Alex stared out the window and wondered what the problem might be. He liked to golf and was always ready to get together with the guys and go out for 18 holes. Sometimes he went to the golf course and just played a round by himself or with anyone who showed up. Lately, though, it just wasn’t that interesting. He found it easier to stay at work.
Work was the only place Alex felt normal. It was the only place he could get in the groove and forget about everything else. Work was the routine that helped him forget about the uneasiness he was experiencing with the rest of his life. At home. With his wife and kids. With his friends and family.
To others, Alex appeared to be living a charmed life. He was a star athlete in high school and played college sports. He and Allie, his wife of 20 years, had three bright, attractive, popular kids. They both worked hard and owned a nice home in an upscale neighborhood. Their kids attended good schools. Outwardly, they appeared to have it altogether.
Not How It Seems
Although others often remarked about their fortunate lives, Allie knew things weren’t right and had not been for some time. She knew that beyond the cheerful exterior other people saw, Alex was not happy. He was not the same easy-going, kind and helpful person she married. These days, outside the public arena, Alex was quiet, withdrawn, grumpy and irritable with her and the kids.
Work, high pressure and stressful as it was, seemed to be the only area where the “old Alex” functioned well. At home, his mood only brightened when he talked about Karla, his new assistant. Karla, it seemed to Allie, was getting all the good stuff when it came to Alex. She could do nothing wrong, while nothing Allie did was right. Never the jealous type, Allie began to have some uneasy feelings.
Allie wondered if Alex, age 47, might be suffering from what some people call a mid-life crisis. She didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she did know he was at the age where it might occur. In fact, she had heard that many men go through some sort of transition between the ages of 40 and 55. Is this what was happening to Alex?
Although it all seemed very strange and unfamiliar to Allie and Alex, the mid-life transition is as unpredictable and tumultuous as adolescence. For some, it is relatively uneventful. For others, depending on how they experience it and the decisions they make, it can reach crisis levels.
Characteristics of Mid-Life
Psychologist and author Daniel Levinson recognized this phase of adult development in his book, The Seasons of Man’s Life. He labeled this fifth season as the “Mid-Life Transition,” a period typically occurring between the ages of 40—55. Typical characteristics are as follows:
- Often triggered by a realization of one’s mortality and may be connected to the aging of one’s parents and or by children leaving the home for college or career.
- People sometimes make sudden changes and verbalize past regrets about pursuing or not pursuing various interests and talents.
- The meaning and purpose of life are often re-evaluated. There may be a desire to achieve or gain the things that had not been previously desired.
Standing on the Precipice
Although Allie knew things weren’t going well, she couldn’t seem to get through to Alex. Every time she tried to talk to him, their conversations ended in tears and frustration. He withdrew further into his shell; she alternated between despair and anger. Finally, she told him she had made an appointment for them both to see a counselor about their marriage.
Outwardly Alex objected, but inwardly he was relieved. He couldn’t ask for help himself, so he was secretly glad Allie could. He knew he wasn’t happy and neither was she. Together, he hoped, maybe they would find a way to make things better.
To learn more about how Alex and Allie found help for themselves, don’t miss next week’s blogpost. In the meantime, if you or your partner appears to be struggling with a mid-life transition, reach out for help. The sooner you get the support you need, the more likely a crisis will be averted.
Dr. Jennifer L. Baker is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is also the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at [email protected].