A midlife crisis is a time period of transition and struggle for men in particular in or approaching middle age. Midlife crisis in men is often joked about. Images of a man buying a Porsche or other fancy car. However it can be a time of real struggle. I help men navigate this difficult time of life change and transition. Support can be via coaching or sessions for overcoming the stresses and anxieties of getting older.
Midlife crisis in men defined
Descriptions of midlife differ and research into the average midlife crisis age is thin. One study found the average age group for a midlife crisis is 47. Other research indicates the midlife crisis really begins before midlife, in the middle thirties, and resolves in the middle forties. Not everyone experiences a midlife crisis. Significantly recent research in fact disputes the concept that a midlife crisis exists at all. Yet any transition can spur a crisis of personal identity. For many people, the transition to middle age signifies such a transition.
Therapy, be that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT ), hypnotherapy or counselling can help men flip a midlife crisis into an opportunity for growth and development. The right therapist could offer guidance for how to cope with a midlife crisis, helping men in particular facing a midlife crisis understand the roots of the crisis, acquire control over their feelings, and take significant steps toward goals that make life truly feel meaningful.
Is a midlife crisis for men actually real?
Midlife crises have long been plot devices in television and movies. They have also been the subject of numerous popular memoirs. A 2000 study discovered that the term was so ubiquitous that 90% of telephone questionnaire respondents could provide a definition. However a midlife crisis is not really a mental health diagnosis.
A number of researchers argue there’s little proof that such a crisis reliably takes place for most people. A 1992 literature review, for example, identified that belief in or experience of a midlife crisis is not universal across cultures or societies. The same study calculated only about 10% of American men experience a midlife crisis. Twenty-six percent of respondents to a 2000 telephone study said they had experienced a midlife crisis. This suggests many people do not experience a midlife crisis.
Even those who see a midlife crisis as a prevalent developmental milestone disagree concerning how to define it. A number of theorists refer to midlife crises as midlife transitions. The transition gives the opportunity to assess past goals and achievements before moving on to the next stage of life.
Some signs and symptoms of a midlife crisis in men are similar with those of an adjustment disorder, which is a mental health diagnosis. People experiencing adjustment disorders face immense stress in response to a completely new life event, for example a house move or the dying of a family member.
For people experiencing a midlife crisis, the experience is very real. Citing research suggesting that the experience is relatively rare, or that these crises do not occur in all cultures, is not going to make symptoms disappear. A man who feels that his symptoms are well-explained by a midlife crisis is experiencing a midlife crisis.
Midlife crisis in men causes
Growing older brings many changes. Relationships might end or shift. Jobs can become progressively more stressful, or might fail to live up to a person’s dreams. As a person’s parents and friends grow older or even die, the person may begin to confront their own mortality.
Erik Erikson divided human development into eight distinctive stages, each with its own key conflict. In midlife, Erikson argues, the conflict is between generativity and stagnation. Anxieties of stagnation may trigger a midlife crisis, while a move toward generativity—giving something to the next generation—may help deal with the crisis.
Every midlife crisis is different. Some common sources of midlife crises include:
- Societal messages about getting older, for example the idea that middle-aged people and elders are less attractive.
- Changes in the human body, such as putting on weight, discomfort, or less vigor.
- Fear of the aging process itself.
- Fear of dying.
- Divorce or other changes in a person’s relationship.
- Changes in a person’s relationship with their children. This may include having children, watching children move away, or even becoming a grandparent. A number of people experience a midlife crisis due to empty nest syndrome.
- Career changes, such as work being more or less demanding than it once had been.
- Money challenges, particularly related to retirement.
- Grappling with trauma from earlier in life.
- Feeling that life hasn’t ended up the way one envisioned or hoped it would.
Midlife crisis in men symptoms
Because a midlife crisis is not a disease, there’s no one list of symptoms that is applicable to every person experiencing a midlife crisis. Instead, a midlife crisisin men is characterised by anxiety, stress, or frustration in particular, related to age, aging, success or mortality.
Sometimes, in an attempt to stave off the feelings of loss or anxiety that can accompany a midlife crisis, people may have an affair, buy a brand new car, use drugs or alcohol, or otherwise try to recapture the exhilaration of youth. People experiencing or about to experience a midlife crisis may exhibit some of the following emotions and behaviours:
Relationship dissatisfaction. A person might want to change the terms of their relationship, lose interest in sex, or radically shift their sexual interests.
Obsession with one’s appearance. A person might dress in clothes that create a “younger” appearance, attempt different diets, workout often, or use cosmetics or treatments in an attempt to minimize or reverse the signs of aging. The person may feel it is difficult to recognize who they have become.
