Relationship advice: What are the signs that your spouse is having a midlife crisis?
Do you know the signs of midlife crisis and its biochemical origins? Read on to find out if your spouse may be having a midlife crisis.
In the film American Beauty, Lester Burnham (played by Kevin Spacey), decides to quit his job, bus a Pontiac Trans-Am and begin an exercise regiment after feeling an erotic attraction to a teenager, which reminds him of how stultified he has become. When his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) comes home to find the red sports car in her driveway she is understandably perturbed, but the audience sees the car as the clearest sign that Lester is in mid-life crisis mode. But is it really this simple? And what can spouses do to help navigate through the troubled waters of mid-life crisis?
Popular culture often portrays mid-life crisis as a comic event, a time when distinguished 40-something fathers buy sport cars or motorcycles, dedicated businessmen turn to frivolous hobbies or pursuits, and relationships fall apart under obsessive naval gazing.
The ridicule reserved for balding, paunchy, staid men in their late 30s to early 50s would not be tolerated if it was directed at another group, but television, movies and popular literature treat mid-life crisis – sometimes farcically referred to as man-o-pause – as an excuse of whiny, over-privileged men who would rather act like little boys than accept their natural aging process.
But the condition is hardly comic or whimsical for men afflicted by mid-life crisis or those who love them. Family, friends and lovers often feel alienated from the man experiencing a mid-life crisis and the psychological toll placed on the individual himself is considerable. He sometimes feels disconnected from his own life, depressed or anxious, and he seems unable to “get on the right track.”
Many of the signs of mid-life crisis follow the general description of depression. If you notice your loved one acting disconnected from his life (going through motions with little or no emotional investment in the things that used to give him pleasure), acting bored, anxious or confused, or questioning the meaning of his life, you may be dealing with mid-life crisis.
A spouse, lover or friend can be a vital resource to a man experiencing mid-life crisis. He or she may be able to recognize and address the emotional, behavioral and physical changes that go hand-in-hand with mid-life crisis long before they become apparent to the afflicted himself. If you adopt the right attitude, educate yourself on your spouse’s condition, and have patience, you will sail through your middle years.
First, be aware that there is a biological component to mid-life crisis and treat the condition with all the seriousness you would any other physical affliction. The middle years of a man’s life are marked by tremendous physical changes, including andropause –the male equivalent to menopause in women – indicated by lower testosterone count. Energy levels in men begin to drop in a man’s early 20s and by age 80 most male hormone levels have decreased to pre-puberty levels.
Although not all men experience andropause, its effects are serious and can include chronic fatigue, reduced libidinal desire, erectile dysfunction, radical mood swings and decreased muscle mass. As a man’s body slows down, many also experience weight gain, a decrease in body hair growth, brittle bones, and weakness as well as difficulty sleeping.
Lower testosterone levels will also affect a man’s emotional and psychological state. Men may feel irritable, temperamental, uncomfortable, distracted and experience low self-esteem because they feel less vital. In addition, the physical symptoms of andropause work to reinforce negative perceptions and may lead to persistent feelings of inadequacy.
These physical, chemical and emotional changes take place just as many men begin to question their lives’ work while there is still time to change directions. Many 40-something men start to worry about the future as they feel the potentiality of youth begin to wane. As they re-evaluate relationships, many feel they’ve devoted their lives to the wrong lover or spouse, and they resent responsibilities that seem to tie them to jobs that have lost their novelty.
In treating the whole human being, we must remember to address the psychological and emotional needs of the individual as well as his medical needs. Understanding the causes beneath your partner’s moods go a long way to help you avoid nasty confrontations.
Understand that this is a particularly stressful time in both your lives, and try to be patient, considerate and supportive as possible. Gently reassert the positive qualities you see in your loved one while allowing him to “experiment” in socially acceptable ways. Give him space if he needs it while letting him know you are committed to the relationship, but don’t be afraid to draw lines.
Some of the physical signs of mid-life crisis will abate with time, but if symptoms persist, you may want to visit your doctor. There is a test to determine andropause that includes a complete medical workout, screening and a blood test. Hormone testing and replacement will help to reduce symptoms and prevent the consequences associated with premature hormone reductions.