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It’s no secret that marriage is tough. Even the strongest couples you know have difficult times, whether you’re aware of their struggles or not. When marriage and midlife crisis collide, however–the results can be earth shattering.
You know the old story line. It involves a red convertible, and frequently a young blonde.
Men are the ones who are supposed to go through a midlife crisis, aren’t they? You imagine him as balding, with a paunch, and driving a ridiculous new sports car. Left behind is his wife, a middle aged woman who has been with him for years.
In many cases–yes–a midlife crisis can look something like this.
But…what happens when it is the wife who is going through a midlife crisis?
That’s not always as easily identifiable. It’s also not as accepted, or understood.
A midlife crisis in a woman isn’t generally acknowledged, and many women may not understand exactly what is happening. They may feel dissatisfied, unhappy or depressed. They, and the people who love them, may automatically assume these feelings are caused by menopause and its related changes.
In reality, it may be caused by a recognition that life has led them to an unexpected point, and many dreams have been left behind.
Over our lifetimes, women have been given new opportunities and challenges.
I remember a book I had when I was very young. It cheerfully illustrated the careers available to me at that time: mother, teacher and stewardess. My adult daughter’s generation now finds female astronauts, surgeons and supreme court justices part of everyday life. Such changes we’ve seen!
Those of us in our 40’s, 50’s and beyond remember the tough choices we had to make. We were navigating the newly offered balance of home and business, and some of us may have stumbled along the way. Some of us chose not to have children when we were young, in order to succeed professionally. Then we discovered we’d waited too long, and couldn’t bear them once we were ready.
Others of us decided to take a less successful career path, in order to juggle a family. Now we look back at a history of ‘jobs’, with no real definition to our professional success. At the time, we were grateful to be helping out with family finances, but now we may not see any real distinction to our working years.
Lots of us now find ourselves in the middle of our lives, wondering if what we have done has mattered.
We see our children struggling in this crazy new world, where college degrees no longer guarantee jobs. Some of our kids have returned to the nest, for a variety of reasons.
We sit back and quietly question if we did a good job for them as moms.
We look at workplaces that don’t hesitate to shuffle us to less responsible positions, making room for younger workers who are willing to work for less money.
Quietly, we wonder if we have reached our life’s ultimate potential, and recognize our unmet goals that because of time or circumstance–will never be achieved.
This can be a very difficult time. It’s perfectly okay to need some marriage guidance right now.
Because beside you is another human being who may be thinking and feeling very similar things.
Together you have to manage daily life–bills, meals, home maintenance and all of the other drudgery that comes with being an adult.
If you’re quietly struggling with similar feelings of disappointment or failure, but not sharing them with each other, you’re sitting on an emotional time bomb.
A midlife crisis, no matter how it reveals itself, can break even the strongest union.
To help, here are five action steps to help you with possible marriage problems.
They are meant to be brief and immediately doable. Any long term strategies for marriage help should best be overseen by some kind of marriage counselor. As you wait for that appointment, though…
One–Recognize that communication is more important to your marriage than it’s ever been. Set up a time to talk together, whether it’s during a walk, a meal or a coffee date.
You can’t assume you and your partner are on the same page. If you are the one struggling, recognize your spouse can’t read your mind. He may not understand there is an emotional crisis taking place.
If your partner is the one who is struggling, it may look like he’s angry at you about something, which will put you on the defensive.
No matter who is having the midlife crisis, you have to remember that you’re best friends, and be willing to share this struggle. The only way you can do that is if you intentionally create a time to bring it out in the open.
Two–Don’t be afraid to ask for gentleness and feedback from your partner.
As you begin this time of sharing, let your partner know you are struggling.
Share that you need an outside perspective, because you recognize you may be overlooking successes, or unnecessarily criticizing yourself for failures.
Let the person who has pledged their life to you look you in the eyes, and hear the cries of your heart.
They chose you for a lifetime, remember? Clearly, they think you’re pretty fantastic.
Three–Be willing to listen to them, too.
No doubt, the person you love the most has disappointments, too.
Together, you set off years ago as a couple, full of dreams and hopes.
Life has a way of twisting the path you’re on though, and things don’t always work out.
Take this time to hear about your partner’s struggles, and things he or she had to leave behind.
You may find that you’re are both feeling many of the same things, but haven’t wanted to share, out of concern for the other.
Be willing to look deeply into your spouse’s heart, and recognize the sacrifices that this person has quietly made on your behalf.
Four–Together, make a list of what you love most about each other.
Quietly sit together, and each of you put down on paper what you love about your partner.
Listen, truly listen, to what you are saying about each other.
You may laugh, you may cry or you may be curious about what the other person says–but you will be opening up about things that matter.
Five–Together, come up with an action plan.
Decide on some new goals.
Plan a trip together.
Agree to have a date night once a week, come up with a different cleaning schedule for the house, or agree to bring some kind of counselor into the equation.
Take the feedback you’ve given one another, and agree to create some kind of forward movement.
Is all of this going to be easy?
Opening up like this may be incredibly easy, once you begin.
You may feel relieved, safe and appreciated in ways you haven’t been, before.
Or–you may find yourself struggling for words, managing awkward pauses or even hearing anger from the other person, as they acknowledge things you’ve been leaving undone.
Whatever the result of this discussion, you have begun communicating again.
By opening up these struggles to your partner, you are exposing your doubts to the light. You are beginning to create a stronger partnership than you’ve ever had, before.
Be brave, and admit to the person beside you that you’re not sure who you are, anymore.
Then see what happens, as a result.
For further marriage and midlife crisis help, check out these resources:
Male Midlife Crisis: Why It Causes Men To Destroy Their Families, Finances and Even Commit Suicide, and What You Should Do
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**Chanler Jeffers has seen many extraordinary things over her lifetime. An adventurer, survivor, overachiever and advocate of kindness in all instances, she has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), and is a member of their Circle of Champions. She has had the good fortune to live and travel all over the world, grew up as a military dependent and was a single parent for many years. She has survived cancer, and gently shaped countless people over her years on this little planet we call home. Follow along as she shares her knowledge, her experience and her love. Oh, by the way–one more thing. She’s married to a Bass playing rock star, lucky girl.
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