It never rains but it pours, right? That’s the idiom that comes to mind when I think of the midlife affair. It’s like two tornados combining—the midlife crisis and infidelity—and creating a storm that has the power to knock down your whole marriage.
A husband’s midlife affair may strike when life is good. Maybe too good. The kids are grown and gone, the bills are paid, and one’s time is their own. A person may therefore have all the time in the world to look around and think, “Is this it?” They have the luxury, in a way, of indulging in introspection as well as the time, resources and opportunity to meet lots of new, fresh-faced people… and then find that “special one” that makes them feel young again. Alive again. Sexy again. After all their hard work and sacrifices, don’t they deserve to feel that way?
Indeed, there’s really no proof that the midlife crisis is a real thing, but rather a product of western culture – specifically, of our almost maniacal focus on personal happiness and our relative affluence. Translation: we can afford to have a midlife crisis because we’re not preoccupied with dodging bullets or finding enough food to eat!
A midlife affair can come from a sadder place, too, a place that is easy to both sympathize and empathize with. Getting older is scary and confusing. It can make the best of us rethink certain paths we’ve taken or fantasize about taking new ones while we can still do so without a walker. Even if things are good—we have our children, our health, our money—we can still feel a sense of loss. Loss of time, loss of opportunity, loss of experience. And so we try to gain some of that back.
Yet midlife infidelity can also strike when life isn’t so good. That may be truer than ever these days, in light of the current cost of living crisis. Many people are experiencing financial hardship and anxiety well into and beyond middle age. Not only are they dealing with their own bills, they may be struggling to help finance their adult children’s education or living expenses, or the living expenses of their own aging parents.
In such instances, an affair can be an escape. A distraction. A reminder that life can be fun and exciting, not just stressful and predictable.
The midlife affair can wear many hats
It may be a short-term affair or “indiscretion,” or it might be something more entrenched, like a husband—or wife, for that matter—saying that they’ve fallen in love with their affair partner.
There may be deeper issues in the marriage: a poor sex life, arguing, difficult personality traits, miserable interactions or awful communication habits, fights over how to spend time or money. There may be parenting or other disagreements.
Yet while there can be a lot of variety in terms of why midlife affairs start, there is a common theme—someone is moving away from something that is boring them, frightening them, or giving them stress.
And despite the variety of circumstances that attend midlife affairs, there is also remarkable similarity in terms of the behavior exhibited by a cheating midlife husband (yes, or wife). The indecision, for starters: I don’t know what I want. I don’t know how I feel.
There may also be a degree of self-indulgence and—to put it very bluntly—immature behavior. The infatuation with someone else, someone different. The thrill of “new” or at least clandestine sex.
So I’m back where I started. Midlife crises are hard enough to deal with, but add an affair to the brewing storm—or maybe it’s the other way around—and you’re faced with a true all-out marriage crisis. Nonetheless, don’t panic! There are ways to properly manage and overcome what is happening, and save your marriage.
When it comes to your husband’s midlife crisis, you have more power than you think—no, you don’t have the novelty card, but you do represent the history, roots, meaning and companionship that he has relied upon and valued for years. That can be polished to a sexier, more compelling shine.
As for his infidelity—well, you are not powerless in that regard either
Neither are you too old, too unattractive, or too undesirable to reclaim his respect and devotion.
When it comes to a midlife affair, your priority should be—above anything else—to not take any bad advice. Do not let your panic, confusion, or fear make you too quickly accept the advice that someone gives you.
The truth is, a woman in your situation is living with a lot of fear. You’re afraid of losing your husband and your marriage. That means it may be very easy for someone to offer your false reassurances by basically telling you want you want to hear. They may give you advice that is too passive, or too aggressive. They may give you advice that seems to work in the short-term, but that has unintended long-term consequences that only make matters worse.
If you’re ready to step through the fear and both think and act clearly, then you may wish to start with my Marriage SOS™ crash courses that tackle issues like midlife crises and extramarital affairs head on. With their high success rate and practical guidance, they can help you ensure that your husband’s midlife affair doesn’t turn into a never-ending storm of anxiety, confusion, and heartache for you.
It will take work. It will take working through hours of intensive content, thinking it all through, and making a plan based on your circumstances. But there are times that marriage is work. You know that. You’ve worked through problems before, you’ve survived storms before, and you can do it again.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is the creator of Marriage SOS™. She has served as an expert resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health magazine.