Having a Mild Life Crisis as a Couple?

By Dr. Michael Oberschneider, Ashburn Psychological & Psychiatric Services

The Canadian psychoanalyst, Elliott Jacques coined the term “Mid-Life Crisis” in 1965. He believed that mid-life is a transitional phase rife with uncertainty and emotional conflict, pertaining to one’s sense of mortality.

Later research in this area has found that to varying degrees, people during mid-life can experience disappointment, regret, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness in their work, and personal life. Research has shown that the phenomenon occurs most often in individuals in their 40s and early 50s, and approximately 10 to 20 percent of individuals experience a midlife crisis.

“Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

There has been some very interesting research on the mid-life crisis phenomenon, showing that happiness and contentment across the lifespan are experienced in a U-shape curve. In these studies, younger individuals have been found to be satisfied with their lives, while middle-aged individuals showed a significant drop in happiness. Individuals in their later years experience a renewed sense of life, purpose, and happiness.

There is also an emerging body of research in economics that is looking at job satisfaction across the lifespan. Those results also have shown a U-shape curve — higher levels in early and later work experiences, with dropping levels during the ages associated with mid-life. These results are not gender-exclusive and do not discriminate across cultures or socioeconomic statuses.

Common mid-life crisis symptoms include depression, unhappiness in your marriage, sleep struggles, preoccupation with your appearance, weight gain or loss, being tired or bored, losing interest in the things you used to find pleasure in, thoughts of dying, increased consumption of alcohol or drugs, and making excessive or extreme decisions — buying a sports car, having an affair, or changing careers.

In my work during COVID-19, I have seen first-hand the mid-life struggles for individuals and couples increase tremendously. There is no doubt that the many stressors of COVID-19, and its impact on us as spouses and parents, have been emotionally overwhelming for many.

It is not uncommon for people to act out their strong negative feelings when it seems like life’s problems have become too much to handle. So, if you are middle-aged and find yourself struggling with your partner or spouse, here are a few helpful tips.

Research has shown that being active and exercising boosts energy, promotes better sleep, helps to fight off illnesses, increases your libido, and lifts your mood.

Alcohol is a depressant, so if you are feeling bad about yourself or your life, drinking will likely make things worse. Enjoying a beer or a glass of wine with friends can complement a moment, but drinking in excess is a bad idea. Maybe ask yourself, ‘How often is alcohol involved when I fight with my partner or spouse?’ If the answer is often, maybe it’s time to reassess your relationship with alcohol.

If you have children, they are an extension of you, so spending time with them should serve to help you center yourself. Seeing your child’s joy will have a positive impact on you. It will help to remind you of how important your family is and vice versa.

Get a corkboard, and thumbtack some visual goals. Magazine and Google images are great places to start. Perhaps you could tack up a picture of a happy couple or family, or a beach house, or someone your age in good shape, etc. Whatever your goals are, keeping them in sight will remind you of what matters most.

Research has shown that spending time outside can boost mental health, improve blood pressure, and even decrease medical conditions.

Doing the same thing over and over can become boring or even laborious, especially if you are struggling emotionally. Take a new way home from work, try something different for lunch, or start a hobby. By stepping outside of your comfort zone, you can begin to find renewed purpose.

Research has shown a number of benefits to prayer, and meditation. People who pray or mediate report experiencing a greater sense of inner peace and purpose, reduced depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and improved relationships. Believing in God, or something greater than yourself can serve to humble you to better appreciate the awesomeness of life.

We are social beings, and research has shown that building and experiencing social connections, is a surefire way to improve mood and emotional wellbeing and to decrease feelings of depression. Active social people have stronger immune systems. Studies have also shown a positive relationship lowers the risk of dementia.

Numerous research studies show that people who think positively, experience better well-being. They also tend to be more successful in life, have better relationships, and have an increased life span.

If you are struggling in mid-life, make it a priority to spend more time with your significant other. One-on-one time does not need to be a big night out on the town, although date nights are important for any marriage, but letting your partner know how you are feeling, and what you are needing is a must.

You do not need to have a serious mental health condition to participate in therapy. Meeting with a psychologist can help you to process and think through your mid-life struggles, develop more adaptive and productive coping skills, and positively reframe and redefine your life course.

I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom that middle age is probably the happiest period in one’s life, but there certainly can be challenges to overcome. If you are experiencing a mid-life crisis and struggles in your relationship, it is my hope that with improved communication, mutual respect, and patience, you will both find the happiness you once had.