The Five Acts of a Male Midlife Crisis
Over my years in practice, I’ve heard countless wives describe five general “acts” or stages of their husband’s so-called midlife crisis, specifically the type characterized by self-focus and infidelity. Each act tends to be accompanied by certain behaviors, events, and motivations.
Does this mean that your husband’s midlife crisis is all an act? Definitely not. But more than likely, you’re in for some drama just the same. For that reason, I’ll present all five acts of a “typical” male midlife crisis here. If you’re a concerned wife, it may give you a big-picture view. So find a comfy place to read this episode of Midlife Crisis Theater.
Act I – Withdrawal & Introspection
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 his wife and 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 II – Resentment & Self-Focus
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 may see those first signs of self-focus. He may 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 III – The Escalating Ego
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. He may join a gym or a new activity, perhaps one frequented by younger women. 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 in the worst cases, 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 IV – The Reinvention… and the Other Woman
Act Four is the redefining stage. This is when he may build on his attempts to recapture his youthfulness or desirability by reinventing himself. He may embrace new activities or interests. He may begin to criticize his wife more, while he becomes even more self-focused.
He may 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. She may also be an old flame. Quite often, however, she is a younger woman.
A brief alternate scene…
It’s important to know that 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. The mixed messages will abound.
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. Whether he does or not, he will find a way to live his life as a single man who wants to have his cake and eat it, too.
This act—Act Four, the redefining or reinvention stage—will likely be the most agonizing one for his wife, regardless of whether he’s having an emotional or sexual affair or not. An affair will make it worse as his wife feels she must compete with his 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 go into panic mode – will he come back? Who am I without him? As the midlife man indulges his new identity, he may shatter his wife’s.
Act V – The Curtain… and the Happy Ending?
Act Five is the final act of the male midlife crisis 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 divorce his wife to continue with his new life or new girlfriend? Or should he apologize to his wife and return to his previous life?
If he does return to his previous life, he may not do so happily. If his girlfriend has left him or he’s staying for financial reasons, he may end up treating his wife even more poorly than before…and the whole show might soon repeat itself.
A truly happy ending—where he recommits to his wife with renewed perspective and they emerge from this as a stronger couple—is possible, but not assured. You can improve the chances of it happening by handling this crisis the way you as a woman have handled every other crisis in your life—with clear thinking and deliberate decision making.
If that’s easier said than done these days, don’t panic. You’ll find more midlife crisis articles and options for help below.
Ah, the stereotypical male midlife crisis – it summons images of a middle-aged man cruising around town in his red convertible, trying to recapture the feeling of lost youth. Who can blame him? Nobody wants to get older. We all
As I sit down to type this article, ignoring the little crack in my knee as I adjust my chair, I’m reminded that spouses really do have to help and support each other through the changes that midlife, and beyond,
There’s an old movie called Fried Green Tomatoes, and in it, a character named Evelyn is facing the challenges of an unhappy midlife marriage and a husband who seems uninterested in her. She’s reminded of an old piece of advice
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Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage expert and the founder of MARRIAGE SOS™. She specializes in helping women reclaim their marriage from their husband’s midlife crisis behavior, including a midlife affair. Debra has served as a resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health.