Welcome to Debra Macleod’s Marriage SOS, a resource for wives trying to save their marriage despite a husband’s midlife crisis. Not only will you learn more about what you’re facing, you’ll have access to practical, powerful tools that can help you regain his love and desire for you.
So pour a cup of coffee and get ready for today’s showing of Midlife Crisis Theater. Here, I’ll show how one type of male midlife crisis – specifically the type marked by self-indulgence and infidelity – can play out.
Over the years, I’ve heard wives describe five general “acts” (stages) of a husband’s midlife crisis, each one characterized by certain behaviors and events. I’m going to take you through a typical one here, act by act.
As you scroll down, you’ll find related articles, resources and video that can also help.
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. He realizes that he’s getting older. He’s aware of his changing appearance and energy level. He may be facing sexual performance issues or he may be worrying about that happening. He may be going through life changes like the kids leaving home or his own retirement. The reality of his financial or lifestyle status may set in – he may not have as much money or success as he’d always hoped to have at this point, or he may not have accomplished everything he had hoped to accomplish despite his success.
As these realities set in, he begins to withdraw from you, his wife, and he may become introspective and quiet as he retreats into his thoughts. 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 or the sacrifices he’s made 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. And the more you try to reason with him or remind him of the “good times,” the more determined he seems to believe his own narrative.
Act Three tends to be the height of the storm – it’s 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 may see himself as being superior to her not just in terms of physical attractiveness, but also in terms of lifestyle habits or personality traits. He may suggest – whether openly or in subtle ways – that he is more enlightened or engaged with life than his wife is. He can become self-righteous, judgmental and sanctimonious. If he is surrounding himself with other women, especially younger women, he may begin to think that he is better suited to one of them – after all, they’re just like him: youthful, energetic, exciting!
Act Four is the redefining stage. This is when he may build on his attempts to recapture his youthfulness or desirability by redefining his life or reinventing himself. On top of his new lifestyle habits, he may embrace new activities or interests. Again, this brings him into contact with more new and exciting people.
As a result, he may begin to criticize his wife more, sometimes privately and sometimes openly. All the while, he continues to act in more self-focused and more self-indulgent ways.
He’ll re-write your history in more negative and inaccurate terms. He’ll go from blaming his wife or being cool to her to criticizing her to the point of outright cruelty. It’s like he has no filter. If a nasty thought or accusation pops into his mind, he’ll say it. He may become belligerent and narcissistic. He will likely become moody and angrier.
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. It is almost certain that this will be a younger woman. Quite often she is divorced or a single mother. If she is married, she may share her marriage problems (real or not) with him, seeking his “support.”
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 with a younger woman: the younger woman loves the way this older man seems to venerate her – she doesn’t get that from men her own age. They’ll establish a close friendship, one that they both feel is special and unique. They’re amazed by how well they just “click” and the way they just “get” each other. Very quickly, their texting becomes flirtatious.
As this is happening, the midlife man’s wife becomes increasingly worried and 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 and their family. He may act confused by it all. I love you, but I’m not in love with you. I need space. I just don’t know what I want. I’m sorry I’m hurting you..but I need to find myself. The mixed messages will abound, and you will spend all your time analyzing every word he says or every move he makes.
He may say that his new friend “gets him” and is a source of support. He may say that you and he don’t seem to have anything in common – maybe you never did – and he owes it to himself to see where this friendship goes. He may pitch the friendship as something that’s actually good for the marriage – I mean, you want him to be happy, right? He’ll kiss you on the cheek, and then run off to her apartment for the rest of the night. It will hurt like nothing else ever has.
So 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 pretty much the same. She’s left in a constant stand of anxiety, uncertainty, fear and betrayal.
And whether he is mean and obnoxious or lost and confused, one thing is certain – he will continue with the friendship no matter what his wife says, no matter how much she tells him it hurts her, no matter how much pain she is in, no matter how much she begs him to stop.
ACT IV, Con’t
As Act Four plugs along, each scene continues to get worse. The midlife man may tell his wife that he wants to move out and get his own place. He needs the space. He needs to figure things out. Or maybe he will say that he can’t stand to be around her anymore. He’s just growing in a different direction.
