Everyone is familiar with the concept of the mid-life meltdown. Males are particularly susceptible and we all seem to know someone who has dumped an adoring wife and family to start life anew with a twenty-year-old diva. Being dumped from a long-term relationship for a younger woman is an excrutiatingly painful breakup process. Generally, the dumped spouse is taken entirely by surprise. And the husband finds fault with minor character traits in his spouse in order to justify his choices and his behavior. The abandoned spouse suffers shock, damaged self-worth, abandonment, and fear—made all the worse by the daily reminder that she was so quickly and easily replaced by someone that, ironically, she once was—a vital, youthful, twenty-something babe.
Dr. Debra Mandel, author of Dump That Chump and Healing the Sensitive Heart, addresses some of the causes and symptoms of an approaching male mid-life crisis.
“For men, mid-life is often a time of self-reflection and re-evaluation of successes and failures,” says Dr. Mandel. “It’s often a time of crisis because they base their entire self-worth on whether or not they believe they have made mark in the world. Those who are secure within themselves and have healthy self-esteem will pass through this developmental milestone without too much stress or chaos. However, those who feel they have fallen short of their own expectations or projections may go through what’s commonly known as a mid-life crisis.”
“During this stage, it’s imperative for a man to take an honest inventory of himself and re-create his goals for the future, hopefully to include more time with his wife and family and to make room for new activities that create physical and emotional closeness. However, more commonly a man in this crisis will distract himself from the task at hand and focus more on making himself feel younger instead of embracing the aging process. Sometimes these distractions are relatively benign, as in the guy who decides to get in the best shape he’s ever been in and climb Mt. Whitney, but for others these distractions can add insult to injury, as in the guy who cheats on his wife with a woman half his age so that he can feel like a stud once again.”
While it is possible to feel younger and more vital at any age, it is almost impossible to achieve that state if one is in a state of denial. “Sadly, those who don’t face the crisis head-on and deal with the internal work will often end up dumping their intimate partners on a perpetual quest for reversing the aging process.”
“Women who’ve been dumped by a guy in a mid-life crisis would do best to avoid personalizing what isn’t personal. In other words, unless she’s been a poor relationship partner in the marriage (if she’s been emotionally unavailable, has been excessively critical or judgmental, has been withholding), then she must recognize that she is not responsible for his decisions or choices. She should hold her head high and allow him to look like the fool. She can be forgiving and encouraging of him to find his way but not allow herself to get trampled on or treated like a doormat.”
“Sometimes, if he’s really worth it, a try at couples therapy may be useful, to help him find his path back to actually healing the crisis rather than giving in to it.”
When asked how to avoid the trap of anger in this situation, Dr. Mandel advises, “Anger is essentially a secondary emotion used to protect ourselves from the primary and more vulnerable feelings of hurt and sadness. Anger is only useful in the moment that we are being offended or assaulted to serve our fight-and-flight reactions when there is real danger. Otherwise, it’s wasted energy and it’s like swallowing poison and waiting for the other guy to die.”
“We can avoid anger traps by taking a deep breath, exhaling the anger and asking ourselves what other feelings are going on and then dealing with those feelings. Of course it hurts to be dumped, but it hurts a lot worse to stay angry and not move on. Do the grieving, recognize what you have responsibility for and make changes in yourself when necessary to prepare for a better relationship in the future.”
“Also,” she warns, “keep in mind that a mid-life crisis rarely comes out of the blue. Usually there are a few warning signs along the way and these are opportune times to try to prevent disaster before ending up in divorce court.”
Here are some of the warning signs:
- He starts spending more time with his friends.
- He starts making new friends and doesn’t include you.
- He takes up a new hobby, often a riskier one than usual.
- He starts obsessing about his appearance and doing things to make himself younger.
- He seeks more attention from the opposite sex.
- He becomes less interested in your opinion and more interested in the opinions of his juniors.
“If you see any of these signs, try to have a conversation with him letting him know that you’d like to be there with him through this time and how you can make your relationship stronger. Offer to try new things with him, tell him how sexy and vibrant he his, and make him feel special.”