Career dissatisfaction. Midlife crisis in men may prompt a man to want to quit his job or escape responsibilities and may feel envious and resentful of younger colleagues, especially those who appear to be advancing.
Psychological distress. A man might feel down or empty (especially for extensive periods), be short-tempered or more quickly angered, consider mortality often, question spiritual beliefs, behave in a reckless manner, or abuse drugs and alcohol, sometimes in an attempt to escape feelings of emotional distress.
These common signs don’t always mean a person is for sure experiencing a midlife crisis. Physiological changes at midlife, such as endocrine disorders, can change behaviour. Many of the symptoms of a midlife crisis may also be symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. So it is vital for people suddenly struggling with their emotions to seek help from a mental health provider.
Midlife crisis in men stages
Researchers do not agree on a single definition of a midlife crisis, let alone a predictable set of stages. Midlife crises manifest differently for different people. For some, a midlife crisis follows three general stages:
- Something happens that triggers anxiety about getting older. This could be a milestone birthday, the death of a loved one, a career change, or anything else that causes a person to reflect on their age or their life.
- A person spends time in crisis. During this time, they may explore different identities, change relationships with loved ones, or seek new sources of meaning.
- The person in crisis resolves the crisis through therapy, acceptance of life’s changes, regaining a sense of control, or any other strategy that makes life feel less overwhelming.
For some people, a midlife crisis lasts just a few weeks. For others, it takes many years to resolve. Jim Conway, a pastor and counsellor who wrote several books about midlife crises and transitions, maintains that a midlife crisis is similar to the stages of grief originally developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. He considers six stages of a midlife crisis:
Denial. This is normally the start of a midlife crisis, and occurs as a person trys to fight or deny that they are getting older.
Anger. During this stage, people get frustrated about the troubles of midlife, or about their inability to handle those challenges.
Replay. A person may attempt to go over what was most exciting or appealing about their youth by having cosmetic treatments, seeking an affair, or trying to get rid of life responsibilities.
Depression. When replay fails, a person might then become low, depressed and anxious.
Withdrawal. A person distances themselves from loved ones as a way of coping with their depression.
Acceptance. A person finally accepts that they are growing older, and begins seeking meaning in the next stage of life.
Conway argues the midlife crisis typically lasts two to seven years.
Midlife crisis in men
Thirty-four percent of men who had reached 50 years old said they had a midlife crisis. That men in particular report that awareness of time passing was a trigger for their midlife crisis, and 14% of both men and women said the midlife crisis is a time for making major personal changes.
In popular media, midlife crises in men centre on fancy cars, affairs, toupees, and unusual new interests. But for many men, a midlife crisis is less about outward signs of youth and more about finding meaning. Gender roles and socialization may affect how a man experiences a midlife crisis. For example, a man may worry about:
- How aging affects others’ perception of his masculinity.
- How age-related maladies will affect his desirability or strength.
- Whether he is sufficiently successful in his career.
- How his career decisions have affected his relationship with children and other family members.
Midlife crisis in men and divorce
Divorce rates are dropping among most age groups, including adults under 35. Among people in late midlife, those 50 or older, divorce rates have doubled since the 1990s. This suggests that midlife changes, including midlife crises, may play a role in the decision to divorce.
Sixty-six percent of Baby Boomers say they would rather divorce than be in an unhappy marriage, compared to just 44% of younger people.
People consider divorce in midlife for many reasons, including:
- A desire for a happier life, either as a single person or with another partner.
- Blaming their partner that life hasn’t turned out as they hoped.
- No longer having young children at home, removing the desire to stay together for the kids.
- No longer feeling attractive, or not feeling attractive to one’s partner.
Sometimes people unfairly blame their marriage for other problems they face. In other cases, legitimate marital issues make life feel unbearable. Sometimes these issues can be resolved through therapy. Even when a couple opts to divorce, therapy may help make the process less contentious.
Midlife crisis in men and life afterwards
The realisation that life is progressing rapidly and may be already half gone can feel overwhelming. During midlife, people often consider issues such as life purpose, loss of youth, mortality, their legacy, and their sense of accomplishment and physical adequacy.
A midlife crisis can feel traumatic, and may even lead to traumatic experiences such as divorce. Other traumas in midlife, such as the death of a parent or loved one, are also common.
Some people with a history of earlier trauma, such as being raped or sexually abused, begin grappling with that trauma in midlife. Because midlife is a time during which many people seek a deeper sense of meaning, some people wish to understand what feels like senseless suffering.
Therapy can help people struggling with the aftermath of trauma, whether the trauma is recent or occurred many years ago. Therapy may also help people experiencing a midlife crisis to:
- Improve their relationships with others.
- Decide whether to stay in their marriage.
