Men's Articles

Is He Having A Mid-Life Crisis?


When sales manager, Paul, 48, was transferred to a job with fewer responsibilities two years ago, things started going downhill. First, he had to take a pay cut. Then, someone junior got promoted to his old job. Paul left for an easier job as a freelance copywriter, earning an erratic income far less than his previous monthly paycheck of $6,000. Some days, he just stayed in bed watching TV. Other days, he'd head to the mall and walk around aimlessly.

Paul's wife, Iren, a teacher, 40, says: "Sometimes, Paul doesn't get out of bed. He doesn't want to talk. Even when he's watching TV, his mind is somewhere else. I called his closest friend but Paul didn't want to confide in him either." Madam Safiah Hamdan, a housewife, 45, said she noticed little changes in her husband after his 50th birthday.

He began dressing "too young" - wearing red and orange, two colors he's always avoided. He dyed his hair black. He dieted and bought a mountain bike. And when he lost 10kg, she started to panic. Was he having an affair? One year later, he had changed yet again. The dye bottles disappeared from the bathroom cabinet. He started taking religious classes again. "And he's been taking more interest in his grandchildren and siblings," she says.

Were these men going through a mid-life crisis? It certainly seems to be true that when some men hit their 40s and 50s, they go a little mad, perhaps wearing loud shirts or trading the trusty sedan for a more flashy sports car. Amused onlookers and not-so-amused wives may call this phase the "mid-life" crisis, but what is it really?

Dr Andrew consultant and deputy chief of the General Psychiatry, says: "The male mid-life crisis is not a recognised psychiatric diagnosis... To me, it is about the adjustment to middle age. Everyone goes through phases of change and this is one of those phases." Good or bad, the mid-life (age 40 to 65) can be full of changes - an illness, retrenchment or down-grading in a job, marital problems, children leaving home, or the death of a loved one- can make a man feel anxious, vulnerable and unsure of the future.

Even if he's healthy, he may not be feeling as spritely as before. Some suffer a major illness and are forced to face their own mortality. If they failed to reach their career goals or are having a lousy marriage, they may be asking: "Is this all there is?" As Dr Andrew puts it: "This is the phase when the middle-aged man realises he's fallen short of the hero image." Some health professionals believe that the mid-life crisis has mainly psychological causes while others argue that it is related to hormonal changes.

The experts agree on one thing though - the male "mid-life crisis" is not as clearcut as the female menopause. According to Dr Andrew, some experts have proposed a theory of the "male menopause", though this remains controversial. True, the sex hormone testosterone starts declining and results in a lowered libido, potency, muscle strength and so on. "But there does not seem to be a definite menopause like in women when there is a sudden sharp fall in the sex hormone," he adds.

According to The New York Times, mid-life for men "typically begins with mild twinges of dread, disappointment and restlessness that tiptoe in on little cat feet. Then in some cases, the cat feet turn to elephant feet." This could be when some men succumb to a deep depression. They can bounce back with the support of loved ones but those who try to shoulder everything themselves may have a harder time. This very nature may even prevent depressed men from seeking professional help.

Notes Dr Andrew: "People don't come to seek help for a `mid-life crisis' per se. They come for depression, anxiety, stress, adjustment problems or addictions." Even without counselling, if the man faces his situation squarely and is honest about his options, he is on his way to becoming a better person. Explains Dr Andrew: "Out of this can come true maturim, strength and stability, a deeper appreciation of things that really matter and a `coming into' the men that they were meant to become - leaders, mentors and fathers."

How You Can Help Him?

Lend An Ear

Your partner may be going through a lot more than he's letting on. He needs the stability and validation you can provide. Let himself mourn his lost opportunities (but not too long!).

Offer Practical Help

Don't just sympathise. If your husband needs a new job or a new diet, help by sourcing For job vacancies and giving suggestions to improve his health.

Reconnect

Says Dr Andrew: "Couples have to confront the real state and quality of their relationship without the buffer, distraction and defence provided by the children. They may also be receiving the 'report card' on parenting, evaluating how good or bad a parent they have been." If your relationship is in a rut, reflect on areas to improve and brainstorm ideas. A couple retreat or a holiday might rekindle the spark.

See The Funny Side

If your husband is "acting too young" and you feel he's being ridiculous, put yourself in his shoes. Women are also terrified of ageing and losing their looks. Seeing the funny side of what's happening may ease tension in the home and "cure" him of his silliness. 

Fight Fair

If things go awry, be open and honest in tackling the conflict. Mid-life can make or break a marriage. Decide what the priorities are and proceed accordingly.

Find Shared Passions

If you've ever said to your spouse "When the children are grown up, we should...", now's the time to do it, whether it's a shared hobby or travel.

Get Help

A marriage counsellor can help you and your spouse work out your issues, especially if things get out of control, whether it involves depression or even an affair. But don't wait for problems to surface. A therapist can also suggest ways to improve communication and intimacy.

 

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