Over my years in practice, I’ve heard wives describe five general “acts” or stages of a husband’s midlife crisis, particularly the type characterized by self-focus and infidelity. Each of these stages is accompanied by certain behaviors and events. I’m going to take you through a typical one here, act by act.
Why? Because it can be helpful to have a big picture view of what to expect. So find a comfy place to read and get ready for today’s showing of Midlife Crisis Theater. As you scroll down, you’ll find related resources that can help you cope with this marriage crisis.
Act One of a midlife crisis opens with a man who is in the middle of a reality check. The realities and fears of middle age are setting in. As they do, he begins to withdraw from you, his wife, and he may become introspective and quiet. I often refer to this act or stage as the calm before the storm. His worried wife may begin to question him: “What’s wrong? What can I do to make you happier?” She may begin to tiptoe around him, analyze him and offer all kinds of suggestions to make him feel happier or more fulfilled. Nevertheless, he continues to withdraw into himself and his own life.
Act Two and the storm clouds are starting to roll in – so are feelings of resentment. A man may begin to resent the obligations he’s had during the marriage. He may begin to exaggerate his sacrifices or assume he’s the only one who’s made them.
This is when you will see those first signs of self-focus. He will likely begin to re-write the history of his marriage and blame his wife for his own unhappiness, as well as any problems in the marriage.
Act Three is when a man tries to recapture a feeling of being youthful or, in many cases, more desirable to women. Many – not all – men will embark on a new fitness regime or diet. He may join a gym or jump into a new activity, particularly one frequented by younger women. Now as this is happening, he does notice some changes – he does slim down or tone up. He may feel more energetic and desirable. Unfortunately, that may go to his head. And if it does, he may begin to think a lot more of himself and a lot less of his wife. He can become self-righteous, judgmental and sanctimonious.
Act Four is the redefining stage. This is when he may build on his attempts to recapture his youthfulness or desirability by reinventing himself. On top of his new lifestyle habits, he may embrace new activities or interests. He may begin to criticize his wife more, whether privately or openly, while he becomes even more self-focused and self-indulgent.
He’ll re-write your history in more negative and inaccurate terms. He may become belligerent and narcissistic. He will likely become moody and angrier.
Enter player three…
This is around the time that a new character may stroll onto the stage. In many cases he will strike up a friendship with a female friend, co-worker, etc. This is often a younger woman. Or she may be an old flame.
Soon, they begin to text each other on a regular basis. They share inside jokes, inspirational messages and build each other up. He loves the ego-boost of this friendship and they both feel it is “special.” Very quickly, their texting becomes flirtatious.
As this is happening, the midlife man’s wife becomes increasingly hurt by his friendship with this other woman; however, if she expresses concern, she is told that she is controlling, paranoid or insecure. Her husband may offer half-hearted assurances, but none feel loving or genuinely reassuring.
At this point in Act IV, I’m going to play an important extra scene.
That’s because not all men take this belligerent or obnoxious route during this redefining stage. Some take a kinder, more introspective route. Instead of saying mean or cruel things, this midlife man will do the opposite.
He may tell his wife that she’s wonderful. He may say he appreciates everything she’s done for him. He may act confused by it all. I love you, but I’m not in love with you. I need space. I don’t know what I want. I’m sorry I’m hurting you.
Yet regardless of whether his self-focus manifests as mean, angry or aggressive behavior, or whether it manifests as kind, confused and introspective behavior, the result to his wife is the same. She’s left in a state of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and betrayal.
ACT IV, Con’t
As Act Four plugs along, the midlife man may tell his wife that he wants to move out and get his own place. He needs to figure things out. Or maybe he will say that he’s just growing in a different direction. This may be his message of choice if he is having, or wants to have, an affair.
In some cases, he will simply talk about moving out and send mixed messages. In other cases, he’ll really do it. If his wife cries or begs him to stay, he may react in a few ways. He may be apathetic or indifferent. Or he may be angry and mean.
Or he may take a softer approach, perhaps spinning things as if the separation is good for the marriage. Time apart is healthy! If his wife is “lucky,” he will remain in the home, but move downstairs. Nonetheless, he will live his life as a single man, albeit one who wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
This act – Act Four, the redefining stage – is likely going to be the most agonizing one for his wife, regardless of whether he’s having an affair or not. An affair will make it worse, of course, as his wife feels she must compete with his newer, more exciting and possibly younger girlfriend.
But even if another woman isn’t involved, she will still have to compete with his new identity, his new life. She will live indefinitely in a state of anxiety, uncertainty, pain. She will go through cycles of hope and disappointment, relief and despair. She will live in his wake.
As he indulges in his journey of self-discovery and self-recreation, his wife feels powerless. She may question her own desirability or worth. She may go into panic mode – will he come back? Who am I without him? As the midlife man indulges his new identity, he shatters his wife’s. She is left to pick up the pieces of decades of her life, wondering how she can put them back together.
Debra Discusses the Male Midlife Crisis on TV
Act Five is the final act of the show, and it may be a long time coming. This is the review and resolution stage.
At this point, the midlife man begins to think back upon the choices he’s made. He thinks in terms of his own future best interests. Should he continue with the new life he’s created for himself? If he is having an affair, should he stay with this person? Or should he apologize to his wife and return to his previous life?
He may choose to continue on with his new life without looking back. He may file for divorce and choose a new life with his girlfriend, if he has one.
Or he may choose to return to his previous life. This may or may not be a sincere desire. For example, if his girlfriend has left him or he fears he will lose too much money in a divorce, he may reconcile with his wife; however, he will do this begrudgingly and will likely continue to treat his wife poorly.
A happier ending is possible, although it will depend largely on how his wife has responded to his midlife crisis behavior. If she has handled herself – and him – with clarity, confidence and purpose, it is far more likely that he will return to the marriage with true remorse and renewed respect for her.
If this is the Act Five happy ending you’ve been hoping for, listen to the audio intro of my online program Conquer His Midlife Crisis // Strategies for Wives. It’s designed for women who aren’t willing to passively “hope for the best.” Because that often leads to the worst outcome of all.
Okay, that concludes my five-act drama called the destructive midlife crisis. Although I’ve found these stages to be fairly distinct in practice, the lines between them may be blurred in your situation. Your husband may or may not display all of these behaviors, at least not right now. Regardless, if you can manage yourself and him properly during this time, you increase the chances of getting that happy ending that both of you deserve.
If you wish to read more of my articles, click here. They cover a range of marital problems, including emotional and physical affairs, inappropriate opposite-sex friendships, chronic arguing, apathetic spouses and, of course, midlife crises. You can learn more about me by visiting the About Debra page.
Thank you for reading. I wish you all the best and I encourage you to be proactive during this pivotal time in your marriage.