“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 at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
The dreaded midlife crisis doesn’t strike everyone, but it’s a common enough occurrence that everyone is familiar with the concept. If you find yourself in the middle of one, your own concern is finding your way out.
There are many theories about what causes this common phenomenon in one’s older adult years. Many cultures, including Japanese and Indian, don’t seem to suffer from midlife crises. At least part of the issue seems to be influenced by culture.
A midlife crisis occurs in middle age and usually affects one’s self-confidence or identity. There may be a significant amount of regret over how you’ve lived your life and an intense desire to correct it as soon as possible. There is often a precipitating event that causes the sufferer to examine their life from a new perspective.
A variety of trigger events can start the ball rolling and begin a midlife crisis.
Causes of a Midlife Crisis
The most common age for a midlife crisis is between 40 and 60, with 45 being the most common age. Men and women can both face this issue, but the causes and reactions tend to differ. In men, a midlife crisis is most commonly energized by career issues.
In women, changing relationships or roles are most often the factor. It may be due to children leaving the home to live their own lives or the realization that their marriage wasn’t all they had hoped for.
There are several factors that can precipitate a midlife crisis:
- Death or significant change in health status of parents. On one level, we’re all aware that our parents won’t live forever. But down deep, we fail to truly process the issue until one of them takes a turn for the worse.* This is a reminder of our own mortality, which causes the mind to begin asking questions regarding one’s own life. You realize that a lot of time has already passed by, and a limited amount of time remains.
- Career issues. Perhaps you always dream of being a CEO, but you’re 50-years old and still a department manager. Or maybe you always wanted to be doctor and always believed there would be time to go back to school.* While nearly anything is possible, age does bring certain limitations that can be more effort to overcome than they’re worth.
* It’s not easy to accept that your life isn’t going according to plan, and that some dreams have to die.
- Aging. At 30, most adults believe they could get back into the kind of shape they enjoyed at 20, true or not. At 40, most adults still believe it’s a possibility, but acknowledge that it would be very challenging. Around the age of 45, the writing is on the wall. It’s not even a remote possibility.* A receding hairline, bags under the eyes, age spots, wrinkles, and undesirable distribution of body fat become a reality sooner or later.
* Obvious signs of aging are another notification by the universe that you won’t live forever.
- Relationship with significant other. The death of a spouse or divorce can trigger a midlife crisis, since the remainder of your life becomes much less clear. This isn’t limited to married couples. The change of any long-term romantic relationship can serve to begin a midlife crisis.* It’s also possible that you always imagined yourself with a spouse that loved the arts and wanted to travel, but find yourself with someone that prefers watching TV and never wants to leave the house.
* The lack of a spouse or significant other can also be a cause. You may have always wanted to be married, but now it seems that it will never happen.
- Children. Those pesky kids. They’re simultaneously your greatest source of joy and grief. Children growing and leaving the home is enough to throw anyone for a loop. So much of your time is spend caring for your kids that it can be hard to readjust how you’ll spend your time and attention.* The lack of children can be another cause. A time arrives when older adults reach the conclusion that they’re too old to have kids. If you’ve imagined a life with kids and grandchildren, this can be hard to handle.
These are the most common triggers leading to a midlife crisis. You’ll notice that all are related to either one’s mortality or a significant change. It isn’t that your job stinks, but that you believe it’s too late to make the most desired alternative a reality.
While having a life that avoids having a midlife crisis is ideal, it’s better to have one sooner rather than later. It’s a wake-up call to address the changes that are occurring in your life. You can do more with a midlife crisis at age 40 than you can at age 60!