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Midlife Crisis Forum

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Mike Bellah




(November--December 1997)

Please feel free to ask any question you want on this page. If I don't have an answer, I'll try to find someone who does. So click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Notice: The answers on these pages are offered as a free and supplemental service to readers. They are not intended to substitute for individual and professional counseling. The opinions of guest responders do not necessarily reflect my own thoughts. And, speaking of my own thoughts, they are not the advice of an expert but a sympathetic fellow-struggler in this experience we call midlife. I hope they help.

December 27, 1997

Q Mike,
I believe that I am in the throes of a midlife crisis. The slide probably began about two years ago and went critical a year and a half ago with the need to get bifocals, believe it or not. I am self employed and the subsequent year in my business was the worst ever. Then I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, for which I must sleep with a CPAP machine for the rest of my life.

I am absolutely awestruck by the magnitude of feelings of fear, loss, panic, desolation, distress and isolation. A good night's sleep remains a distant memory.

What steps can I take to cope with the profound sense of isolation? There is only one other person in my business. My partner is highly skilled, but extremely dislikable and is not someone with whom I can share this. My wife is a beautiful woman who is also a skilled professional, a great mother to our two young daughters and has made for us a lovely home.

However, our conflict resolution skills have never been the best and she is particularly at a loss when a situation threatens my role in the marriage partnership. (For example, she was angry with me when I was hospitalized with a burst appendix, and she used to beat me with her fists at night when I snored too loudly before my sleep apnea was discovered) I perceive her attitude towards me to be something like, "when are you going to get over this", and given our lack of success at resolving more minor conflicts, I am reluctant to try to discuss this further.

How can I get through this if I am truly alone? I know that I will not seek solace in an affair, but at the same time, I have no friends or other family members to work this out with. I have a strong belief in God and Jesus and pray often, even in gratitude when times were better. Yet I feel what strength my faith possessed to be rocked to its roots.

What steps can I take to achieve some sort of satisfaction with my marriage? Despite my feelings, I know that the life we have together with our children is a good one and is worth preserving. Nevertheless, I feel a great loss of what our relationship once was (I know that a man with a CPAP mask on his face is not a sex symbol!) and I harbor resentment resulting from my feelings that I have been left to fix this on my own.

As you can tell, there are elements of mortality, career dissatisfaction and marital discord in this, all of which I realize I must come to grips with. In the meantime, whatever guidance you can share with me is gratefully appreciated.

Needing Guidance

A Dear N.G.,
Yes, I can believe that something as seemingly inconsequential as getting bifocals can set off a midlife crisis. And with your sleep apnea, it sounds like you've had more than your share of physical trauma.

I am especially concerned with the loneliness and isolation you express in your letter. You are in dire need of a midlife friend. I suggest that you read "That's What Friends Are For," and that you start looking for some close male friends.

As I suggest in the column, you will find these people in places where you share common interests: service organizations, sports activities or events, special interests clubs, your church, parachurch groups. Is there a support group for people with sleep apnea?

In addition, it probably would help to get some marriage counseling; however, my guess is that part of the problem may be that your wife feels drained by--not to mention scared by--your desperate situation. She can't be all you need her to be, so she draws apart.

I'm glad you believe in Jesus and pray, but remember that God meets our needs through people. You must reach out for some friends. Get started today, and let me know how things work out.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

This week's questions are answered by Susanne Beier, a professional counselor and a regular contributor to the Best Years' pages.

December 20, 1997

Q Mike,
I am very thankful that I found your homepage today. I thought my world was crumbling down around me, due to the confusion around my husband's behavior.

He is 42. This year he has been very different and difficult. I lost my job during the summer(I am employed now), his daughter(17) decided to move in with us and everything that could break mechanically, did. He has become distant and secretive along with all the other signs of a mid-life change. He watches X-rated movies into the wee hours of the morning and searches the internet for sexually explicit homepages. I ask him what is troubling him and he doesn't know ... keeps saying "he thinks he's losing his edge". I find female names, strange phone numbers, stuffed animals, e-mail addresses in the house/car. He questions his job, his interests and his sexual drive. He tells me he loves me, but, he doesn't know what he wants right now.

