Right from when the term ‘midlife crisis’ was first introduced in the mid-sixties, there has been controversy about what constitutes one.
However these are the ten most common signs which the majority of experts can agree on—and which I see most commonly in my therapy office.Although, you can have these feelings or behaviours at any point in your life, they most commonly come to the fore in your forties and fifties.
The final sign of the ten is the most telling of a midlife crisis:
- Discontent or bored with life (including people and things) that provided fulfilment beforehand
- Feeling restless and wanting to do something completely different
- Anxiety about the future
- Confusion about who you are or where your life is going
- Irritability, unexpected anger
- Persistent sadness
- Increased use of alcohol, drugs, food, or other compulsions
- Sexual affairs, especially with someone younger
- Fretting about status and the point reached in your career
- Questioning decisions made years earlier and the meaning of life
Five reasons NOT to tell your partner he or she is having a midlife crisis
The midlife crisis seems to explain everything that’s gone wrong with your relationship…if only you could get your partner to take the idea seriously.
However, if you’re not careful you could make matters worse rather than better.
Your partner will hear your concern as an accusation
Although you want to help, because you’re really concerned about your partner’s welfare, he or she is most likely to hear: “you’re the problem” and “sort yourself out”.
Our society treats the midlife crisis as a joke
It is the punchline for greeting cards, a “fun” T-shirt for a dad who has a motorbike: “I’m riding my midlife crisis” or a twitter hashtag for a picture of a new tattoo. But who wants to be a joke?
The message is negative
Although only a small part of the midlife crisis, in my experience, is about getting older and becoming anxious about death, in the popular imagination this is the heart of the crisis. It tells us to “grow up and accept getting older”. Not only is this deeply negative, it doesn’t go the heart of the problem.
It stops you being curious about your partner
Rather than trying to understand your partner’s unhappiness and step into his or her shoes (and seeing if any the complaints might have some basis of truth), you can put them in the “midlife crisis” box and stop listening.
It is better to ask questions than provide solutions
You need to take your partner’s unhappiness seriously and image, for a minute, that everything he or she says is true—because from where your partner is standing it is.
So ask your partner: why is your life no longer meaningful? When he or she comes up with a solution, rather than pouring cold water on it, ask “how would that work?”
Four reasons to be optimistic
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the difficulties and overlook the positives of any crisis.
- Taking stock at the midpoint of your life is natural and necessary. Although the temptation might be to taking a wrecking ball to the first half of your life, it is possible to build on it for the second half.
- There truly is an opportunity to build a better relationship—which reflects who you are today rather than what worked in the past.
- Once you begin to understand and take seriously each other’s point of view—rather than persuade your partner or shock him or her into seeing why he or she is wrong – you can begin to work as team to find a way forward.
- I have three skills to turn your relationship round. If you’ve read my books before you know the first two: how to be assertive (rather than passive or domineering) and how to talk adult-to-adult (rather than becoming critical parent and rebellious or sulky child). The third skill requires plenty of life experience to fully take on board, so I only teach it to people who are forty, fifty or beyond!
My new book
It’s not a Midlife Crisis, It’s an Opportunity: How to be 40 or 50-something Without Going off the Rails will teach ALL the skills needed to help you understand each other, to cope with the fallout from the current crisis and to start talking rather than fighting.