How to Handle Your Spouse's Midlife Crisis

Make no Demands, Focus on Yourself, and Restore Your Marriage

Mature couple in kitchen, arguing
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If your spouse is going through a midlife crisis, you may think divorce is inevitable. While it can be tempting to throw in the towel, a large majority of couples stay together through a spouse's midlife crisis. The odds are even in your favor.

While the possibility you will end up in divorce court remains, whatever the outcome, you want to be able to honestly say you tried everything to save your marriage. However, it's important to remember when dealing with a midlife crisis, you are limited in what you can do.

If your spouse is having a midlife crisis, the first step is counterintuitive: You should focus on working on yourself rather than on saving the marriage. Work diligently to change negative behaviors in yourself and your behavior inside the marriage. You can make positive changes in yourself that will strengthen your relationship. Doing so will not only be helpful to you, but will also teach your children the valuable lesson that marriage is a commitment that requires work.

The Long Roller Coaster Ride of Your Spouse's Midlife Crisis

Your spouse may take time to go through a midlife crisis. As much as you wish it could be over, you can't speed up the process and there are no quick fixes. You can’t expect your spouse to be on your schedule and take your needs into consideration.

There will be many ups and downs during this season, and there will be abrupt and extreme changes to the quality of your relationship with your spouse and your spouse's behavior toward you and other family members. Your spouse's moods and desires will be unpredictable, and you should expect some bumps during this process.

Waiting It out in Limbo Land

The worst aspect of your spouse's crisis will be the feeling your life has been put on hold. It is easy for resentment to build if you feel someone else is holding you back from getting on with your life. Most of the resentment you feel will come from the fact that your spouse—the one in crisis—is calling all the shots.

You may find yourself waiting for your spouse's mind to change or for them to want to be with you again. You might wonder, "When is my spouse going to come to their senses?" or "When will they become the person I married again?"

You will spend a lot of time waiting. It's hard, but get busy living your life while you wait. Your spouse may be in control of the path your marriage will take, but not in control of how you choose to live during this time of limbo.

Live your life “as if” all is well. Continue planning family activities and staying socially active. Build a good support group and engage in activities that will distract you from the problems in your marriage. Limbo land can also be a good time to focus on your career, and possibly take it to the next level. 

Learn the Virtues of Patience

Your spouse is in a position of emotional weakness. This weakness is an opportunity for you to strengthen your character by learning the virtues of patience. Patience is defined as being steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. With patience, you are unwavering when it comes to living your life to the fullest while your spouse is going through a midlife crisis. While you are waiting, “carry on” and keep your expectations low. It may be painful, but you will emerge stronger on the other side of the midlife crisis.

Your Best Defense Is to Become a Good Listener

Your spouse wants to paint you as the bad guy in order to justify his or her bad behavior. Defending yourself against your spouse's negative comments only makes you that much worse of a person in your spouse's eyes.

Your best defense is to become a good listener. Learn to listen while someone tells you you’ve been a bad wife or lousy husband. The motive for doing nothing but listening is to keep down the conflict. The less conflict between the two of you, the less ammunition your spouse has to use against you.

As difficult as you may find it you need to listen and then validate when the midlife crisis spouse is sharing their negative opinions. Make the following five tips a habit during communication:

  1. Listen
  2. Validate
  3. Acknowledge what is said
  4. Tell your spouse you are sorry he or she feels that way.
  5. Apologize for things that warrant an apology.

You will have to give up your need to be heard and give over to your spouse's need to be heard. The midlife-crisis spouse has no concern for you and your pain, so don’t expect any concern.

If your goal is to restore the marriage, this will be the most difficult part of navigating your spouse’s midlife crisis. There will be many things you would love to say in response to the negativity, but you must resist. Returning negativity with negativity will only cause your spouse to withdraw further.

You Have No Authority Over Your Spouse

Due to your spouse’s midlife crisis, you have no power or clout over their belief that the marriage should end. You do have the ability to influence, though. How you respond to the crisis can and will go a long way in persuading your spouse that the marriage is worth saving.

