A midlife crisis is a transition of identity and self-confidence that can occur in middle-aged individuals, typically 45–64 years old.  …..

Signs of a midlife crisis include a feeling of general hopelessness and being “stuck in a rut.” Many of these adults think they have fewer options for their future. The process can be painful for many people”. Reference: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/midlife_crisis.)

A midlife crisis can dig a significant hole in someone’s savings and retirement accounts, as the costs entailed can be extensive, and they are a search for satisfaction through….a fancy sports car, plastic surgery, expensive purchases… which are an attempt to salve this feeling, but tend not to meet the mark.

Many of us suffer these feelings, but can work their way through a midlife crisis without too much trouble. They may not experience this dramatic change in well-being and satisfaction. They have perhaps planned their life, reached their career and/or family goals and they are quite content to face the years approaching with a sense of slowing down and enjoying the “fruits of their labour” and the increased time with family or more hours for recreation and creativity.

Others struggle to find balance in their life again. The concept of the “passing of youth” pertains to millions of people struggling with these feelings on a daily basis. There is a continuing sense of loss of purpose and that goals may now never be reached. Many make comparisons: that others have reached greater heights, acquired more or have more people who care about them and they, personally, have got lost and left behind.

The phrase “midlife crisis” was first introduced by Elliot Jaques in 1965, and used extensively by Freudian psychologists like Carl Jung. It was described as a normal period during the lifespan, when we transition from young people to older adults. During this time, adults evaluate their achievements, goals, and dreams against what they had wished for in the past, and what stage they are facing in life.

The crisis for those who do reach this existential crisis, though, can take on many forms ranging from mild to dangerous, and may impact health, well-being, and finances. Adults can survive a midlife crisis by recognizing the symptoms and addressing them as they occur.

David Quilty discussed: SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF MID-LIFE CRISIS

(Reference: moneycrashers.com) which I summarise:

1. Purchasing an expensive car. The car symbolizes success and youth, two important needs of someone suffering through a midlife crisis.

2. Drastic changes in habits, mood swings, and impulsive decision-making

*new schedule and new challenges.

*seem irritable or angry without justification or warning.

*increasingly erratic decisions. (new gambling habits, extramarital affairs, disappearing on very short notice: “doing my own thing”.

3.  Shifts in Sleeping Habits.  Either an inability to sleep or oversleeping, while the mind works overtime to make sense of the changes happening.

4. Obsession with Appearances.  Maybe unexpected changes in personal appearance, including different styles of clothing, makeup, and exercise routines. An attempt for reassurance that they remain attractive to others.

5. Disconnecting from Old Friends, and Replacing Them with Younger Friends.  Having noticed that their friends have aged, they too feel older. There may be a new trend to socialise with younger friends.

6. Feeling Tied Down, with No Chance for Change.  Perhaps a feeling of general hopelessness and being “stuck in a rut.” A feeling of having fewer options for their future.

7. Thoughts of Death or Dying. A new fascination with death and, perhaps, their own mortality. These thoughts can lead to a morose thoughts and lead to depression.

8. Changing Careers.  Sudden decisions to change career paths.

Dr Peter O,Connor, in his book: “Understanding the Mid-Life Crisis” describes in detail the sense of a complete turnaround in work-interest focus. He describes a person who works with their hands, reversing their interest to do more academic, intellectual studies and vice versa. An academic or desk-bound employee begins to show interest building structures or growing things.

9. Leaving a Spouse or Having an Affair: Some commit infidelity, or file for divorce. These adults crave respect, attention, and affection from a new partner.

10. Bouts of Depression. It’s not unusual to feel “sad, blue, unhappy, miserable, or down in the dumps.” Signs of depression might also include some difficulty with accomplishing and focusing on simple tasks.

11. Increased Consumption of Alcohol or Drugs.  Substance abuse may be to mask feelings of regret and depression.

12. Listless and Bored: A beloved hobby becomes dull. A once-fun job seems tedious. A lifetime dedication to spirituality becomes a sham.

