A version of this blog post is also published on Huffington Post.
Have you ever been in a conversation where someone says “oh, he’s just going through a mid-life crisis.” And then everyone laughs, we say we understand (because actually deep down we do), and we move on as if it was all just a joke?
We’ve all poked fun at the typical mid-life crisis stereotype with the red sports car or the younger perkier wife.
Mid-life Crisis is Real and Functional
However, based on my experience as a woman who is on the other side of my own mid-life crisis and observing others in my coaching practice, mid-life crisis is a real transitional phase of life (and highly functional).
It’s easier to laugh and brush it off and use mid-life crisis as an attempt to ignore what is really going on. It’s common to put the blame on someone else. And it’s less scary to just look from the outside and judge their actions and thoughts as impulsive or foolish instead of facing the fears that are being stirred up inside us.
Don’t blow it off. Don’t make light of it. Don’t make your partner (or yourself) feel foolish.
When someone is going through a mid-life crisis, it’s not a time to f@#k around (literally and figuratively). Seriously, if you are in a marriage with someone going through a mid-life crisis, pay attention. Or if you suspect you are going through a mid-life crisis, take it seriously.
A mid-life crisis causes us to feel terribly uncomfortable in our life situations and in our own skin.
Best Mid-life Crisis Advice Ever: do not make any major changes
When I was called into my mid-life crisis, I wanted drastic change and I was in serious distress. I wanted to leave my marriage, move away, have another baby…all at the same time. I remember sitting outside of couple’s therapy freaking out and typing “mid-life crisis” into the google search on my phone. What came up was “When you are in a mid-life crisis, do not make major changes.” I hung onto those words for months and months because the urge was real and it was powerful. It helped me to resist doing something that I might later regret.
So, if you or your partner did not get the “don’t make major changes” memo, there may have a massive impulse to do something drastic lurking and perhaps no one is talking about it yet. And worse yet, one of you might be listening to that impulse and planning a major change. Denial is the most dangerous phase of a mid-life crisis.
My husband, in his attempts to be supportive (God help him as we went through all of this), would say “it’s totally normal to wonder if we will make it in our marriage forever” and “it’s totally normal to feel unhappy when raising two young kids” etc. It was so nice of him and under normal circumstances might have been helpful, but I really needed him to say “holy shit, what’s happening here?” (he eventually did) I was crying out for someone to help me. And I needed some one to save me from myself while simultaneously allowing me the space to figure this mess out.
“Midlife: when the Universe grabs your shoulders and tells you “I’m not f-ing around, use the gifts you were given.” ~Brene Brown
So, what might this “mess” feel or look like?
Besides a general sense of irritably, judgment, impatience, and feeling down, depressed or low energy, some signs are:
- You ask yourself questions like “is this it?” “is this how my life is going to be?” “who am I?” “what’s the point of all of this?” “am I doing what I really want to be doing? I mean what I REEEALLLY want to be doing in life?”
- You notice your aging body and question your health – possibly with that a strong urge to get in shape and be healthy
- You fear that if you keep living your life this way, you will be filled with regret
- You look in the mirror and no longer recognize yourself
- You find yourself comparing yourself to others (often your younger counterparts) in their looks, their success, their money, or anything else on your mind and find yourself coming up short and regretful
- Time appears to be going by really fast
- You have a desire to help others and do more good in the world
- You find yourself reminiscing about old relationships, childhood, things you used to like doing and have forgotten about
- You are finding yourself shopping for new clothes, buying new makeup, getting your hair done, considering botox and more in an attempt to look better
- You start creating fantasies of what your life and marriage should be and compare your life to that fantasy
- You have a lot you want to say to your partner but don’t know what to say, where to start, or if it’s even worth saying
- You feel disconnected from your partner and fantasize about someone who would understand you better and be better for you
- A simpler life seems really attractive to you
- You are interested in new things – music, art, activities, sports, etc.
- Nothing seems to make you happy or fulfilled
- You sense you are at risk for having an affair
- You feel trapped and/or have a desire to run away
- You feel misunderstood and alone
- You find yourself drawn to making major changes – quitting your job, buying a car, leaving your marriage, etc.
- Someone else says “seems like you are going through a midlife crisis.”
The urge to do something drastic might feel really powerful and you will often feel like you are sure you need to listen to the urge. And perhaps that will be the right decision for you. But I urge you to wait as long as you can and work with a professional who can help you see your situation more objectively. Believe me, I know that it feels like an external change is necessary but what is really happening is that you are being called on a journey back home to yourself.
The silver lining of the midlife crisis
I believe that those of us who are called into a mid life crisis and those who accept the honor of moving through it thoroughly and with grace are lucky. Now that I am on the other side, I see my mid-life crisis as a true breakthrough, an awakening, and the path to the peaceful, joyful, and loving life I am living now.
Maybe it’s sort of a rebirth. A chance to create your life in a way that is more in alignment with who you really are, rather than what other people have put upon you as who you should be over the years. It’s a time to expand your life…like a second “growing up.”
So, the upside to a mid-life crisis is that it is an opportunity for growth, to get more conscious, to intentionally bring more meaning into our lives, and to find ourselves hidden beneath all of our conditioning and false beliefs. A gift for sure. And yet…whilst in the midst of it, it feels more like being trapped in a bad dream with a dark storm looming.
Ultimately, this journey can result in you living your life so you don’t end up with the 5 most common regrets that have been identified by an experienced palliative nurse.
For more information about how to move through this time with grace and in service to your own personal growth, look here.
What you can do for yourself or your partner:
Don’t be judgmental. If you or your partner has an unfulfilled dream from childhood that they are seeking to fulfill at this time in their lives and there is no material harm in doing it, try to be supportive where you can. Supportive and loving towards yourself. Supportive and loving towards your partner. The less judgmental we can be, the more likely we can keep open communications during this time.
Respect what’s really going on here – fear. We all feel a little afraid at the mid-life point. We fear we are never going to be who we thought we would be, have the life we imagined, ever have fun again, be as successful as we hoped, have the money we need for retirement, etc. We might not know exactly what’s going on, but be sensitive and compassionate to the reality that there is more going on than meets the eye.
Pay attention. Check in with each other. What do you need? What does your partner need? It’s a time for attention and focus and a tender heart. Be sensitive to each person. It’s common for the partner to feel left out, betrayed, afraid, upset, confused and helpless and their feelings and experience are important too. The person going through the midlife crisis might feel misunderstood, helpless, out of control, and afraid.
Get help. A coach, counselor, or therapist can help you through this in a way that is least destructive and most helpful. Reach out. If that is not an option, talk to supportive friends, read books, and/or find a community who can help you.
And yet don’t take it too seriously. It’s okay to still laugh and do fun things! It’s good to take this as a time to rebuild your connection and bring joy into your life. If we take it too seriously, we might believe the fears and stay afraid of change. It’s a great time to mix things up, have a little fun, and bring some adventure into your life!
Above all, be gentle. This too shall pass. It will pass more gracefully and completely if everyone is gentle and loving and gives the space necessary to get through this time.
What has your experience been with midlife crisis? Please post below in the comments. And sharing is caring…if you know someone who could benefit from this article, please share it!