Ah, the stereotypical male midlife crisis -- it summons images of a middle-aged man cruising in a red convertible, trying to recapture the feeling of lost youth. Who can blame him? We all want to cover those grays, one way or another. And hey, it's only in midlife that a lot of us can finally afford that shiny sports car.
In my experience working with couples, there are two general types of male midlife crises. One is authentic. The fear of death, regrets, marriage issues, a longing for meaning or new adventure -- these can strain on a marriage and can lead to depression, especially for men who may be reluctant to seek support. Yet if a couple is devoted to their shared life, they can get through it together.
To me, this is more of a midlife transition. It's common, natural and it can be a good thing. It's what marriage is all about. Supporting each other and navigating life's transitions together. That makes a marriage stronger.
But there's another type of male midlife crisis. This one features less authenticity and more self-serving manipulation. This one makes a marriage weaker. It's not marked by marital transition, but by marital terrorism. Fewer men do it, but those that do leave a trail of destruction in their wake.
Here's how it might play out. A man begins to notice the effects of aging: body changes, a loss of energy, perhaps performance worries. He embarks on a new fitness regime, typically one that positions him among younger women (i.e. a mid-morning spin class). This fitness regime becomes obsessive.
As he looks and feels better, he begins to criticize his wife's appearance and lifestyle, often comparing her to women twenty or forty years younger than she is. He begins to blame her for their marriage problems and his unhappiness.
He begins to spend more time around his new female friends and establishes a close "friendship" with one of them. He tells his wife that this woman really "gets him" and that he feels he is very compatible with her in terms of energy level, appearance, and so on. The insinuation is that his wife isn't "woman enough" for him.
His ego and self-focus inflate to the point of outright cruelty to his wife. He may insult her or their marriage, and may become estranged from his children. He begins to re-write their history, always focusing on the bad, so that he can justify his behaviour. He acts entitled and impulsive. He's moody and unpredictable. He behaves like an adolescent or displays an almost child-like type of self-pity.
As a result of his baffling behaviour, his wife is held hostage.
He sends mixed messages. One minute he wants to move out, the next he doesn't. He says, "I love you, but I'm no in love with you" or "I don't know what I want" or "You're the perfect wife, I don't know why I don't feel passion for you anymore." He uses his confusion and uncertainty to indulge his every whim, whether that's escaping the obligations of married or family life, or sleeping with another woman.
He may truly feel these emotions and this confusion; however, he allows these to run rampant so that he has an excuse to keep doing what he's doing.
As a result of his baffling behaviour, his wife is held hostage. She doesn't know which emotions and behaviours on his part are authentic, and which ones may be self-serving -- the whole thing is just too scary to have that kind of clarity. She lives in a constant state of anxiety, uncertainty and heartache.
She falls into a cycle of hope and despair: he says something kind and she is hopeful, but then he says something cold and she despairs. She is afraid to assert herself. After all, his words and behaviour suggest that he has one foot out the door. So she spends her days wondering, worrying and tip-toeing around the minefield of his mixed messages and short fuses, hoping the bomb doesn't go off. If she says or does the wrong thing, he might leave for good.
There comes a point when you need to shield yourself from the destructive behaviour and respond in more proactive ways.
And of course, that's what he wants her to think. It is the only way he can continue to do what he's doing. It is the only way he can have the safety net of his marriage while still indulging in the thrill of swinging through the air with a new playmate.
That's why I say this type of male midlife crisis isn't marked by marital transition. It's marked by marital terrorism. By profound self-indulgence and a deep disregard for the fear and pain it inflicts on a wife.
Now, all of this begs the question: do women have midlife crises like this? Yes, absolutely. But in my experience, not in the same numbers and not with the same frequency of sexual affairs with younger partners, which can rip the heart out of an aging spouse like little else can. This is why I created an audio course specifically for women.
If your husband is having a destructive midlife crisis, I encourage you to see the situation more objectively. You need to see it for the self-focused power play it can be. Because when one spouse's "crisis" creates a crisis in the life of the other spouse, or in the marriage, there comes a point when you need to wise up.
There comes a point when you need to shield yourself from the destructive behaviour and respond in more proactive ways. Ultimately, that may be the only way to save yourself and to save your marriage.
For more info, visit DebraMacleod.com
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The wedding may be over and done with, but this doesn't mean the excitement shouldn't continue. Take turns devising a trip or planning a special occasion like an anniversary. "Remember, you don’t have to wait for a special event to have some excitement. Try taking a last-minute overnight road trip or simply try a new restaurant," says divorce attorney Bruce Provda.
Don’t believe you’ll be able to change a person or even get them to act more like you just because you’re married, Provda says. "Accept the fact that your spouse’s background and life choices have created them to be a different person from you even if your belief systems are in sync." Instead of trying to mould someone into your idea of the “perfect” person, remind yourself about his or her differences.
Your love for your spouse shouldn’t be a mystery, so make sure to get in some public displays of affection when you can. Hold hands if you're walking through the mall or exchange a casual kiss after dinner. "Showing affection affirms the connection between you and your partner," Provda says.
Avoiding conflict won’t help build the relationship, in fact it will just add stress, Provda says. "While you can’t be scared to express tension or face confrontation, never say anything intentionally mean or intended to hurt the other person."
Being aloof can imply a level of deceit. "If you believe you have to shield part of yourself from your partner in order to be appealing, you’re actually creating low-level tensions that only work to erode the bond and your attraction for each other," Provda says. And yes, it may sound cliché, but honesty is the best policy.
Make sure you share the important things, Provda says. "Marriage isn’t a 50-50 proposition. It is a 100-100 deal that brings a true depth of relationship through a depth of knowledge." If you're having a bad day, talk it out, and if something is bothering you about finances, the children or extended family members, make sure both of you can talk it out. "Doing so consistently will help build a connection that gets more complex and deeper as you go through life."
After the surge of romance and honeymoon phase wears off, it’s time to understand reality will set in. "It may be time to reassess where you, as a couple are, and what you are willing to do to make the marriage work. Then you have the choice to readjust the relationship or walk away." Staying in a unhappy and unhealthy marriage is never beneficial to either person, but giving up is just taking the easy way out.
Sure, it sounds old school, but marriage really is about understanding your partner’s needs, Provda says. "You have to be willing to offer what the other person in the relationship needs in order to get their needs fulfilled," he says — and this should work both ways!
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