I typed into Google the other day:
How do I know if I’m having a midlife crisis?
Turns out Google didn’t have the answer I was looking for. 🙂
What Google did give me were results for midlife crisis answers during normal times.
In 2008, one site defined a midlife crisis as a period where one struggles with mortality, confidence, identity, and accomplishments thus far in life.
Another article from 2017 described a midlife crisis as reaching a point where one feels like they’re going crazy, a time when one is filled with anxiety or remorse. When life-change becomes the center of being, even if it includes extremely risky behavior, all in search of becoming the person you currently aren’t.
But this is 2020.
We’re all living in a time that’s a whole new level of crazy. And if you’re in your 40s or 50s, you have to be scratching your head, wondering: Is this a midlife crisis? A pandemic crisis? Or something else?
I’m on I-5 and he’s on I-80
Marriage is difficult in the best of times. And these are anything but.
This past month, my husband and I went on a road trip, back to our home town. It wasn’t a vacation. Instead, we had the difficult task of moving my mom to assisted living.
A whirlwind of thoughts floated through my mind as we traveled the highway for eighteen hours each way.
We talked a lot, about our pasts, our future, what we wanted as we move into the second half of 2020 and beyond.
Do we agree on everything? Nope, not even close.
But we established a strong relationship years ago when we hit one of the most challenging periods of our marriage. We know how to navigate life together. We know when to move closer and when to give each other space.
As I was going through old stuff in my bedroom at my mom’s house, I found a card written by my now-husband. It was in the early stages of our relationship. He wrote, “I love you so much, I hope we can make this work forever.” I handed it to my husband, and after he read what he’d written, we smiled. Oh, if only those two naive kids knew what was coming. But we did it! We weathered all kinds of storms in our thirty-seven years together.
Cruising down the road, it struck me how much marriage is like a highway. You merge and decide to take the road together. Yet with so many twists, turns, and offramps, there are many things to sidetrack you along the way.
Just because one (or both) of you decides to navigate a side street or an offramp doesn’t mean you can’t choose to get back on the very same highway once again.
Watching your partner struggle, you hope they eventually return and see things your way.
But that’s part of the problem.
What I learned early on is that side roads and offramps aren’t necessarily a bad thing. While one of you might decide to take it before the other, it’s your response that’s just as important as what your partner does with it.
Your partner is changing. And if you’re sitting back hoping they come back to you, unchanged, just as they were before, you’re going to be rudely surprised.
I want him just the way he was
“We had it so good. And then he changed.”
I was reading a book the other day, and the main character was complaining to her marriage therapist about all that was wrong with her spouse. He bought a new car. He had plastic surgery. He had an affair.
I get it; midlife crises can be a struggle, heartbreaking at best.
But the one thing I noticed while reading this book was the difference between the two characters.
The husband wanted a change. He figured out that time was passing him by, and he was jumping forward, trying new things as fast as he could.
The wife – not so much. She wanted “the good ole days” and was fighting to keep him from making any change to their lives.
And that’s where friction begins.
A midlife crisis is all about change. But it’s also about support. When you’re deep in a funk and have no idea what to do next, the most obvious thing to do is something – anything – that can help pull you out of the funk. And the more friction you have from people around you who are attempting to hold you back, the more you’ll go kicking and screaming, trying desperately to find your way through.
If your spouse is having a midlife crisis … have one too!
I’m not talking about throwing everything out the window, have an affair, get rid of the relationship, and never look back.
Instead, I’m saying to take cues from your spouse, and explore a few good ways to help you live your best life, despite the circumstances.
At best, you might just find your way back together.
And if that’s not possible, at least you’ll be in a much better headspace, ready to move forward in your own unique way.
Focus on a change for you
During our roughest patch, I realized I needed something in my life, just for me. And I’m good at that. I’ve always had groups I belong to, friends I hang out with, classes I sign up for.
My husband – not so much. “This is your wakeup call. Just do something!” I told him that over and over again. And eventually, he started finding his own interests and loves.
