Why a Midlife Crisis Can Sometimes Lead to Divorce

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by Chris Torrone

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11.02.2022

The often maligned or misunderstood midlife crisis is often more serious than many of us think. It’s true that for some, it’s little more than a brief season of youthful longing, harmless impulse spending, wrapped inside a shell of nostalgia and feelings of regret. 

But for many of us, it represents an intense and substantial part of our personal journey that brings up deep questions of purpose, meaning, identity, relationship, mortality, and the future. Often brought on during certain ages (40s, 50s, and 60s are common), a midlife crisis is essentially a temporary season of deep self-analysis and consideration, where an individual looks back upon the first half of their life, and tries to make sense of where they are at and what the future might hold. 

This difficult time can push many of us into a range of mental health struggles, such as depression and anxiety, prolonged negative emotions and wide-scale emotional turmoil, along with physical health issues like disrupted sleep habits, poor nutrition, fluctuations in blood sugar levels, increased seasonal illnesses, and more. Midlife crisis symptoms vary from person to person; so it is wise to work with a trusted mental health professional and even your primary care physician during this time. 

man struggling with divorce and midlife crisis

The Marriage Connection

Our desire for a long, meaningful, and satisfying life runs deep. We want to know that our life choices have weight and value, and that the remainder of life still holds promise. During this stage of life, the idea of divorce may rear its head for the first time, or pop back up with renewed fervor. 

Our love and relationships are at the core of our identity, and these midlife struggles can make us question everything, including our marital status. It is important to understand how and why a midlife crisis can sometimes lead to divorce.

You can be more prepared for these conflicts when they arise if you know what to look for. You can also work to improve your relationship now so that when one or both of you face your own crisis, you’ll be better equipped to navigate the rough waters. Let’s look deeper now into the triggers and causal factors that precipitate a midlife crisis and then dive into the link between divorce and this difficult season.

Midlife Crises vs. Midlife Transition

For some, this season of life represents not so much a profound struggle but a significant transitional period, where individuals come to terms with their past, find meaning in the present, and formulate clearer plans for the future. 

Yet, for many, the symptoms are too heightened, the internal doubts and pressures too great, leading them through fundamental life questions that are neither easily nor comfortably answered, and a range of distressing symptoms. They may withdraw from family, spend less time with their spouse or kids, lose themselves inside themselves, so to speak. They may suffer from emotion suppression, attempts to hide their true or negative feelings, their greatest struggles, their most intense worries, and their biggest doubts. 

When we haven’t learned the right ways to deal with these struggles, we suffer and sometimes look to other areas to help us either hide from what we feel, or lose ourselves inside a distraction. It’s easy to find midlife sufferers who get hooked on gambling, drinking, illicit drugs, television or social media, overspending, obsessive behaviors, or many other things. It’s important to understand the difference between these two mindsets and make decisions that affirm your health, the stability of your family, and your long-term well-being. 

Midlife Crisis Triggers

This personal struggle is sometimes initiated by a single event or realization, but often brought on by several factors coming together to form the perfect storm. Here are some examples of common triggers for a midlife crisis. 

  • Specific zero birthday: 40, 50, 60
  • Job loss or retirement
  • Having to relocate
  • Death of a loved one
  • Major illness or health struggle

Why a Midlife Crisis Sometimes Leads to Divorce

There are a number of factors at play here. Many of the same reasons couples get divorced at other times also take place during a midlife crisis. During this season, though, these choices or behaviors are heightened or intensified, which makes them even more difficult to deal with.

A partner going through this crisis is often irritable, distracted, obsessed with certain things while apathetic about others. They may ignore their spouse and children, spend more time away from home, get into arguments more easily or refuse to argue when it would be wise to do so. They may spend unwisely, making frequent or large impulse purchases.

They may revert to a kind of grown-up adolescent state, where they constantly seek relationships and activities that make them feel younger. They may cheat on their spouse, quit their job or experiment with dangerous behaviors like increased drinking, drug use, or thrill-seeking activities. Conversely, they may go the opposite direction and just disappear, growing more removed as time goes on. 

While some behaviors are relatively harmless, others can damage your relationship on a deep level, alienate your children, cause a rift between you and your long-term friends, damage your career, and throw your family’s finances into a tailspin. 

All these behaviors and choices make a marriage more difficult to navigate. And if each of you isn’t careful about where things are headed and don’t seek the right help, one or both might take their leave. Of course, it can be the one going through a midlife crisis. But it can also be the other partner who may finally tire of their partner’s extreme or apathetic behavior and decide to move on. 

married couple dealing with divorce and midlife crisis

How to Support Your Spouse During Their Midlife Crisis

While it’s not your job to solve it all for them, as life partners, it is right for us to do whatever we can to support, encourage, and bring perspective to our struggling spouse. Here are some things to do if your partner is dealing with a midlife crisis.

