Save Your Marriage, Starting Today

heart frozen inside of ice cube

The Shut-Out Wife: When His Midlife Crisis Shuts You Out of His Life

You’ve heard of the male midlife crisis. You’ve heard of gray divorce. Well, in the middle of that unhappy intersection stands a woman that I call the shut-out wife. And believe me, if anyone ever felt overwhelmed and undersupported by the position she finds herself in—frantically navigating a thousand moving parts to avoid a wreck, precisely at the age when she’d have hoped to be past such stress—it’s her.

As a woman on the far side of midlife myself, I can say that I have a certain real-world expertise about this time in life. To me, it sometimes feels like I’ve run about halfway through a marathon… I had a lot of energy for the first half, but now I’d kind of like to just find a nice coffee shop along the route and stop for a while, maybe have a good latte and cheesecake, do a little shopping… you know, take it easy.

Like many women, I know that my energy, motivation and interest in completing the race will return. I just need a breather. I also need to know that the second half of the race will be different. I’ll have a little more freedom to run it at my own pace, to stop when and where and for how long I want. I need to know that when I get home, things will be where I left them. The people in my life will still be there. In fact, when they see how tired I am, they will open the door and help me carry in my shopping bags.

That doesn’t happen for the shut-out wife. As the name implies, the door is closed. And on the other side—or maybe he’s not on the other side, maybe he’s left the building entirely—is her husband.

Because you see, her husband is also about halfway through his race. And he wants the second half to be different too. Unfortunately, when it comes to some types of midlife crises, that can usher in a world of uncertainty, anxiety and feelings of rejection for his wife.

Of course, most husbands and wives navigate midlife together. Many grow closer and find new meaning and adventure, simultaneously looking back with happy nostalgia and appreciation for each other, and looking ahead with excitement and shared interests.

But the shut-out wife doesn’t feel affection or gratitude from a loving husband. She’s lucky if she feels anything at all from him, at least anything other than confusion, coldness or even contempt. She is not his priority, and most of the time doesn’t even feel like his partner.

It’s like the years they shared, the experiences and memories they shared, never existed. It’s like she’s talking to a stranger, one who seems unmoved by her pain, unconcerned about her well-being and uninterested in her life. Instead, he’s only interested in his own pleasure, concerned about his own happiness and interested in his own life. He pulls away from her and seems to almost step out of their marriage, closing the door behind him.

She’s left in a daze, feeling—as the name implies—shut out of his life. She doesn’t know what he’s thinking, what he’s planning, what he’s doing or who he’s doing it with… because yes, infidelity and the midlife crisis too often go hand in hand. That’s true of both men and women who have midlife crises, but still more common when it comes to men.

So really, I can’t think of a better description than “shut out.” Because that’s what you feel like, that’s what you are, when someone you love shuts you out of their life. It’s bad enough when it’s a friend or a family member, but when it’s a husband, it’s far worse. Because he isn’t just shutting his wife out of his own life, he’s shutting her out of the life they’ve shared for many years.

So what do you do if you’re shut out of your husband’s life?

Should you turn to family and friends? Sure, with a caveat: take their support wholeheartedly but their advice or opinion with a dose of objectivity and self-reflection. This is your marriage and you know it best, so don’t let their concern for you (which is welcome and wonderful) manifest as unrestrained criticism of your husband (which is unhelpful). Should you turn to other women who are experiencing the same thing? Sure, if that helps, although again with a caveat: be careful that it doesn’t turn into a “misery loves company” kind of situation where you lose objective focus of your own situation and marriage. Negativity, fear, worry, speculation—these can be contagious. Be supported, not swayed.

But you’ll need more than support, you’ll also need strategy. How do you respond to a mixed message or any of the head-shaking, gut-wrenching things a husband in a marriage-sinking midlife crisis says? How do you deal with his new female friendships or even an affair? How do you find solid ground when everything seems to be collapsing around you? It’s possible—not easy, but possible—and I’ve included my best insights and strategies to help you do that in my book The Shut-Out Wife: Breaking Through Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis (tap image below for buying options).

cover of shut out wife book

If that isn’t right for you, keeping looking. From counselors to spiritual advisors, your best friend to your long-time hairdresser, you just never know when something someone says will resonate with you and be helpful.

Most of all—and this is SO important—know that you are not alone. Nothing feels more isolating than being shut out of someone’s life.  That’s especially so when it’s your own husband, that person who in so many ways helps to define what your life is, rightly so or not.

I once had a client tell me that although she was surrounded by many sympathetic and supportive friends, being shut out of her husband’s life made her feel more isolated than if she had washed up alone on a desert island.

Because it’s not just a physical aloneness, it’s the emotional and mental side of it. It’s the sense that this person isn’t constant, accessible and predictable in your life in the same way they have been for many years. It’s the sense that a certain amount of air has been sucked out of every room but you’re the only person who seems disoriented by it. It’s the sense that you’re alone in what you’re experiencing.

But you absolutely are not alone in what you’re experiencing, no matter how much it might feel that way. Every baffling word your husband says to you, every painful rejection, every worrisome statement or choice… countless women just like you have heard and felt the exact same thing, often word for word, beat for beat.

Countless women just like you have gone through—are currently going through—the same uncertainty, pain and worry. And countless women have overcome it to either reconnect with their husband in a meaningful and lasting way, or to reinvent themselves and their lives, discovering that both have value and meaning beyond him.

And that’s what I hope you will take away from this short article. The knowledge that you are not alone and that what you are seeing, hearing, experiencing and feeling is not peculiar to you. The knowledge that whatever happens, you’re going to be okay. If that lets you take a deep breath and find that extra air in the room you need to feel more at peace, even in some small way, then the time you have spent reading this article will have been time well spent.

image of Debra Macleod

Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is an international marriage author-expert whose plainspoken style and proven resources have empowered millions worldwide to save their marriage.