Male midlife crisis is a topic I know something about.
My lovely, stable, considerate, witty partner of 19 years had one – bang on cue – at 40. David became withdrawn and unpleasant, started going to the gym, danced on his own till 3am (to the music he used to listen to at 21), took a lover, talked as though his logic had been ripped out and thrown away – I mean serious goobledegook – then ran away in the middle of the night. And finally, this man who’d never raised his voice to me – nor I to him – became violent.
It all unravelled – or, rather, he unravelled – with alarming speed. His midlife crisis (MLC) was florid, torrid, unexpected and overwhelming. It started when his mother was diagnosed with cancer just before he hit forty in December 2007. She died in April 2007 and 12 weeks later he ran away from home, walking off down the track, little bag in hand, like a 12-year-old…running away from home.
Over the next few months I watched in amazement each time we met to discuss what we would do with our home (here in France. ) He was unrecognizable, as if he’d had a personality and character transplant. He’d always been a man with plenty of integrity and part of that had been reflected in his dismay when we heard of families breaking up, husbands cheating, wives and children being hurt and abandoned. He worked as a social worker, too, often dealing with broken families where the children were hurt and troubled by family break up. Now he didn’t care about any of that. His girlfriend was a married woman with a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. Along with her, he broke up those kids’ family and seemed totally unaware there was any problem with that. He was also unaware I was hurt. “Nothing” he announced “has happened to hurt you.”
Well, apart from losing my partner of 19 years obviously…
It was as if he simply couldn’t think or reason normally. And in fact, one evening he told me that indeed he couldn’t think normally. “I feel as if my head is full of spaghetti” this 40-year-old man told me, speaking in the voice of a teenager. On another occasion he said the destruction of our life together was like watching skittles. “They were all fine and standing up” he said in amazement “and then this great big ball came along and knocked them all down.”
Uhuh. A secret affair will do that to a longstanding relationship.
At one point when he was angling – perhaps – to come home, he also said that he couldn’t trust his judgement about anything. He tried to sleep with me (no) at the same time as telling me his married girlfriend was the love of his life. In the next breath he’d say he only saw her twice a week and would “dump her” if she asked for anything more. One day he told me he’d like to live with his girlfriend “for 20 years then come home so we can enjoy our retirement together.” He said he was going to go and live in Bermuda. Or Australia. Or Jersey. Or the west of Scotland. Or the east of Scotland. He recited those options within a half-hour conversation.
It was like listening to a naive unworldly teenager.
Many women focus almost entirely on the other woman and the infidelity when their husband’s having a midlife crisis. But midlife crisis is about much more than the secret affair, the infidelity and the other woman. Cheating is one expression of a midlife identity crisis in which the man (most often it’s men, though women have MLCs too) panics about what he’s done in life and who he’s become. The trigger/s may be a significant birthday – typically 40, 45 or 50 – or the death of a parent or friend. It may be the appearance of grey hairs or problems at work. Some theories also say that a wife or partner approaching menopause can panic a husband, reminding him that he too is aging.
Whatever the triggers, the effects can be very destructive. Midlife crisis is nothing like a reasoned midlife transition where an individual decides to make adjustments to an unsatisfactory life. Most people take stock at midlife and many decide to make changes. Whether they change their partner, decide to divorce and end their marriage, look for a new job or career or alter other aspects of their life, the changes are thought through. They may not always be wise changes and they won’t always work out – but they’re not made in the same way that people in MLC make changes. A man in midlife crisis tries to get back to his youth. He tries to shrug off his identity because he’s deeply unhappy with it. In effect, he runs away from the life – and family – he’s built to date. Because his middle-aged identity makes him so unhappy, it unravels and chaos takes the place of the personality and character he developed in the first half of his life. I’d describe what I witnessed as being not a nervous breakdown but a breakdown in an established identity.
Men in MLC may abandon their families with hardly a thought, get into relationships with girls younger than their daughters, take up with prostitutes only after their money (and fail to see that), become alcoholic, start abusing drugs and/or, as in my MLCer’s case, suddenly become violent. They do many wildly irrational things and often talk non-sense. David once said he wanted to commit suicide and twice suggested I should. On a lighter note, I came home one day to find that he had put everything in our front room out in the garden. Books, furniture, carpets, lamps – everything. Used to his odd behaviour by now, I asked neutrally what he was doing. Busying about in a frenzy, he replied “It is not possible to clean a room without taking everything out of it.” It felt like that might be a bit of a metaphor for what was happening in his head!
The fallout from MLC – divorce, family break-up, financial ruin, ill health and sometimes suicide – is highly destructive for individuals and more widely corrosive in society.
The very best resource to help people dealing with midlife crisis, whether suffering it personally or in a partner, is The Midlife Club. The site can be a lifesaver for people dealing with the very difficult issues that arise because of MLC. Find it at: http://midlifeclub.com/ (I was lucky enough to find it at the start of David’s odyssey and it quickly helped me understand what would otherwise have been an unfathomable development. I write on the forum there but have no formal or commercial link to the site.)
See also: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/2813214/husband_or_partner_in_male_midlife.html?cat=41
And this tongue-in-cheek article on MLC argues that male midlife crisis is caused when men realise their wives have reached the menopause: