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What Is a Midlife Crisis?

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Here are the classic signs.

jon gosselin and hailey glassman

Dr. Cara Gardenswartz: Jon Gosselin says he's not having a midlife crisis -- even though he is riding motorcycles, wearing teen clothing, dating much younger women, getting tattoos, going on wild vacations, smoking, drinking, and spending extravagantly. This brings up the interesting question of what a mid-life crisis truly is.

What is the midlife crisis?

During a midlife crisis people, particularly men in our culture, start to realize their own mortality. When faced with the end, people have an opportunity to question whether the way they are living their life is satisfying -- and if not, what they can do to change their lives.

I encourage people to think about HOW they are living -- as opposed to WHAT they are doing in their lives. The how represents the way they approach the world. The what represents career, lifestyle and relationship choices. The reason I focus on the how is that no matter what changes one makes (e.g. leaving a spouse), they are stuck with who they are. Researchers have found that mid-life is often a time for reflection and not always associated with life upheaval, like divorce.

In a midlife crisis, people's sense of their passing youth and imminence of death leads them to seeking out extramarital affairs and career changes. They may try to find ways to deny their mortality -- for instance, buying the new sports car as a way of hanging onto their youth.

If your spouse seems to be entrenched in "midlife crisis activities" -- or, better yet, on the verge, ask him what he is feeling -- does he feel like he is losing his youth? Rather than doing things that alienate you, can he let you in? Maybe you can take that vacation together. Perhaps you can discuss the meaning of your lives together. How can you be part of the change that would lead to more fulfillment? You can empathize with his feelings and tell him you understand where he is coming from. However, if he takes it too far (e.g., having an affair) and you are willing to work through this with him, I would plead him to seek individual and couples therapy -- in order to save your marriage. Assuming you have had a healthy marriage, he will likely regret alienating you from his life when he has to truly face the end of his life.

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One other thing to consider: If someone is engaged in all of the behaviors that Jon Gosselin reports, a psychologist should also rule out the possibility of him being in a manic episode. (Manic symptoms include irritability, anger or rage, delusions, hypersexuality, impulsiveness, racing thoughts, talkativeness, pressure to keep talking or rapid speech, grandiose ideas and plans, and decreased need for sleep (e.g. feels rested after 3 or 4 hours of sleep). A person in a manic episode may engage in out of character behavior such as questionable business transactions, wasteful expenditures of money, risky sexual activity, abnormal social interaction, or highly vocal arguments uncharacteristic of previous behaviors. These behaviors increase stress in personal and business relationships, and increase the risk of altercations with law enforcement, as well as being at high risk of impulsively taking part in activities potentially harmful to self and others.

Has your hubby had a midlife crisis? If so, how did you handle it?



next: Jennifer Hudson Gives Birth to a Son
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Amanda August 12, 2009, 12:11 PM

I like that this article focuses on what a midlife crisis is so we can think for ourselves about whether Jon is or isn’t having a crisis.

messymom August 12, 2009, 2:21 PM

Can mom’s have a midlife crisis?

Jen G August 12, 2009, 2:26 PM

My husband definitely had a midlife crisis. His friends got together with him and confronted him- they literally did an intervention. It took the burden away from me and also the accusations that it was in my mind. We are now in couples therapy and doing well!

Marraige Encounter Advocate August 12, 2009, 10:50 PM

Successful marriages take work and should not be taken for granted. Often by the time difficulties occur, it is harder or too late to work through them. The best investment a couple can make is to fortify their relationship early on to be equipped to deal with what the future might bring. I am an advocate of ‘Marriage Encounter’. My husband and I went on a Marriage Encouter Weekend many years ago and continue to reap the benefits in terms of greater understanding of our differences, tools to better communitate and resolve issues, acceptance of each others feelings. We view that experience as a gift with lasting rewards. Be it Marriage Encounter, relationship retreats or workshops, couples therapy or professional intervention - the earlier the better. Good relationship don’t just happen, they take work!

Disinterested in Gosselin or his wife August 12, 2009, 11:04 PM

In my opinion, people who risk a normal, healthy life and expose themselves and their children as these people did cannot expect normalcy.
That being said, all relationships have problems and if the relationship is worth saving (and certainly you owe it to your kids to at least try) either the person or the couple that is in trouble needs professional help - rarely can it be worked out without intervention.

Ash August 17, 2009, 9:53 PM

Jon should be off the show. I don’t want to see him on there. He is such a disappointment and such a fake.


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