Last week he decided he needed to get away, so, he left the country. Three days later he calls me from the Dominican Republic to let me know he's fishing and diving. He tells me he is going to fly to Puerto Rico for a few more days and will come home next week. He has only called me once and I am worried about him. He doesn't tell me where exactly he is or how to reach him. He's like a transient.

I guess the reason I am writing to you is I need to know how to cope during this time to keep my sanity. I love my husband, we're best friends, but, he's DRIVING ME CRAZY. If he would communicate with me, maybe, I would understand him better. Are there any therapy groups that would be helpful?

Confused in Florida

A Dear Confused,
It surely does sound like your husband is in the midst of mid-life. Had he mentioned prior to this all happening that he did not like his job, etc? Did he then choose to stay with it "for your sake"? What was the communication like between you two? How about romance? Did it slowly fall apart and neither of you was aware of it?

There is nothing that you can do right now, no matter how much you want to. HE needs to go through this and find out that life "out there" is really not as exciting as he thought it is.

What monies is he using for his "travels?" Is it coming out of the household? You do not say whether there are children involved; are there? How old?

I suggest that you make an appointment with a good counselor, or women's center if there's one near you; it should help you cope with the betrayal and loss that you are feeling right now.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Q Hi.
I just turned 40; my wife of 17 years is 36. The situation is the kids are almost grown, she's going to school and has entered the workforce for the first time 5 months ago. Since then she's gone through some serious changes. First it was a party stage which has since ended; then she had a brief affair with a fellow employee, which she admitted to me . The last thing she keeps bringing up is this feeling that she has to get an apartment; she feels that if she's does this, it will be getting it out of her system.

As you can imagine she has really put me on my ass the last 5 months! I don't want to leave her; I love her very much. She really has a problem with getting older, so we think she is going through a mid-life crisis. She said she will check out counseling through her work. Her latest urge is to get an apartment. My feeling is that it would take us farther apart.

Your columns have brought a lot of light to our problems. Do you think this is a mid-life crisis situation? Can you offer any input on what direction we should take?

Hanging on by a thread

A Dear Hanging On,
It sounds like your wife is going through an identity crisis, empty nest, etc. How much support have you been over the years in her finishing her education? Was the message in the household that YOU were the primary caretaker and that you had the "real" job?

This, unfortunately, is often a message that is sent to women via our culture's socialization. We (women) are taught that our primary responsibility is to take care of the family, whereas the males in our culture are taught to look at their primary responsibility to move up in career, education, etc. and to make the family/husband/wife relationship fall somewhere in line there.

This breeds much resentment in women who WANT to pursue their own personal growth. I emphasize, by the way, that they WANT to advance their career, that they have not CHOSEN to stay home. There is a huge difference between the two, since the latter is actually what could be referred to a "career choice." Just happens that career choice was "home maker."

Having said all of that, is she willing to go to marriage counseling with you? Is her fling over? Don't be afraid of her getting an apartment; you cannot hold her back if she wants to go. In fact, if you put too many roadblocks in her way she will resent you even more.

I can't help but think that there were other problems in your marriage which need to be addressed by a competent counselor. Please go to counseling, even if you go by yourself, to help you (and her) better cope with this crisis.

By the way, how are the kids handling this? Another issue that needs counseling. I wish I had a "magic pill" that would make all this go away, but I don't have it. You need to know that this did not come to this stage overnight or even over the last few months; this situation has been "brewing' for years. Take out the time now to go to counseling to see what can be salvaged and to help you cope with this whole situation.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

This week's questions are answered by Susanne Beier, a professional counselor and a regular contributor to the Best Years' pages.

December 13, 1997

Q Hi.
I am 37 years old. To begin, In Nov of 95, I found out my wife of 5 years and relationship of 11 years was having an affair with her aerobics instructor. She told me she would rather stay with him them come back to me. I should note we have a 4 year old son. I moved in with My parents while she stayed in the house and soon found out my dad had cancer. From Jan 95 to Oct 95 I took him to Chemotherapy and radiation treatments until he died in Late October.

I have continued to stay with my Mom but have told her that I will be moving out to be closer to my son before he starts Kindergarten. I started my own business in October reselling mini computer equipment because I needed a spark and unfortunately it has just added to my negativity. I have begun seeing a girl but I am afraid to get close to her because I don't want to hurt her because all I really want is sex.

Other than my son I am at a complete loss. Work, relationships, goals...

