Advice on how to handle a partner's midlife crisis.
I'm 52, never married, but have been with the love of my life for 8 years. He's 45, divorced, with no kids. He said I was the love of his life, too. Three weeks ago he told me he feels like we have become "just friends." I'm shocked. He's lost 50 pounds working out, to look like he did in college. I don't believe there is another woman. Because of our jobs, we don't spend as much time together as we used to. Like other couples, we have work stress; it's not champagne and roses every day. There is a big commitment—we live together and own a second home together. He has said he needs "to figure our situation out." I'm not sure how to respond.
Hara Estroff Marano is the Editor at Large of Psychology Today and writes the magazine's advice column, Unconventional Wisdom. Her newest book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, grew out the groundbreaking Psychology Today article A Nation of Wimps.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
A midlife crisis doesn't require another woman, although many have risen to the occasion. Sooner or later, every person confronts himself or herself at midlife. It's often a private realization. Perhaps a worrisome symptom of age debuts—a stiff joint, a chest twinge. Or a parent dies. Maybe one's career has stalled at a low orbit. You wake up one morning, discover that life has settled into a dull routine before you've realized all your dreams, and you wonder: Is this all there is? Either you confront yourself and dismantle the internal barriers to growth or you look externally for a way to jump-start some thrills (the Porsche, the new associate in your department), often blaming your partner for failing to keep your life full of excitement.
The real challenge is keeping up a level of daily contact where both partners take the time and warmth to confide their innermost concerns to each other. That's how intimacy is maintained, and it holds couples together—not joint home ownership. Letting your partner figure out "our situation" by himself makes no more sense than letting him unilaterally make a deal for the sale of joint property. The relationship belongs to both of you. Having lost the thread of connection between you, you now need to make a special effort to know what's going on in his head—what sparked his new interest in self-renovation. And then you need to discuss ways of lifting the level of connection and excitement for both of you, not just one of you. Allowing yourselves to slip into a relationship like that of "other couples" is to set a very low standard, and it's lousy consolation for what has been lost.