He found a friend with a sailboat, and started navigating the waters. He worked towards his captain license, and has dreams of sailing away in the Caribbean in the years to come.
He also looked back to one of his first loves – cars. With a little encouragement, he spent weeks trying to find the perfect “midlife crisis” car after making the final payment for my daughter’s college education. I started calling it his “mistress” the moment he drove it home. It stuck, and now even our friends call it his “mistress” too! (I love the car as much as he does. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to throw the sunroof back and hit the highway, off on one of our next great adventures.)
If your partner is changing, don’t sit by idly and wish for them to return. Instead, find something new for you. You might just find something you love together.
Find a new inspiration
“The kids were always my life. Now they’re gone, and even my husband is moving away from me. I don’t know what to do.”
I cried when I read those words from a woman whose life was completely changing. She longed for yesteryear, when she was in control and at the top of her game. Now, her kids and spouse are navigating into new territory, and she’s left sitting on the sidelines, wondering what’s next.
I like to think of life as a chapter book. Moving to the next chapter doesn’t make the previous one bad. It just means you get to discover something new.
If you get stuck backing up, rereading the old chapter year after year, you’ll never discover what could be the rest of your life. The BEST of your life. And that’s where a little inspiration comes into play.
Fill in the blank:
I’ve always wanted to __________
Come on; you have some inkling of what you want to do. Maybe you want to be a better cook. Maybe you’ve wanted to travel. Maybe you’re ready to write a book. Or adopt a dog and start showing him.
This is about finding something that makes you want to get up in the morning.
If you find yourself always returning to your kids, and all you can think about is when they were little, then use that as your guide. Write a children’s book. A parenting book. Or move into teaching.
Write that next chapter, and you might just discover a world you’ll love leaning into once again.
This is one of the hardest things to do.
What would life be like if you accepted what your spouse is doing? What would it take for you to say, “I give you permission to have a midlife crisis.”
Stop fighting the change. Change yourself instead.
“If you’re going to ______, I’m not going to sit around and watch anymore. I’m going to _____ instead.”
Sometimes people act out because they are trying to get attention. And when you take it away, that’s where healing begins. (I say this from a healthy relationship perspective. If you aren’t in a healthy relationship, all bets are off.)
The sooner you get over what’s happening in your life, the sooner you make your own life stronger. And that’s really what this is all about.
As a wedding photographer, we dealt with all kinds of family dynamics.
I watched the sadness in a bride or groom’s eyes when they would say, “Mom hates my dad, won’t even be in the same room. So we’ll have to photograph my dad and stepmom in a different place.”
Sometimes midlife crises cause a split. And that’s hard.
But if it holds you back for the rest of your life, that’s even worse. Because you’re losing everything …
Is it a midlife crisis or a pandemic crisis?
We’re in the middle of crazy. It’s not going to get any better, any time soon.
What may have been a midlife crisis before, might now have several different shades to it. That’s okay, we’re all navigating this new world together.
If you’re in your 40s or 50s, searching for “midlife crisis” in Google might have brought you here. Spending too much time with your spouse may have you wondering if you’ll come out on the other side still in love.
Long ago, I found myself in bed late at night, asking myself one question:
Can I imagine tomorrow without my husband in my life?
And the answer was always no.
Whether it’s a midlife thing or a pandemic thing, realize everything right now is all about change. You might feel like you’re not ready for any of this, you don’t want to face this new frontier. Guess what – nobody does.
You’re going to have to make more difficult decisions in the coming weeks and months than at any point in your life.
But at the end of the day, no matter how you feel about your other half, stop and imagine:
Can I imagine tomorrow without him (or her) in my life?
This may call for plan B (or C or D) to move into place. It’s time to find who you are – and then who you are together too.
Don’t become impatient, trying to fly through this process.
You’ll get there. We all will.
Just take it one day at a time. And ask yourself, “What can I do today that will move me forward, even in the tiniest manner.”
That’s all any of us can do.