The midlife crisis is widely acknowledged in western societies and has given rise to lots of comedy movies. While it may be funny on screen, it’s rarely a bundle of laughs if it’s happening to you or your partner, writes Sherri Mulconry from Life Makeovers.
What is a midlife crisis?
The term midlife crisis was first identified by the well-known psychologist Carl Jung. The crisis is generally experienced by people in the 40 to 60s age group. It is thought to be a natural part of the aging process and is a time for emotional transition and reflection. For some, a midlife crisis will be totally destructive to their current life, families and relationships. Others may make small or large adjustments that can be integrated into their lives and relationships.
What are some common symptoms?
- Desire to be spontaneous and daring
- Disinterest with the people in your life
- Fear and anxiety over financial security
- Resentment over current life circumstance
- Dissatisfaction with marriage or relationship
A midlife crisis is commonly associated with the breakdown of a marriage, infidelity and discontentment with relationships. Once a lack of passion and intimacy is identified there is often a desire to seek these emotions with someone new. Searching for comfort through an affair can cause devastation to all concerned. For others, midlife is more simply a time of reassessing personal needs and wants while contemplating taking up new activities, such as a change of career and travel.
Common physical symptoms include:
- Low sex drive
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
Around midlife we start to question our own mortality and impending death becomes a reality. We tend to reflect on our life and how things have turned out. We may be dealing with external factors such as excessive debt, death of a parent or partner, loneliness, relationship problems or divorce.
A lack of identity can occur from the changing roles in our society, job loss, retirement and children leaving home. Fear of aging, ill health, decrease in sexual function, fading good looks and hormonal changes can all contribute to a midlife crisis. Many people have suppressed their own needs as they raised families, cared for a partner or focussed on work. As midlife approaches, suppressed needs often surface resulting in resentment and panic.
Stages of change
People will move through the stages in different time frames, in different order and may revisit any of the stages. This process represents an opportunity for internal growth and can be used as a positive time for reflection and exploration of your inner-self.
How to prevent a midlife crisis
Change is a natural process throughout all the different stages of our life. Why should we expect not to want change after midlife? If we were to view midlife crisis instead as a midlife transformation, we could accept this time as an opportunity to explore life possibilities and realise our dreams. Resisting change can cause both internal conflict and conflict between partners and families.
Accept that change is a normal process of life and can have positive outcomes. Seek enjoyable ways to manage stress – long walks, yoga, meditation and new hobbies or interests such as bushwalking, photography and card games.
Have a health check with your doctor, commit to a healthy eating plan and take vitamins if needed. Regular exercise will release endorphins, making you feel energised.
Talk things over with a trusted friend or a qualified counsellor to help you identify your true needs and wants and be willing to explore your thoughts and feelings. Be open to gaining new insights and perspectives about your life and commit to revitalising your relationship.
Ensure you have a good work/life balance by scheduling time for relaxation and catching up with friends and family. A good way to do this is to organise regular activities or outings to look forward to. If you don’t work, a regular routine or timetable can prevent you from feeling bored and aimless.
Encourage a positive and uplifting environment wherever and whenever possible by spending time with positive and motivated people. Read books that inspire you and listen to music that moves you. Only watch television shows and movies that lift your spirits. Eliminate your automatic negative thoughts and practice an attitude of gratitude.
If sexual desire or function is deteriorating, focus on being more sensual than sexual. Put effort into creating a sensual and seductive environment and take pleasure in caressing and exploring your partner’s body. Intimacy takes many forms and quality time together can create a strong physical and spiritual connection.
Help! My partner is having a midlife crisis
A midlife crisis can evoke feelings of panic and anxiety for partners. The most important thing to remember is that it is not a personal attack, so try not to take it personally. Endeavour to treat the issue as a process of enlightenment and transformation. Try to contain your feelings of fear and resentment as any negative reactions will push your partner further away.
Let go of your past expectations and try to see your partner and your relationship as a newly forming entity. Your partner will need some space as they explore their inner-conflict and rediscover themselves. This is not a time to be clingy or demanding. Be accepting of the process and be positive about the new possibilities and life direction.
Challenge yourself to identify your own needs and wants at this time in your life. Reflect on self-changes or transitions that would make your life more fulfilling. Implement stress management activities to help you cope with the changes that are happening around you.
You want to do what?
It is important at this time that you set boundaries with your partner around their behaviour. Define what is acceptable and what actions are deal breakers. Buying a Harley motorbike might be okay, but conducting sex orgies in your bedroom might be a ‘No way, over my dead body’ deal for you.
Schedule a time with your partner to calmly discuss appropriate boundaries and guidelines. Make it clear that you will not accept responsibility for any of their reckless behaviour. Clarify that they will be accountable to their employer, the law, extended family and children. Do not take on the burden of covering up their irresponsible behaviour. If your partner cannot function within the acceptable guidelines it may be appropriate to discuss alternate living arrangements while they try and find themselves.
Self-care tips for partners
- Accept the change process and don’t pressure your partner
- Focus on your own self development and improvement
- Arrange special outings for yourself and children
- Discover new interests, activities and hobbies
- Be open to new ideas and creative life plans
- Be patient – actively listen without judgement
- Agree to relationship counselling at their request
- Don’t push them for deep relationship discussions
- Keep a healthy perspective and a sense of humour
- Live in the present, don’t obsess about the future
Life is for living. Regard change as an opportunity for growth. Face your challenges with love and not fear. Be creative and design the life you will love!
Written by Sherri Mulconry from Life Makeovers – counselling, coaching & hypnotherapy –lifemakeovers.com.au. This is an edited extract from the book The Rest of Your life – How to make it as good as you want. This and other books of interest to retirees can be found on the My Life Change website.