Only You Know When Enough Is Enough

It is up to you and you alone how much bad behavior you are willing to put up with. If an extra-marital affair is too much to accept, it is your right to set boundaries with your spouse. It is your right to file for a divorce and remove yourself from a marriage that is too painful. You don't have to accept the unacceptable. As an individual, only you know your limits.

Someone experiencing a midlife crisis needs space and time to process their thoughts and feelings. That time may include the company of another man or woman. There isn’t much you can do about the behaviors your spouse is choosing to engage in. You either accept it and hope the marriage survives or move on.

Do This And You'll Make the Situation Worse

There are things you can do to make the situation worse. Making demands, asking questions, constantly interrogating your spouse is a sure-fire way of causing further withdrawal.

If your objective is to save the marriage you will need to develop a new approach to handling marital problems, one that is the opposite of how you would normally approach such situations. This can mean talking to a support network of friends and family about the problems. It can be something as simple as going for a long walk or run when you feel the need to vent your frustrations. Whatever helps you approach the situation differently, do it.

Stay Self-Focused

You need to get busy living your life. It is essential that you find ways to make yourself happy. Your mental and physical health is at stake. The more you focus on your spouse's behavior, the unhealthier you will become. What good are you to yourself, your children, and your marriage if you are not functioning at your best?

The biggest adjustment you will need to make is finding joy in life without the person you are accustomed to sharing life with. Your spouse has chosen to put your marriage on hold, you cannot respond by putting your life on hold. Write done the steps you need to take daily to make your life fulfilling with or without your spouse.

This is a time when maintaining a sense of autonomy and being able to self-govern is imperative. Below are 10 tips that will help you maintain your equilibrium and help you feel good about life and yourself during his/her crisis.

  1. Write daily in a journal about the good things you experienced that day.
  2. Invest some time getting in touch with your spiritual side.
  3. Have fun with your children.
  4. Learn something new by taking a course or tackling a new hobby.
  5. Spend more time with positive, uplifting friends and family.
  6. Join a health club and workout regularly.
  7. Eat a healthy diet.
  8. Watch comedies and laugh often.
  9. Make a list of positive affirmations or Bible scripture that give you hope for the future.
  10. Talk to a therapist regularly who can help deal with your confusion and pain.

Give up Your Need to Fix Your Spouse

Your spouse will have to find their own answers and solve their own problems. Sharing articles about a midlife crisis or demanding marital therapy won't help. Heart-to-heart talks won’t help. Transitioning through the rocky path of midlife is a trip your spouse will take alone, all you can do is be patient, take care of yourself, and hope for the best.

You can’t teach a baby how to walk before it crawls. If you have children, you are experienced in standing back and letting them progress at their own speed. In the same way, you are going to have to stand back and allow your spouse to find his or her own way. Letting go and detaching are tools you can use to help you work through your desire to fix the problems for your spouse.

Restoring the Marriage

If your spouse is able to successfully navigate the crisis and the marriage is restored, expect a bumpy road at the beginning. You’ve possibly been dealing with infidelity. You’ve had to put your feelings on the back burner. You will be relieved but also full of your own negative feelings about the pain your spouse has caused. You will need time to heal before the marriage can get back to “normal.”

Healing could mean marital therapy, or working with a marriage educator or your clergy. Trust will have to be rebuilt along with the new marriage the two of you.

You will have changed. You are stronger than you were before the crisis, more independent and used to being on your own. You will have both changed and will need to figure out how those changes can be incorporated into the marriage moving forward.

Focusing on the fact that you have both come a long way and made positive changes internally and externally will help make the transition smoother. You have reason to be proud of yourself and your spouse. You’ve both handled a time of adversity and come through better people. That will go a long way in building a new, loving marriage.

Points to Remember

Don’t push your needs onto your midlife crisis spouse—they currently don't have the capacity to think beyond themselves emotionally. Because of this you shouldn't insist on relationship talks or become obsessed with what your spouse is doing or seeing.

Instead, use the opportunity to work on yourself, and seek therapy with or without your spouse. Change what needs to be changed about your attitude and behavior. Distancing yourself will go way further than making demands and pushing for a resolution to the problem.

Watch Now: What is a Midlife Crisis?