How many times have you heard of someone going into a midlife crisis shortly after losing a parent? Significant loss puts our own mortality into perspective which can make some people try to hang onto youth, knowing that death is everyone's eventual end.
The loss of a parent, sibling, close friend, or even a job may cause anyone to question how they are leading their life. The sudden realization that much of life is now in the past can bring up questions of whether there has been any attention paid to happiness—and ultimately if this is how one's life should be.
No experience, apart from other types of loss, can prepare someone for the death of a loved one. For many, encountering death or other significant loss will cause their life to change radically. Their beliefs and value system will change, at least for a short time. For that reason, people of all walks of life and all levels of mental health training have been known to change significantly. Outside observers may characterize them as having died as well, on the inside. They may turn from someone who once valued their family and following social rules to someone who is more concerned with “finding themselves” regardless of who gets hurt.
In and of itself that is not a bad thing. Finding oneself is not a process that stops when we are young, and significant life events will spur certain changes. But we must not lose sight of the people around us who are very much still alive and who likely depend on us, from our immediate family to our friends who simply love us for who we are.
How do we guard ourselves against such a transition? By knowing who we are and what we want. By not compensating who we are and what we want because we think it is expected of us or it is what someone else wants for us. People pleasers and conflict avoiders are more susceptible to a midlife crisis. They spend their lives pleasing others instead of themselves or, avoiding what they truly desire out of fear of conflict. The wife or husband who spends 20 years capitulating to the needs of a spouse, parents and children set themselves up for emotional upheaval at midlife.
3 Ways to Avoid Emotional Upheaval at Midlife
- Choose a trustworthy partner. You should always feel safe communicating your wishes and desires to them.
- Make life about more than your family and work. Don't deny needs you have that can only be met outside those two things. It may be as simple as playing golf on the weekends or, take time away for a hobby you are passionate about. It's important to stay independent and not allow others to define you.
- Maintain your individuality. Don't buy into the antiquated belief that marriage means spending all your time with your spouse, sharing the same interest as your spouse, and becoming "one." You can "cleave unto your spouse" without losing who you are. This does not have to stop at your marriage either; throughout your life, you should always be authentically yourself.
Your Partner's Midlife Crisis
What do you do if your spouse changes drastically after a significant loss? How you respond may determine whether you lose your marriage. If your spouse feels their needs have changed, you need to be open to their new needs.
Your life may change significantly as a result of your partner's own epiphany. But, depending on your bond, this is a situation that you can grow from rather than upheaving your personal life to be alone. We all change over the course of our lives, and doing so together could make your relationship stronger in the long-run. Midlife crises are not necessarily fun, but reflecting on our mortality is important.
Douglas JD. Patterns of Change Following Parent Death in Midlife Adults. Omega J of Death Dying. 1991;22(2):123-137. doi:10.2190/EU8P-UTG6-05HB-LJAG
Can Relationships Withstand the Strains of Midlife? Psychology Today. July 15, 2014.