13. Assigning Blame: Confused about the changes happening, adults may accuse spouses, family members, and friends of trying to malign them, hurt them, or stop them from moving forward.

14. Recent Traumas: Going through a divorce, getting fired, a death of a family member or friend, or empty nest syndrome, can all trigger a midlife crisis.

SO WHERE TO, WHEN WE DISCOVER THERE IS A MID-LIFE CRISIS?

Tips & Strategies for Dealing with a Midlife Crisis (from Quilty, Moneycrashers.com)

1. Acknowledge the Crisis

2. Think Before Making Any Radical Changes. For example: Before quitting a job, buying an expensive car, or leaving a spouse, talk to family members and friends. Sometimes, having an outside opinion can provide a useful perspective.

This may be an optimum time to see a therapist. A neutral person often reflects and asks pertinent questions, which can clarify measured choices and options. It is preferable before burning bridges versus diving into a new direction which may not be reversible and strong commitments may collapse.

3. Get Professional Help. This can include different kinds of therapy, medicine, and holistic treatments.

4. Midlife Crises Are Not Inherently a Bad Thing.  Use new thoughts and ideas in a positive way. With careful consideration and preparation, attitudes can improve with change, lessening the effects of the crisis.

5. Move Outside Your Comfort Zone.  Trying a new activity, increasing a base of knowledge, and traveling can also help you move out of your comfort zones.

6. Volunteer More.  Volunteering to help others can offer a new perspective to the problems caused by a midlife crisis. Working with the homeless or victims of domestic violence, for example, can help provide you with context during a midlife crisis.

7. Talk About the Crisis with Loved Ones.  Sometimes, just having a compassionate ear can make all the difference. Have frank discussions with loved ones to help ease the pain of a midlife crisis.

8. Create New Goals.  If the current plan for aging and retirement has lost its lustre, changing the plan may help. Reconsider where to live during retirement, or whether to continue working for the same employer. Taking steps towards positive changes can bring new energy into a marriage and into a career. Make a list of everything to accomplish in the next year, in the next five years, and in the next twenty years. Talk to a spouse or loved ones about the new personal goals, and how they can be achieved.

9. Exercise and Eat Healthy Foods. Incorporating exercise, yoga, or meditation into a daily routine can help people suffering through a midlife crisis to gain perspective. Eat organic superfoods and take supplements for a much-needed energy boost.

Many people do not believe in the concept of a midlife crisis, which makes living through one all the more difficult. When experiencing this phenomenon, of a personal, emotional, and financial decline, a person would need the support and understanding of someone close to them. Watch for the signs, and take steps to deal with the crisis accordingly.

Psychologist Dr Hamira Riaz says that for men who have enjoyed financial success and status there can be a point of change. “In adolescence, men think they’re creating an identity for themselves but it is highly influenced by family, cultural and generational factors. It is essentially someone else’s script. By midlife, that script is redundant and they have to write their own – a very scary prospect.”

For partners subject to this emotional earthquake, finding solid ground can be difficult. However, Dr Riaz points out that for those couples who come through the other side, their marriages can actually end up stronger. “There is often a period during which couples need to revisit their inherited ideas about love and intimacy,” she says. “It is a fruitful experience and the rebooted marriage will be a healthy vehicle for them to grow into old age.”

Here’s a case scenario so that it can be seen in a context:

This was the case for Serena. “It made us weigh up whether we wanted to be together. Now we’re more honest and more secure because our marriage has been tested.”

* Names have been changed.

It started three years ago,” says Serena*, 47. “My husband, Dom*, told me he was thinking about quitting his job as a company director, and launching a start-up making artisan chutney.”  Mindful of having two children at a private school and a large mortgage, Serena persuaded him to try it as a hobby first. “It didn’t work out, but then he spent his Christmas bonus on a blingy racing bike.”  Worried by Dom’s uncharacteristic behaviour, Serena confided in female friends. “They were pretty sure it was a midlife crisis and shared stories about despair, divorce and husbands who had run off with nannies.”  When she tried to discuss it with Dom, he refused. “He was defensive, and I felt very alone and scared about the future. I suspected the next stage was probably an affair.”

