We’ve all heard the term, “midlife crisis.” This may bring to mind flashy sports cars, extramarital affairs, or thrill-seeking activities, like skydiving. All of the things that are associated with this “crisis” time aren’t just unhealthy coping mechanisms; they are activities that break out of the comfort zone to test the waters of a new phase of life. Of course, having an affair or buying something that is way out of budget are generally not good idea, but if we look deeper, we can really observe what is going on: a shift in perspective.
Lisa* was a 39 year-old married mother of two when she came into my office. She described herself as a “straight arrow,” doing everything in life that she thought she was “supposed” to do. She had married in her early 20’s and had children in her late 20’s and early 30’s. She had both worked at times and stayed at home with her kids. She was in charge of the house, the kids, the bills and all of the everyday routine things. She knew she had “everything she had always wanted.” However, Lisa was discontent.
Generally speaking, the “midlife crisis” occurs between the ages of 35 – 45. It happens when the person takes a step back and looks at his/her life, compares it to what he/she thought it would be at this point in life and reassesses personal wants and expectations. Many times, life is as the person had pictured it, but it just doesn’t feel as good as anticipated. It could be that the primary relationship has gone stale, work has gotten boring or leisure time is too few and far between. When someone can pinpoint the cause of his/her discontent, this is when changes can be made. And sometimes, those changes are radical.
Lisa realized she was feeling “stuck in a rut” where her marriage was concerned. She was eventually able to sit down and have an honest talk with her spouse instead of going out on a date with an interested co-worker. She was even surprised when he said that he felt the same way! They brainstormed ways to create more things that they could have in common, scheduled regular date nights and got a little braver with their sex life. Now, Lisa and her husband like to restore antique furniture together and have even found ways to let the kids help out! Lisa said that she would have never guessed that working with antiques would fulfill her.
It is common for people in this age group to make drastic changes in their work lives as well. Many people decide to go back to school to either advance in an established career or to change careers entirely. Mark*, a 43 year-old divorced father of one, grew tired of his career information technology. He did a little research and figured out a way to take online classes so that he could train to be a counselor! He never would have imagined himself in the therapist’s chair, but found himself drawn to the profession over the course of his own personal therapy.
If feeling stuck, trapped or discontent is something that you are experiencing, just remember that there are choices. While easing into an affair with the guy at work who seems to “understand you” and “knows exactly what I need to hear,” may seem to be a quick and easy way to spice up life, in the long-term it is very unhealthy. Even if the affair turns into a marriage, the divorce rates for second and third marriages are astronomical! That doesn’t mean that you have to stick out an abusive or burned-out marriage; it just means that short-term solutions, while tempting, do not address the heart of the problem.
Sometimes you have to consider things in a different way than you have ever thought of them before. You may have to leave your comfort zone and take on a new perspective. But when you figure out what is really wrong and take the time to come up with healthy solutions for yourself, the second half of your life can be better than you ever expected it could be!
*Names have been changed for privacy reasons.