How To Set Boundaries So Your Spouse's Midlife Crisis Doesn't Take Its Toll

Updated 04/07/19
Credit: Edward Berthelot. Getty Images

We use boundaries all the time, but not many people are fully aware of the concept or know how to implement it. When we set boundaries, we are limiting our social, emotional, or physical interactions based on what we know about ourselves; you may choose to only spend 30 minutes at the gym because your body is not ready for more, which has the same principles as if you were to set a boundary to only talk to someone once a week because you know any more time together is detrimental to your mental health.

The concept of marriage complicates matters slightly. We have a sense of self prior to a relationship and in the vast majority of literature, we are told to give that up to become "one" with our partner. Anyone could see how this would be detrimental emotionally. Often in marriage the lines are skewed, one spouse’s sense of self becomes entangled with that of their spouse.

Couples tend to take on responsibilities for the other that are not theirs to take on. They become enmeshed emotionally, and there are no boundaries that protect each from the other’s hurtful behavior. Especially in the throes of a midlife crisis, emotions can run high—for you both. Here are four suggestions on how to set healthy boundaries so you can both move forward in your lives. 

You are not responsible for your spouse's behavior

Your spouse is an individual who takes responsibility for his or her own behaviors. Once you define what you are responsible for and what he or she is responsible for, you no longer have to own anyone’s behaviors but your own.

For example, if your midlife crisis spouse is drinking heavily and it interferes with his or her work, it is not your responsibility to cover. When a spouse goes through a midlife crisis, it is easy to enable their bad behavior by cleaning up the messes they make. 

Knowing where you begin and your partner ends, and communicating this with your spouse, frees you up to no longer feel responsible for their bad behavior. 

Give your spouse the opportunity to take responsibility and grow

Once you have clear boundaries, it becomes easier to detach from their behavior. Then you will be able to focus on what you have control over. Setting boundaries with your spouse means you set limits on the extent to which your spouse’s behaviors control your actions. 

Setting such boundaries not only means freedom for you but for your spouse as well. Your freedom stems from giving back your spouse's responsibilities for his or her behavior; your spouse's freedom stems from you giving them the opportunity to take responsibility, which helps them to learn from the consequences of their actions.

Boundaries protect you from emotional pain

If your spouse disrespects you and harms you emotionally, having clear boundaries protect you from further pain. You will have control over what you do and say, and they may not—but your boundaries should help them to see how they are hurting you more plainly. 

You have to set limits on what your spouse can get away with in your relationship. Your spouse remains free to do as they please but it is now them who suffer the negative consequences instead of you. You do not need to be the mediator that steers your partner back on course. The other people in his or her life will react openly, and this could be a moment that actually helps your spouse to grow in the long-run. 

Regardless of what your spouse may choose to do, with firm boundaries, you can avoid the emotional rollercoaster that will surely turn you upside-down. 

Learn the value of saying "no"

Having and setting boundaries means knowing when to say “no.” You will not allow your spouse to abuse, control or manipulate you. You will not allow your spouse to draw you into their midlife crisis. 

If you are to survive your spouse’s midlife crisis, you must have clear set boundaries defining what is and isn’t acceptable behavior from your spouse. If you get lucky, after having to take responsibility for their behavior, your spouse will learn that they are on a path of destruction.

If not, those boundaries you’ve set may end up meaning you say “no” to the marriage. If your spouse is unwilling to accept responsibility for bad behavior, divorce will free you up and keep you from constantly trying to win the love of someone who doesn’t have any to give. 

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