haired look was embarrassing, and she had heard through one of his co-workers that he was the losing respect of people at work. His behavior and secrecy also made her suspect he was having an affair, even though he continued to deny it.
After searching for answers online she was convinced he was clearly dealing with a midlife crisis, but it was just as clear that he couldn’t see it nor the damage he was doing. His midlife crisis was causing the family to fall apart.
Anna, their 11-year-old didn't want to leave the house anymore. She was quieter than normal, but also strangely focused on trying to make things “better.” She cleaned the house constantly and wanted everything to be “how daddy likes it.”
Carlos, their 14-year-old, who had always taken pride in his school work, was now failing tests and blowing off homework. Stephanie also feared he had started smoking pot.
Stephanie was struggling to keep herself together, while also keeping things stable for her kids and trying to get them to understand that their dad’s behavior wasn’t their fault. She kept trying to talk about Jose in positive terms, but it was getting harder and harder.
When she heard Anna yelling and slam her bedroom door, she came out to see what was going on. Jose was there, sitting alone on the couch, with his head in his hands. For a moment she thought she could see the “old Jose.”
Jose just stared blankly at the wall. Then got up without saying anything and left.
But a couple of days later Jose showed up unannounced to help the kids' with homework. Carlos refused, but Anna was thrilled. Stephanie didn't know what to make of it.
A few weeks later, after a couple more strange appearances by Jose, he told Stephanie that he had found a counselor he really liked and was trying to figure himself out.
Jose started to see what he was losing. After talking to Dr. Kurt for a while, he finally accepted that he was having a midlife crisis, but it took several months before he would admit it to anyone else.
It came very close to being too late to repair the damage, but with Stephanie’s cooperation and the help of Guy Stuff, he was able to get himself back on track. Getting things back to normal took time, however. And regaining the trust of not only Stephanie, but of his children as well, wasn’t easy or quick. For a long time they struggled with the fear that he was going to abandon them again.
But Jose stuck with it and now has the reward of his wife and family around him, as well as the happiness he was desperately seeking.
Does Jose and Stephanie’s story sound familiar? A midlife crisis is a stage of life that hurts and damages all those who are affected by it.
However, getting over a midlife crisis is possible, but it just isn’t easy.
Getting through a midlife crisis can be a long journey. One that can seem like will never end.
We know just how difficult it is to cope with a partner who's in a midlife crisis. Over the years we’ve heard countless stories from both men and women trying to understand how their lives became paralyzed and what they can do to make it end.
At Guy Stuff we successfully work with both men stuck in a midlife crisis - and their partners who want the life they had together back. This one of the reasons why over 300,000 people just like you visit the Guy Stuff website every month looking for answers and hope.
That's why we’ve designed a series of simple questions to help you determine if a midlife crisis is truly what you're dealing with. Our 'Is This A Midlife Crisis?' Quiz can help you identify the issues you face individually and as couple and give an idea of what is really going on beneath the chaos.
And you’ll get next steps to guide you on the path to more clarity so you’re ready to move forward.
Please Note: The Midlife Crisis Quiz is in its final stages and will be released next month. In the meantime, please take either our Love is Gone Quiz to learn what problems contributed to getting to this point.