Think your partner is going through a midlife crisis? It's not all sports cars and new haircuts. A midlife crisis is an emotionally uncomfortable period that people go through between the age of 35 and 65. For many, the crisis presents as a period of existential self-evaluation as one finds themselves at the crossroads between youth and old age, like constantly questioning their life choices or behaviors. For some, this period is a true "crisis," one that causes them to act out of character in various ways, whether through small tweaks to their routine or drastic changes to their personality and beliefs.
And while it's easy to believe that a midlife crisis is caused only by a fear of getting older, a midlife crisis is usually triggered by a life-altering event and has more to do with the anxiety of change than it does the dread of aging. In midlife in particular, we may be faced with a number of major life events—such as divorce, a milestone birthday, the death of a parent, a medical diagnosis, or children moving out of the home—that force us to face our own mortality and assume (sometimes unwittingly) a new identity.
Read on for six signs that your partner is going through a midlife crisis and what you can do to help.
What Is a Midlife Crisis?
First coined in 1965 by psychologist Elliott Jaques, the term "midlife crisis" refers to a phase in a middle-aged person's life (usually between the ages of 35 to 65) wherein they feel compelled to face and/or reevaluate their mortality, confidence, identity, and accomplishments. Although not an official diagnosis, a midlife crisis can arrive hand-in-hand with depression and anxiety.
Feeling a Need for Adventure and Change
One huge sign of a midlife crisis? Seeking fun and adventure, in both good and bad ways. Anyone may attempt to find fulfillment through drastic measures—think having an affair, quitting their job, or making a big-ticket purchase. However, those who opt for self-reflection over reflexes like buying a brand-new sports car end up happier because of it: "While we may feel compelled to take action in order to shift the course of our lives, innovative ideas need to be realistic, not impossible," says psychologist Vivian Diller, Ph.D. "The key is to make gradual measured changes that have long-term probability for success."
Exhibiting Signs of Depression
Some people who go through a midlife crisis will experience depression that affects their mood to the point that activities and relationships are negatively affected. Friends, family, and work may all be neglected. If you think your spouse is suffering from depression, watch for the following symptoms:
- Sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, pessimism
- Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
- Lack of energy
- Inability to focus or make decisions
- Unusual sleep patterns
- Unusual appetite or noticeable weight loss or gain
Remind your spouse that you're there to support them through life's changes, but encourage them to seek professional help as well.
Questioning Long-Held Beliefs
Abruptly quitting their job or investing in a new life path is a red flag. While it's healthy to explore new thoughts and ideas, doing a complete 180 can spell trouble. Still, the desire for exploration and experimentation doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially if it's done purposefully and doesn't disrupt the normal day-to-day.
This is where a mentor or life coach can come in handy—they can objectively provide the guidance and support that your spouse needs in order to explore a new path in a constructive way.
Expressing Anger and Blame
In lashing out about their changing feelings, a partner going through a midlife crisis may try to pin the problems on you. If only you hadn't noticed or addressed those behaviors, then everything would be completely normal—or so they think.
An internal crisis may cause someone to look outward and blame others. They will be short-tempered and angry, but it's unwise to respond with their level of energy and vitriol. Try to avoid escalating the situation into a conflict.
Waffling on Decisions
Indecision can take two forms: The first is a paralysis, which can lead to frustration for both the person experiencing it and the people around them. They can't commit to making a real change in their life even if they know a change is overdue.
The other type of indecision manifests as flip-flopping on important life decisions. Sure, it's possible your partner is unhappy in the relationship now, but instead of making an impulse decision to hire a divorce lawyer, the first step should be to analyze what could be causing their unhappiness. Often, the very spouse they thought they needed to leave is the reason that they are able to return to a sense of normalcy.
Straying From the Marriage
Whether due to a feeling of restlessness or a desire to reconfirm their sexual prowess, infidelity is a common symptom of a midlife crisis. If your spouse withdraws from the marriage on both a physical and emotional level, starts working strange hours, or is more protective of their phone than usual, you may be seeing signs of a cheating spouse. It's important to not jump to conclusions (we've all been there), before accusing your partner of an affair. While it may take some time, it is possible to rebuild trust in your marriage after infidelity. Couples therapy is a good place to start.
American Psychological Association. Midlife Crisis. Updated 2020.