Therapy in Chester, NJ and Florham Park, NJ
Did your 50-year-old husband buy an expensive sports car, attend a music festival with 20 something-year-olds or start shopping for clothes where your teenage son shops? Maybe he started going to bars and coming home late at night with his shirt smelling like perfume? You're baffled at his sudden change in his behavior and wonder what's going on. Perhaps he is going through a midlife crisis!
A mid-life crisis is an emotional crisis of identity and self-confidence that occurs in middle age. These so-called crises are often spurred by certain events that remind people of their growing age, mortality, and/or potential shortcomings in their life. These crises can last several years which are often marked by unpredictable or uncharacteristic behavior of the person going through it. Though midlife crises are not uncommon, it's important to know how to deal with them properly.
It's hard not to take your husband's midlife crisis personally. You feel disconnected. You're confused. You're lonely. And you only want the partner that you know and love to come back to their senses. Navigating a partner's midlife crisis is nothing short of challenging, and finding the tools that you need for yourself and your marriage is equally as hard. It's easy to want to give up, walk away or let anger and frustration guide you. And though these feelings are normal, and it's important to accept and fully feel your emotions, it's also important to remember your bigger goal through it all. And determining what that is may very well be your first step.
While a divorce or leaving your spouse may seem like the only option through this difficult time, there are many steps you can take before making that decision. Getting your own life in order and taking the positive steps you need for yourself and your life is a good place to start. It's tempting to want to "fix" your partner and to feel like it's your job to do so, but it may be the case that your spouse simply needs some time to himself to sort through his own emotions. And oftentimes, as challenging and difficult it may be to accept it, there's nothing that you can do or say that will change the situation at hand. Simply showing support as best as possible, not getting defensive or angry back, and refocusing your energy on yourself and your life can help both you and your husband get back on your feet.
Jane and Tom have been married for 20 years. Two weeks ago Tom got laid off from the only job he's ever had. He also turns 50 next month, a milestone he's been anxious about for as long as Jane's known him. His father died unexpectedly when he was 50 and Tom has had built-up anxiety about turning 50 himself, scared that he, too, will die unexpectedly. Though Jane has done seemingly everything to try to reassure Tom that everything will fall into place and to support him during this hard time Tom has distanced himself from her and their children. He started to drink heavily, meeting up with new friends at the local bar until 1 or 2 in the morning. He hardly speaks to her. And when he does it's with anger and resentment. He's ashamed and humiliated. He's broken. And now, she is too.
For anyone dealing with a partner's midlife crisis like Jane, though it may seem like your entire world is falling apart, here are some things to keep in mind and to consider implementing into your life to help you cope better during this tumultuous time:
1. Focus on yourself. Take care of your own physical and mental health. Seek therapy. Journal. Meditate. Do yoga. Exercise. Make plans with friends. Take a knitting class or a Spanish class. Reevaluate your hobbies and interests and take action! We are so much more than just a partner or spouse and we have our own needs, interests and desires that we can and should focus on - especially now. Not only will it be a good distraction from all of your difficulties at home, but it will also be a good reminder of all the other great things in your life. Do your best to love yourself and be patient.
2. Listen. As challenging as it may be to listen and absorb your partner's anger, blaming, self-deprecation or pure craziness, sometimes listening without interrupting and then sharing your perspective if he is open to hearing it can do wonders. Sometimes your partner will not want to listen to you or take your advice and he could easily get angry and defensive. If that is the case, do your best to be empathetic and just listen calmly without judgment and without taking things personally. If he becomes aggressive or verbally abusive you don't need to stand there and be his punching bag. No need to retaliate. You need to protect yourself. Tell him you will talk to him when he is calmer and then walk away. If he comes after you and you feel threatened, then call the police.
3. Have no expectations - about your relationship, about what your partner may or may not be thinking or doing, about what's going to happen (or not happen), about how long this crisis may last. It's natural to want to have some sort of idea about what your partner is thinking and how the situation at hand will play out, but there are no answers right now, and it's best to take the steps you need to accept the unknown.
4. Stay calm. While this is certainly easier said than done and it's normal to be emotionally charged during a spouse's midlife crisis, the more anger you have and show towards your partner, the angrier he will get - the last thing you will want. As hard as it may be, do your best to stay calm. You may have a right to be angry but how you manage that anger is most important. Be as understanding as possible. Try and empathize and show your love and support when you can.
5. Remember you have options. Though we've made a commitment to our partners, we have (and should always be) committed to ourselves and our well-being too! At any point, you can leave. You are in charge of your own life and happiness and only you can set and know your own boundaries. If your spouse goes too far, puts you or your family at risk (physically, emotionally, financially), or breaks your trust, it's important to remember that you also have control in the situation and that you ALWAYS have choices.
Dealing with your husband's midlife crisis may be one of the hardest challenges of your life and it's normal and OK to not know what to do or which direction to take. Through it all, no matter what happens, you and your partner could come out stronger. Remember to reach out to friends and family for help, seek therapy, and focus on yourself. Do your best to stay calm, and be patient. You're stronger than you might think, and remember: you always have options!
If you need help navigating through your husband's midlife crisis I am always here to help!
Call us at Modern Family Counseling at 732-742-0329 for more information about our services or to schedule an appointment with our therapists!