What do I want ? How do I get it ? How do I figure it out ?


A Dear Confused,
I'm not clear about the time between when you found out that your wife was having an affair (Nov 95) and now. Are you saying that you've been separated from your wife for two years now? Is she still with this other person? Is her "other" relationship still active? Are you friendly with her? Those are only a few questions that pop out at me from your letter.

I must say that you've had an incredibly painful two years. Two major losses in that period would make anyone doubt themselves. Please accept my condolences on the death of your dad. What a tragic loss! How is mom holding up knowing that you want to move out? How often do you see your son? Have divorce proceedings been started yet?

You say that you started your own business because you needed a "spark". You probably could not have picked a worse time to start your own business. It is difficult to have your own business when all goes well, but with the losses and pain that you're describing here it almost sounds like you were setting yourself up to "fail".

Did you at any time go see a counselor to help you deal with all of this? You should. As you can see one of the reactions to being abandoned is the "fear of intimacy" (not sexual, emotional). We protect ourselves from more pain like the one experienced by being abandoned, and put up huge walls. Your fear of getting close to the new relationship is valid and will continue until you have worked them through with the help of a good therapist.

When that has been accomplished you will be better able to understand your role in the marriage break up (what drove your wife to this drastic step) as well as perhaps understanding her more. This should then free you up to not make the same mistakes with someone new. Also with the help of a good counselor you will be able to set up some more realistic career and personal goals. I wish you the best of luck and may next year be a better one for you.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Q Hi.
Everything I'm reading (because I got caught and my wife emailed me a host of sites to visit on midlife crisis, yours included) says it is all my inner problem. I agree to a certain point with many of the thoughts. However, I have degrees in the area and have always introspected a lot.

We have been together 26 years, and she never was sexually inclined, so to speak. As the years went by the infrequent became virtually nonexistent - what a few times a year became about 3-4 about a decade ago, and then 2-3, and before I misstepped badly it had been closing on a year. In 1982 I fell in puppy love with her again and was rejected and we went to counseling because it was tearing me apart. I finally just backed off as the only solution because the more I reached out, the farther she withdrew. Several months ago I started complaining about lack of activity and that life was getting shorter and this wasn't the way for me to spend the good years I had left. I was reaching for her again, not elsewhere, and was basically told to get used to it. She has many reasons, some not good of me, but also always only remembers the bad times, in fact, dwells on them extensively.

I am not blaming her totally at all, I am not a total joy to live with, though have actually changed in many ways to please her, and she freely admits I am much better. And, I suppose I got who I married so I shouldn't be surprised But I loved her deeply all those years regardless, until about late last August or early September, I am not sure when it just faded away. Some of this has to do with alcohol, some with being on line for a year and indeed finding appreciation and admiration again, I am sure, because it feels very good. And, a particular woman at work who made it clear I was adored. I stiff-armed it a long time, then started opening the door a crack and then pulling back quickly. Then I fell off the wagon one time, did it at home, and got walked in on unexpectantly (though I sense it may have been a premonition and subconscious desire to be caught). (As a side thought, it was only sex for me, and I "like" this woman a lot and feel very badly about hurting her too)

Sorry this is so long, your pages have my thoughts flowing. Anyway, she has been very good about it so far, though she moved out of the bedroom 3 weeks ago today and hostility surfaces easily, and understandably. I want my feelings back, and cerebrally I want to save this marriage and make it even better. But she never was like I want, and I don't feel much anymore, so how can that happen after I messed up so badly? I know, counseling is in order and she wants to go. But like always, she says it is all my problem, and all the literature supports her. She just wants to go to counseling to get me fixed, like before. And, she truly believes she has "never" been wrong about anything, ever. Maybe this one is not midlife, but rather a culmination of time......

Got Caught

A Dear Got Caught,
I disagree with you, not all literature supports your wife. In fact, it sounds like you had a dysfunctional marriage for many years. Whereas I certainly don't agree with, or condone, your solution to the problem, in fact your marriage was one of companionship only. I say this with the assumption that your description of the situation is the correct one.

You say you've changed much over the years? What was the problem? For a marriage to break up (including by the act of one cheating on the other) something had to be very wrong to begin with. Were it not so, then EVERYONE would be having affairs once they approach midlife. As you know, that certainly isn't the case. You say that your wife was never sexually inclined. Why? Did you ask her? Inexperience on both of your parts? What is her background? Did she grow up with "sex is a duty" mentality? Did you try to "teach" her how to better enjoy it?

