Do men go through a midlife crisis? Is there research to support such a concept or is this an “urban legend?”
The books “Passages” and “Seasons of a Man’s Life” were published several years ago but were based on small samples of investigation.
Yet, men in their early 50s or 60s arrive in my counselling office convinced that they are having a mid life crisis. Often they have been sent by their wives or families who are convinced that their men are in the midst of some kind of mid-life trauma.
We know that women experience menopause in a variety of ways. There is a significant physiological component to this transition and this usually (but not always) results in a grief reaction related to the loss of childbearing years. Males, on the other hand, experience no such physiological/psychological event.
Some of the men I see are convinced that they are going through a crisis as they describe anxiety or depression symptoms. They also share spiritual insights, perceptions or yearnings.
My suspicion is that a number of realities are converging in the lives of these clients. The first is related to stress. Most of us were raised with the popular philosophy that emotions shouldn’t be acknowledged. “Tuck them away and push on.” might have been the slogan our parents followed.
Over time we have learned that stuffing away stress related emotions (or loss related grief) only leads to trouble. We become “full of feelings” and either erupt in anger over small triggers or find ourselves struggling with overwhelming feeling of sadness. Or, worse yet, we become sidelined with serious medical conditions and/or illnesses.
One of the visitors to my office was open to learning some effective strategies for relieving stress/grief and he began to feel more healthy. He decided to get his wife involved and we increased the quantity and quality of their conversation. Not only did stress levels drop for both husband and wife but their relationship was deepened in the process.
Another man came in on his own and we discussed the idea of writing a journal to deal with his stress. His initial discomfort with this approach gave way to some auto-biographical writing which tapped into old memories and feelings and left the writer feeling “liberated.”
The changes experienced by these two men were significant as they indeed were entering the last third of their lives and it was important to live it well.
The other reality being faced by some of the men I meet relates to their age. They have become aware that they are aging and that death is on the horizon. We seem to live much of our life ignoring our mortality but as we age, this evasion becomes harder to maintain.
One client told me that he “wanted to live the rest of his life differently than he had to that point.” This fellow was unhappy with his marriage and was thinking of leaving his wife to find a more meaningful relationship. To complicate matters he had begun an affair which seemed a lot more vibrant than his marriage of many years.
This man, feeling isolated in his marriage, was playing with fire as the affair he had begun was mostly based upon illusion. A hungry and thirsty man who discovers an oasis in the desert thinks he has “died and gone to heaven” but due to his suffering doesn’t realize he has found a “burger stand.” His hunger has made the discovery seem greater than it is in reality.
Many times a fellow in this situation will opt to review his marriage and work with his spouse to resolve longstanding issues. With his wife’s help, he is able to move ahead in a revitalized marriage in the latter part of his life.
So Gentlemen, are you worried that you may be suffering from a mid-life crisis? Look at your stress levels and also become aware of your perceptions about aging and your mortality. This new stage of life can be an exciting and vital experience.