Eventually, Serena persuaded Dom to open up. He insisted he wanted to stay with her and get through it, and on her suggestion, agreed to see a therapist, because a number of the symptoms of a midlife crisis align with those of depression.  “The therapist helped him see that he had been living his life ticking boxes – good job, nice house, holidays twice a year – and he didn’t feel it was his true self.”  She says the crisis was partly to do with approaching the big five-0. “It’s a significant milestone for many men and is a time when some become keenly aware of their own mortality,” explains psychologist Meg Arroll. “This can result in a profound sense of turmoil and confusion as life may not have turned out as envisaged.”

Serena admits that she struggled during the whole period. “Although I knew Dom was unhappy, I felt he was being selfish. I used to lock myself in the bathroom and cry a lot. I did see a therapist myself a few times. We talked about the impact Dom’s crisis was having on me and the children, and coping strategies like self-care, but actually, discussing it just made me angrier. Looking back, what really got me through were my female friends who were experiencing something similar. A few of them split up, so I feel fortunate that I rode it out.”

Therapy did help Dom, and now, Serena says, “He has stopped all the ‘young again’ nonsense, and we’re downsizing so he can take a step back at work. I’m glad I saw it through with him, but I don’t envy any woman whose husband has a midlife crisis.”

And there are many. In a recent study of 1000 males aged 40 and above, a third said they had lost their “spark” and 58 per cent felt they had gone through a crisis of some sort. On average, the crisis lasted around two years and the most common age of onset was 47, according to Arroll, who conducted the study.

Celebrities aren’t immune.

Witness Ben Affleck’s massive back tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes (acquired aged 43). And then there’s Johnny Depp, who at 49 split from his partner of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis.

“I didn’t buy a multi-coloured Maserati or Ferrari,” he said, referring to that time, but admitted, “I don’t think we have a long enough piece of paper to name the things I inflicted upon myself during my midlife crisis, but I will say it was called self-medicating.”

If your partner or relative is experiencing a mid-life crisis:

Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart, who is also a relationship counsellor, says to avoid questions that challenge and judge the person as these questions will make him shut down. “Instead use phrases like, ‘I can see you’re struggling. Tell me how I can help.’ He may just need space.”

But what about your own needs during this time, particularly if you are also caring for children and elderly parents? “It’s easy to feel defeated and destabilised, so it’s vital to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally and physically, and set to clear boundaries and expectations.”

While there are plenty of self-help books, apps and therapy courses for men, there are very few resources for “crisis spouses” who often find themselves struggling as a result of living with a suddenly changed and distant husband.

“For these partners, burying their heads in the sand and waiting for the worst to happen is not an option,” says Mackintosh-Stewart. “A midlife crisis can hit from the late 30s, often slowly over time, so it is important to be alert to any odd or rash behaviour.”

Of course, sometimes it’s too late. Emma Olsson, 52, discovered on her 14th wedding anniversary that her husband Nick was having an affair. “He’d been short-tempered for about a year and I had put it down to job stress,” she says. “Eventually, I checked his phone. It turned out that he’d reconnected with a woman he’d dated as a teenager, and they were having an affair. He was a deeply loyal family man so I couldn’t make sense of it.”

It was only when Emma searched online for information that things fell into place. “There were so many stories from women whose husbands suddenly became someone else. These men were all high achievers, had experienced childhood trauma and had an emotionally unavailable parent. So the child is taught to suppress emotion, and finally, at midlife, it all bursts out.”

Conclusion:

These experiences can support the partner in having better empathy and compassion. Together, perhaps, they can then venture into counselling and resolve those issues together. Or it can bridge the partner into individual counselling, to reach more answers and find some solution. It’s perilous to ignore such issues, as the ripple effects on the family can be profound and long-lasting.

Denise Ann Byrne MSW

Lifeskills Australa Victoria Park

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