Reaching middle age can be satisfying to some and more worrying for others. Find out the signs of a midlife crisis.
Midlife crises are the subject of many jokes — middle-aged men buying sports cars, hanging out at bars, and generally acting half their age. The unfortunate reality is that most midlife crises are anything but funny, and midlife crisis symptoms can be felt by women as well as men.
A midlife crisis can tear a family, a marriage, or an individual apart and leave a lot of victims in its wake. “A person often makes an impulsive decision uncharacteristically or changes their lifestyle dramatically,” says Sheila K. Collins, PhD, a psychotherapist and author of Stillpoint: The Dance of Self-Caring and Self-Healing. “I’ve seen men come to their wives and say without any warning, ‘I’ve decided I don’t want to be married anymore.’”
What You Might Experience During a Midlife Crisis
To the outside observer, the actions taken during a midlife crisis may seem rash or even foolish. But under the surface, a lot of emotions and experiences have been going on for a long time to lead to this moment. A midlife crisis “doesn’t just ‘occur,’” says Penny B. Donnenfeld, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in New York City. “We are talking about the development over time of negative self-assessments — feelings of being limited and burdened by life responsibilities, having limited choices, or of having missed opportunities for choices that are no longer available.”
When it comes to men and midlife crisis, their professional life is often thought to play an important role. “For men, it often happens when they begin to plateau in their careers,” says Dr. Collins. “There begins to be a realization of the limitations of time, talent, and resources on people’s lives. Some questions they ask are, ‘Is this where I was going?’ or, ‘Is this all there is?’”
While people often think of men having a midlife crisis, women can be affected in the same way, adds Collins. “Often, because women more frequently have taken their child-rearing roles into account in their lives, this may have put them 8 to 10 years behind their male peers on the career track,” she says. “Their midlife crisis, if they have one, occurs later.”
Of course, a career is not the only factor when it comes to a midlife crisis. “A midlife crisis could happen when the last child leaves home, or when someone experiences grief over a significant loss — a parent’s death, a career reversal or job loss, or a challenge to their health,” says Collins.
Navigating a Midlife Crisis
If any symptoms of a midlife crisis affect you or your partner, there are options for getting through these challenging circumstances. Here is advice that can help:
- Look on the bright side. “A midlife re-evaluation can be a positive thing,” says Collins. “In fact, it’s probably a good idea for married couples, business partners, and individuals to take time to re-evaluate their lives from time to time throughout their life cycles.”
- Be proactive. Once you have this discussion, it’s time to act on these possibilities and see what new and exciting directions they lead you in. A few options include taking a class, going on a trip, reconnecting with people from the past, or training for a new career, says Donnenfeld.
- Avoid rash decisions. By evaluating things from time to time, people can make gradual, measured changes, as opposed to rash ones that can damage a career, a family, or a life unnecessarily, adds Collins. “Remember, this may be the time to just stand there and do nothing. Let the dust settle until your direction becomes clear,” she advises.
- Be a good listener. If your partner is the one experiencing the crisis, try to really hear and to understand what your loved one is going through. Says Donnenfeld, “Don’t deny their feelings or try to ‘fix’ it immediately.” In the process of talking about the problem, many possible solutions to the midlife crisis may begin to surface. “You may figure out some things that he or she would like to do to help life feel more meaningful,” she says.
- Seek outside help. Finally, remember that there is absolutely no shame in seeing a therapist to talk out issues. Midlife can be a time of great, overpowering emotions, and many a strong man or woman has needed help working their way through these feelings.
It is possible to navigate safely through a midlife crisis. Recognizing the signs and exploring your options are key to moving forward into the next phase of your life.