This may be motivated by a desire for space and independence. It may be motivated by a desire to escape the responsibilities and familiarity of daily domestic life, and instead live like a single man again, to come and go as he wishes. Remember: he is creating a new persona for himself and that requires some new digs. The desire to have his own place may also motivated by his desire to have sex with other women. It may be that he already has a sexual partner lined up. Or maybe he just wants to be ready in case the opportunity presents itself.
In some cases, he will simply talk about moving out and send mixed messages. In other cases, he’ll really do it. He’ll pack a bag and move out. 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 somehow good for the marriage. He’ll say it might help both of you find yourselves. Time apart is healthy! He might say that it isn’t fair to you for him to stay in the home when he just isn’t feeling like he belongs there anymore.
Now, if he is having a sexual relationship with another woman, especially a younger woman, he will probably become more distant than ever. And more than likely, he will lean toward cold behavior instead of the lost or confused angle. If he’s sleeping with a younger woman, he’s feeling a rush of excitement and elation. It’s a massive ego-boost and that makes it easy for him to redefine himself. He has a new life. And to fully embrace this new life, he needs to erase his old life – that includes his wife and maybe even his kids.
And as if all of this isn’t baffling enough, it is possible that he will show a total lack of remorse as he does this. It’s as if the ten or twenty or thirty or forty years of his previous life, your shared life, your family life, never existed to him.
If he’s sleeping with or living with another woman during this act of the midlife crisis, he may just kind of disappear into his new life. Or he may choose a different strategy: he may waffle between the two women in his life – his wife and his girlfriend.
He may try to have his cake and eat it, too. He’ll come home for a good meal and sex with his wife, but then he’ll head back to his new place and his girlfriend. He may send his wife all kinds of mixed messages. One day he is loving and she feels hopeful that he will choose her. The day next, he’s more distant or confused. She is devastated.
This act – Act Four, the redefining stage – is without a doubt 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 likely younger girlfriend.
But even if another woman isn’t involved, this is still going to be the most difficult time. 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 attractiveness or desirability or worth. She may go into panic mode – will he ever come back? What is my life without him? Who am I without him? As the midlife man indulges his new identity and rushes toward it with glee, he shatters his wife’s identity. She is left to pick up the pieces of decades of her life, wondering if and 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. It’s where the excitement of his new life, whether he’s had an affair or not, begins to level out. After all, a person can only stay in that state for so long.
At this point, the midlife man begins to think back upon the changes and choices he’s made. He begins to think 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 try to make amends, so that he can return to his previous life? He will weigh his options here and he will think about each outcome.
The choice he makes depends on who he is as a person, as well as his current circumstances. 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. He may continue to treat his former wife with disdain and to forgo any kind of relationship with his children. He may simply close the door to his past life as if it never happened.
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 try to reconcile with his wife; however, he will do this begrudgingly. Consequently, his apologies and re-commitment to the marriage will be half-hearted at best. He may also carry a lot of resentment back into the marriage. Because things didn’t play out the way he had intended, he will likely continue to treat his wife quite poorly. He may be back, but he doesn’t really want to be there. And it’s obvious to both of them.
And finally, it may be that he truly feels remorse and even shame for his actions, and that he truly does wish to reconcile with his wife. He may sincerely apologize and acknowledge the heartache and loss of dignity he has caused his wife. He may show true insight into his actions or at least strive to find that insight. He will show her all the patience and love she needs, and he will do everything she asks of him so that they can heal and move forward as a couple. Clearly, this is the Act Five happy ending his wife has been hoping for.
This ending does happen; however, it is more likely to happen if you, his wife, handle yourself – and your husband – with clarity, confidence and purpose during this pivotal time in your marriage.
Okay, that concludes my five-act drama called the destructive midlife crisis. Although I have found these stages to be fairly distinct in practice, categorizing them like this is in some ways artificial. The lines between stages may be clear or more blurred in your situation. Your husband may or may not display all of these behaviors, at least not right now.
Regardless, I hope you get the happy ending that you – and your husband! – deserve. If you need help getting there, listen to the audio intro and learn more about my instant-access online program Conquer His Midlife Crisis // Strategies for Wives, below. It’s one of multiple “crash courses” that can help you regain your husband’s love, devotion and desire (and your dignity!).
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.