What is a mid-life crisis? How do I know if it is why my husband is acting so weird lately? He’s 42 and he suddenly wants get a tattoo and take an expensive vacation to go bungee jumping… while around the house he is often restless, unhappy and is drinking more than he ever used to. He just doesn’t seem to be himself. What is wrong with him? Will I ever get back the man I know?
It is commonly understood that during the mid-life years many people go through a period of transition. Sometimes it can be confusing and disruptive to the continuity of life, especially family life, and at other times it is a less obvious rearrangement of priorities. Your husband seems to be exhibiting some of the classic qualities of a mid-life crisis. He is feeling discontentment with the status quo — restless, unhappy and drinking. And he is imagining options that might spice up the excitement factor — tattoos and thrill seeking vacations.
One way to consider what happens during midlife years (35 to 45) is to think in terms of how our life looks. Is it what we would want it to be or what we imagined it would be? Many of us get well into adulthood, having made decisions about career and marriage and family along the way, only to feel that the life we are living is very different to what we imagined or hoped for. It also coincides with a general sense of decline. Our bodies look and feel different and are less capable than they were before. The career aspirations we had as a younger person have come to fruition (or not). The romantic part of our love life is often on the wane — traded in for co-parenting and money decisions. Often new dreams seem buried under the responsibilities we have to raise and pay for the needs and aspirations of our children, and the growing feeling of responsibility for aging parents and what it means to care-take them. So the crisis part of mid-life is that we start to feel like we are no longer living according to the wants and dreams of our own calling.
Another way to think about it has to do with our first attempts at adapting to the challenges life has thrown at us. As a child or teenager we respond to life in an automatic and instinctive way. We do what comes natural. Sometimes those responses are in the form of coping strategies meant to get us through the situation or the short run. This is done without an understanding of what is needed sustainably, for the long run. We often develop coping strategies to cope with coping strategies — drinking too much is one of those as a way of muffling nagging feelings that we should attend to about some unresolved aspect of our life.
Mid-life can be a time when the collapse of our coping strategies begins to generate more intense methods of avoidance and a heightened fear that, “I can’t keep going on this way, but I don’t really know anything else”. Sometimes mid-life is the time for a serious pause: a painful look back to see what is unresolved and needing tending to; to develop alternative strategies of dealing with things in a new way; and to envision one’s future through the lens of a new optimism, more in line with the establishment of understood priorities. This is the work of therapy.
You might suggest to your husband that he is in a mid-life crisis and share with him what I have written.
There is a lot written about it that he can explore and maybe he will consider getting some professional help to gain guidance through the process. It is certainly something that can be dealt with constructively.
Enjoy it all,