Let them know you are here, that you care, and that you will remain present with them.

Ask them what they need from you during this time in the relationship. Press in if they want more help or give them space if that’s what they need. And be ready to offer both as their needs shift. 

Try to not take everything personally. Emotions can run high during this time and struggling spouses often pick fights, get frustrated with, or place blame on their spouse when none is deserved. Instead of engaging on the same harmful level, step back. Let them know you recognize and respect what they are feeling and going through, that it matters to you, but that you want to continue talking when both of you are calm. 

Continue to care for yourself and your children. Be present with your spouse, but don’t let yourself get swallowed up in all of it. You still need to maintain healthy habits for your life, including sleep, nutrition, emotional and spiritual needs, hobbies, and passions, social interaction with friends, family, and your community, and other life-affirming choices. 

Divorce, Reconciliation, and Permanent Changes

Depending on how deep a struggling partner’s questions and doubts run, once they finally emerge from their crisis, some changes they experienced may be permanent. While they are still the same person, they may possess a new outlook on life, sometimes a more positive one, where they’ve come to terms with their regrets and found a new sense of solidity and confidence in who they are and what they can offer. Unfortunately, certain negative changes may stick around, like a more depressive state of mind, indecision, distraction, irritability, and depression. 

In either case, it is important to understand your spouse’s journey and approach them where they’re at. If you want the relationship to work, do all you can to remain present and engaged with them. Work with experienced family and marriage therapists to develop new ways to build understanding and intimacy, along with a greater level of personal growth at the same time. Get support from close friends and family, and community leaders with your best interest at heart. 

If divorce becomes inevitable, be sure to work with a trusted divorce lawyer who can help you and your children navigate this difficult time, find some resolution, and prepare yourself for the process of building a new life.

In Closing

A midlife crisis may be funny to us when we’re watching movies, but it’s really no joke. It is often a profound time of deep reflection, regret, sorrow, loss, and a harrowing journey back to health, wisdom, and equilibrium. 

It is important to work on your intimacy now before you experience these more intense seasons. But even in the midst of it, you can affirm one another by remaining as present as possible, allowing for space when your spouse needs it, and staying positive and encouraging in your interactions with one another. 

No matter what happens, there are people willing and wanting to help you through this time, from your family and closest friends, to experienced divorce attorneys, and personal and family counselors. Don’t go it alone. Reach out for the support and help you need.

Torrone Law helps individuals and families find clarity, resolution, and peace of mind during divorce, custody, and adoption. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discover the difference Torrone can make in your personal journey. 

To learn more about divorce and midlife crisis, check out our frequently asked questions below. 

FAQ

What is a midlife crisis?

A midlife crisis is a season of self-analysis, struggle, mental and emotional reorientation, and change, often occurring in one’s 40s, 50s, or 60s. It can also be described as a transition of identity and self-confidence. 

What causes a midlife crisis?

It may be a slow-burn lead up to an individual’s personal crisis, where several factors come together to finally ignite the flame. It may also get triggered by larger life events such as:

  • Retirement or job loss
  • Kids moving out
  • Death of a loved one
  • Financial struggles
  • Milestone birthday like 40, 50, or 60
  • A decrease in power, status, or influence level
  • Divorce
  • A spouse’s extramarital affair

How can I support my spouse during their midlife crisis?

Remain present and engaged with them. They may be more irritable or distant during this time and you may find it easy to ignore them or discount what they are going through. Show them you care by learning about what they’re dealing with. Their struggles are real and based on deep questions of worth and identity. 

Ask them questions respectfully. Give them space when they need it. Stay positive but realistic. Volunteer to read helpful books together or do counseling sessions with one another in addition to private counseling. Encourage them to spend time with friends or mentors who display wisdom and maturity. 

Why does a midlife crisis sometimes lead to divorce?

The intensity and confusion often associated with a midlife crisis can exacerbate existing conflicts between spouses. Quite often, it also leads sufferers toward unhealthy choices like increased alcohol or drug use, addiction to television or the internet, distancing from friends and family, work-related conflicts, a lack of motivation and direction, frequent arguments, sleep disorders, nutritional struggles, and much more. 

It is easy to be misunderstood during a midlife crisis, or to get overly frustrated with a spouse who is walking through this difficult time. Remember, this is a season of struggle, inner turmoil, and searching. Respect your spouse’s emotional and psychological journey while respecting yourself at the same time. 

Work together, and with counselors, to develop new habits, behavioral tools, and choices that build intimacy and trust. 

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