Typical midlife crisis symptoms
There are very few couples in the 45 to 64 age range who aren’t familiar with the typical symptoms of a midlife crisis. For some, the realisation that we’re not going to live forever can lead to emotional upheaval, anxiety or depression. All too often, drastic changes in a partner’s outlook and behaviour can lead to dissatisfaction, arguments or a complete marriage breakdown.
In this relationship-focused article, we take a fresh look at the stresses that lead to a midlife loss of confidence in our appearance and abilities. We’ll also talk about some of the latest strategies and therapies that can turn a life crisis into an opportunity for positive change.
Is the midlife crisis a modern myth?
Surprisingly, ‘midlife crisis’ is an expression that’s only been around since 1965. The term was invented by Canadian psychologist, Elliot Jacques. Does that mean that the midlife crisis is a modern idea?
Based on recent research, many present-day psychologists argue that the whole concept of the midlife crisis is a myth. It’s certainly not a recognised medical condition or diagnosis.
For modern middle-aged couples facing a roller-coaster ride of hormonal changes and troubled relationships, a ‘midlife crisis’ is a convenient label that neatly summarises their difficulties.
The female midlife crisis experience
Along with family, work and self-confidence challenges, the hormonal changes occurring during the midlife years can result in a toxic cocktail of stress for some women. Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55, a progressive reduction in the hormone oestrogen causes the physical symptoms of the menopause. These symptoms typically include hot flushes, sexual discomfort, and feelings of unhappiness. It’s not unusual for some women to experience anxiety or depression during the menopause.
Self-confidence is easily dented in middle age. Increasing weight, greying hair and saggy skin are just three of the signs of aging that can trigger anxiety about our appearance.
It’s also typical for women’s career dissatisfaction to reach a peak in the midlife years.
Apart from the difficulty of dealing with a partner’s own midlife crisis, women’s family problems can include worries about maturing children and the care of aging parents. Empty nest syndrome, a feeling of loss when children leave home, is often part of the package.
The male midlife crisis
Medical research shows that men’s testosterone levels begin to drop from the age of 30. Surprisingly, most researchers believe that reduced sex hormone levels don’t play a leading role in the drama of a male midlife crisis. For men in the 45 to 55 age range, the NHS reports that it’s stress, depression, and anxiety which are the main causes of erection problems and a reduced sex drive in middle age.
Along with marital sex problems, midlife men often experience anxiety caused by male pattern baldness, an expanding waistline, and flab.
Psychologically, mature men often report that they are less able to adjust to competition from younger men in the workplace and in their social lives. These stresses are magnified by worries about looming retirement, their personal achievements and the meaning of life.
The classic response to a male midlife crisis is to take on new hobbies, challenges or interests. While some men try to satisfy their craving for lost youth with a motorcycle, others buy into the rock star lifestyle with a Stratocaster guitar. Higher up the scale of discontent are husbands who invest in an expensive sports car as a symbol of vigour and success.
Talking therapies for midlife marriage problems
Couples who overcome midlife marriage difficulties often say that simply talking openly and honestly about their problems was the key to saving their marriage. Though many couples manage to get their relationships back on track without professional counselling, free help is available for those willing to reach out.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is currently one of the most popular NHS talking therapies for dealing with stress-related mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is another approved therapy offered by the NHS. IPT counselling sessions focus on personal relationships, so this therapy could be ideal for gaining insight into midlife marriage problems.
If you prefer not to talk to your GP, you can self-refer through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Service (IAPT). This is a local ‘call-back’ service where you can talk confidentially about your difficulties with a mental health advisor. Your advisor will discuss the most appropriate therapy and arrange sessions for you.
Whether you self-refer or access talking therapy via your GP, you may find that there’s a long waiting list in some UK regions.
Self-help for the midlife crisis
If your midlife discontent hasn’t reached the ‘crisis’ level, why not harness that desire for change to improve your life situation?
“Age is a very high price for maturity.” – Tom Stoppard
The big advantage that 50 plus couples have over young newlyweds is the maturity gained through a long-lasting relationship. It may be true that your current life situation is far from perfect, but is perfection achievable in a real-life relationship?
It’s not unusual for impetuous decisions made in midlife to turn into regrets when the dust settles. Most of us have had the experience of trying to fill a hole in our lives with something desirable. Whether it’s a sports car or a designer handbag, the novelty soon wears off and we’re left searching for the next thing that’s going to bring us lasting contentment.
Midlife is the ideal time to review our approach to relationships and take a fresh look at our personal values.