Tips for Men Facing Midlife Crises
Facing the Crossroads of Midlife
Questions and Conflicts Men Face
It is not uncommon for a man to reach a certain point in his life where he begins to ask himself these questions:
- Have I been successful in my career?
- Have I reached my full potential?
- Am I satisfied in my marriage?
- Have I provided all that I can for my family?
- Have I been the best father to my children?
- Have I attained and lived out my dreams?
- Have I really made a difference in the world?
- Am I truly happy?
Looking for Answers
When a man asks himself these types of questions, as he approaches the age of 40, and continues to struggle with the answers throughout his forties, he is said to be experiencing a midlife crisis.
This phase of deep introspection and contemplation often follows a man well into his fifties and sixties. It is a very individual experience, striking at varying periods in a man's life, depending on his issues, lifestyle, achieved milestones and goals, and support system.
Midlife Crisis and Introspection
For Men Only: Assessing Your Midlife Achievements
In which areas are you close to reaching your full potential?
The Existential Psychology Behind Midlife Crisis
According to Erik Erikson's theory, in the stage referring to middle adulthood, the individual ponders the following questions:
"What can I offer the next generation?"
"What legacy will I leave behind?"
Midlife Crisis Involves Decision-Making
The Psychology Behind the Struggle
Midlife crisis is a term that has been around for more than three decades. It refers to a phase of life, occurring at middle age, wherein men and women begin to look at the state of their lives through eyes of discernment.
The predominant trigger is the realization of one's mortality as the end of life approaches, prompting questions about productivity and fulfilled purpose.
Erik Erikson, the pre-eminent theorist in human development, addressed this stage of life in his well documented Eight Stages of Psycho-social Development.
In Stage Seven, Generativity versus Stagnation, Erikson states that during middle adulthood, between the ages of forty and sixty years of age, the individual approaches certain developmental challenges, ending in either successful or unsuccessful resolution.
Challenges are met successfully through one's career achievements, the raising of children, or participation in social/volunteer service activities. Unsuccessful resolution of this stage may include:
- a mired search for self
- incomplete pursuits
- feelings of boredom and resignation
- inability to extend beyond self and give to others
- or the "empty nest syndrome"
Self-Exploration Often Involves Guilt and Obligation
Men Grapple With Dilemmas
In my experience as a therapist who has counseled many men over the last two decades, I can attest to the fact that men do enter into and struggle with midlife crisis. Whether it is triggered by a career change, an upcoming retirement, an unhappy marriage, or a budding affair, it definitely happens to the best of men every day.
The poem featured in this article was inspired by my work with such men who are in crisis because of their integrity and moral character. There would be no struggle if these men weren't operating from a desire to maintain their good characters by listening to their consciences and adhering to their values. These struggles lead to indecisiveness about the following dilemmas:
- Leaving a stale marriage/considering separation or divorce
- Having an affair/reconnecting with a long lost love
- Quitting a job and starting a business
- Investing time and money into a beloved hobby or project
- Exploring a curiosity to pursue the adventures of living a single lifestyle
- For single or never married men, entertaining the desire to have children
Living Up to Societal Expectations
Because men are raised to be providers and protectors of the family, midlife crisis in men takes on an added level of guilt as they struggle with decisions to benefit themselves versus the family. Societal expectations condition men to work hard, make sacrifices, and ensure that all provisions for the wife and children are met.
In families where the traditional male and female role expectations define the relationship, built up resentments may also form and later lead to the midlife crisis dilemma where the man begins to ask himself silently, "What about me?" The cry for liberation ignited by the women's movement has for decades given women permission to asked these types of questions aloud.
A Poem for Men in Midlife Crisis
"Mid-life Split" (JLE 2007)
Caught between the pull of two
Both worlds encompass me
I straddle inside back and forth
To see who I should be
Commitments versus passion's call
To which do I adhere?
At the crossroads of my life
Confronted by my fears
Choices are in front of me
Which door do I pursue?
While obligations call me home
My heart has not a clue
Half my life has come and gone
With more still to be done
Time cannot be wasted when
Tomorrow may not come
I long for peace and happiness
Attained by very few
Pursuing passions placed on hold
To mine own heart be true
Answers do elude me now
As I wait patiently
Consumed by indecisiveness
On love and loyalty
My common senses speak to me
They say, "You know what's right,
You have responsibilities,
WAKE UP and see the light!"
Realities are very clear
I know what I must do
Embrace the challenge of my life
Find balance in the two
Live each day as if it were
My last on God's green Earth
Accepting every blessing for
It's value and it's worth
My choices come with drawbacks filled
They have their good points, too
I focus on my need for both
And change my point of view
I let go of conflicting thoughts
Releasing all control
My strength lies in a fresh approach
As new peace calms my soul
Each lesson will bring clarity
One crisis at a time
In the end wisdom transcends
As I pass through my prime
Men Can Live Happily at Midlife
Help for Men Facing Challenges: Setting Goals
Although the poem offers a spiritual way for men to deal with resolving the internal struggle of midlife crisis, there are other alternatives for men to consider. In his popular book, "Men in Midlife Crisis," author Jim Conway takes a unique look at the stages men go through in midlife, similar to women's menopause.
The video below gives comprehensive steps for men to take to decrease or prevent the consequences of midlife crisis.
The best alternatives always involve taking preventative measures and/or being proactive about addressing one's overall mental and physical health. Some practical measures include:
- Setting goals and planning ahead for middle age
- Having good recreational and stress outlets
- Monitoring any tendencies toward impulsive behavior and poor judgment
- Maintaining connections in relationships with family and friends
- Exploring the meaning of spirituality in one's life
- Engaging in regular exercise and good nutrition
- Getting a physical exam to assess for any hormonal changes that could be affecting mood and libido
- Monitoring symptoms of depression or anxiety and getting treatment
- Seeing a therapist for counseling if necessary
Remember, midlife is an unavoidable stage of human development. All of us have to confront it if we are lucky enough to make it there. We cannot know which challenges or tests in life will come our way, causing us to contemplate and discern how to make the best decisions for ourselves and others.
What we do know is that these challenges seem to heighten during midlife, at an intensity that is higher for men than it is for women. For this reason, it is imperative that men's awareness of and education about the midlife crisis phenomenon be increased and the issue addressed sooner than later.
Helpful Tips for Making a Change: Take the First Step
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Janis Leslie Evans