- Talk about the disappointments and challenges they’ve faced in life.
- Decide what they want the future to look like.
- Find meaning in life’s changes.
- Identify new goals.
- Regain a sense of control over life.
- Establish better relationships with adult children.
How to deal with a midlife crisis
People experiencing a midlife crisis can find immense relief in therapy. The right therapist can help with resolving trauma, developing a plan for the future, protecting relationships from the challenges of midlife, and finding meaning in the aging process. A therapist can also help with specific issues, such as recovering from infidelity, managing a career change, or dealing with disappointment in a relationship.
How to help midlife crisis in men
Some men experiencing a midlife crisis struggle to admit to the crisis—or even to being middle-aged. For many people in crisis, the loss of youth and the looming specter of mortality are major triggers. Knowing the signs of a midlife crisis can help encourage a person to seek help.
Midlife crises vary from person to person, but some common signs include:
- Anxiety about the future.
- A loss of meaning or purpose.
- Feeling like life hasn’t turned out the way one hoped.
- Feeling the need to keep up or compete with younger people.
- A crisis of confidence following a milestone birthday or a major life event.
Talking to loved ones about the crisis may help put it in perspective. Therapy can be beneficial because therapists routinely help people manage life transitions and set goals for the future.
Midlife crisis in men therapy options
Working with a psychotherapist during midlife provides the opportunity to enter the next phase of life with greater self-awareness and self-compassion. A person will have the opportunity to work through any issues they may have suppressed and verbalize any goals that may not yet have been realized. A therapist can help a person explore desires and fears without behaving recklessly or in a way that might negatively affect that person’s life.
In therapy, a person might develop plans for taking the next steps in life. People who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or feelings of emptiness due to midlife transition may also find that therapy can be an effective treatment for those concerns. Therapy might also help people who are considering pursuing an extramarital affair or who wish to seek a divorce. Marriage therapy can help support couples who find themselves distanced as a result of one or both partners’ midlife challenges.
Therapy is highly effective when there is a close and trusting relationship between the therapist and person in therapy. Some types of therapy that can be particularly effective during a midlife crisis include:
Trauma-focused therapy: People dealing with trauma in midlife, or trying to come to terms with early childhood trauma, may benefit from trauma-sensitive therapy. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), and emotional freedom technique (EFT) can be helpful.
Couples counseling: Couples counseling can help partners learn how to deal with a midlife crisis in a husband or wife. Couples may work together to re-envision their relationships, move past infidelity, or revive a long-lost spark.
Family therapy: Midlife crises can affect an entire family. Parents may treat children differently. Parenting challenges such as a child’s behavioral issues may further compound the challenges of a midlife crisis. Families can work together in therapy to talk about their feelings, tackle troubling family dynamics, and find newer, healthier ways to communicate.
Cognitive behavioral therapy: For many people, a midlife crisis begins with negative or incorrect thoughts about aging, what it means to be attractive, or what a successful life looks like. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people understand the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. A therapist partners with a person to detect unhealthy or automatic negative thoughts and replace those thoughts with healthier thoughts that support a person’s goals.
Midlife crisis in men self help options
Good self-care can help with managing a midlife crisis. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, time with loved ones, support from family and friends, and time spent on meaningful hobbies can make midlife feel more meaningful.
Some people also find support from self-help groups. Some other strategies that can help include:
- Not making irreversible decisions, such as having plastic surgery or filing for divorce, without taking time to contemplate the decision.
- Seeking therapy if a midlife crisis leads to depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, or any emotions that feel unbearable.
- Getting a physical. For some people, the physical challenges of midlife play a role in the crisis. Talk to a doctor about strategies for getting healthier and feeling better.
- Trying something new. A new hobby, travel to a new location, or going back to school can offer new meaning and purpose.
Midlife crisis in men when it affects a loved one
When a loved one experiences a midlife crisis, their family and friends may feel disoriented or overwhelmed. Spouses may worry about divorce or marital conflict. Some strategies that may help include:
- Listening to your loved one without judgment. Understand that their feelings are not something that needs to be fixed or solved, and that arguing about their feelings won’t make those feelings disappear.
- Identifying your own anxieties about growing older. When one spouse or family member has a midlife crisis, it can activate those feelings in another person.
- Going to family or couples counseling with a spouse who is experiencing a midlife crisis.
- Giving your loved one space to resolve their feelings in their own way on their own timeline.
- Finding a new hobby or other pursuit. When a loved one has a midlife crisis, you may feel anxious or depressed. Pursuing your own interests can offer a meaningful outlet, and reduce the desire to “fix” the midlife crisis.
- Pursuing individual therapy to address your own feelings about growing older, managing midlife, and setting goals for the future.