It sounds like there are many unresolved issues in your marriage that need to be worked out. You BOTH should go to counseling as the problem lies with both of you. If you want to make this marriage work, then you should go to counseling if for no other reason than to better understand how to deal with your wife and the hostility that she is showing towards you. You do not state how old your wife is. Or whether children are involved (which I assume are adults now since you've been married for 26 years). Is your wife experiencing 'empty nest'?

Above all, how much have you two communicated, I mean listening TO each other, over the past years? Does she feel like the maid? There is much that you need to discuss with a good counselor. This format really does not allow me the opportunity to help you more than in a very general sense. Go make an appointment with a good marriage counselor, make it for yourself first. Then see how you can fit your wife into it. Good luck.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

December 5, 1997

Q Hi.
I really enjoy your site Mike, and I thought I'd ask my own question.

I am 41, and to the outside world I have a successful and happy life. I have two great children (16 and 9), a supportive partner, a good job as an Executive PA, a nice home and loving family and friends. So please tell me.... why does my life seem to be lacking something?

I feel as though I am searching for some "missing piece" that I can't find, and part of me inside feels empty. This feeling has been creeping up on me over the past few years now. Coincidentally (or maybe not so coincidental) I have put on a lot of excess weight during the past few years - and that is really the only thing in my life that I have to be unhappy with; yet I continue to eat too much of the "wrong" foods, and fail to take in the amount of exercise I know I should be getting. My partner is on at me quite a bit about losing weight, and although I would like to do so, I can't seem to keep on track with a weight reduction/fitness plan.

I seem to have put aside many of the interests I used to enjoy, and feel I want to try out some new hobbies or interests, but have no idea what to try. Doing some sort of volunteer work for the community interests me too, but I am afraid I may overcommit myself, as I am already quite busy working full time and looking after my children, partner and home.

To the outside world (my friends and colleagues) I am quite a bubbly, happy person, but inside I don't often feel like the person that I portray.

Do you have any suggestions for "kick starting" me again?

Melbourne, Australia

A Hi Jan.
Nice to hear from someone "Down Under." The feeling you describe seems to be quite common to midlifers, and I think it's a good thing that you are experiencing it. Why a good thing? Because without this sense of unease you might never begin your midlife quest, which I'm convinced leads to a wholeness and fullness unknown to one's youth.

I suggest t hat you read my "Midlife Getaway" column and then plan your own getaway to launch your search for that "missing piece."

And, by the way, my hunch is that, when you find it, you'll find the answer to your weight/fitness thing too. You may be mistaking an immaterial hunger for a material one. When you find food to satisfy this emotional/spiritual hunger, you won't need to overindulge the physical appetites.

You sound like a very pleasant person who has accomplished much in the first half of her life. I expect you'll find the same success in the second. Good luck.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Q Hi.
I'm asking this for a friend (really, I know that sounds so fake).

She's 33 and has been married 7 years. They had some really rough early years because of his job. After several years, things had reached a pretty perilous stage but then he made some changes. Now, he's probably everything she wanted 7 years ago - attentive, loving, regular hours, good income, house, wants kids, very supportive of her interests/activities, plus he's in great shape (well, a little balding). She basically has nothing to complain about.

But, it seems like too little, too late? She doesn't want to devastate this guy but she really just doesn't want to be there anymore. She wants to pursue her own interests freely - which he'll bend over backwards to allow - but without feeling guilty about all the hoops he's jumping through (and a big part of the guilt is knowing that all his effort isn't "winning any points" with her because she just doesn't care that way any more, and even wonders if she ever did). Nothing sounds better than ending it but she has a really big problem with that because, to an objective observer, there's absolutely nothing wrong with him.

With that said, what experience/insight can you provide? Do others (women particularly in this case) simply stop loving when everything is "perfect"? What do they do about it? Of those that choose to leave, what is their 20/20 hindsight of their choice?


On Behalf of a Friend

A Dear On Behalf of a Friend,
It sounds like your friend has "another interest." I am not suggesting an affair, but definitely a flirtation. Are you that "friend?"

Having said that I will address your question. You say, that her husband is now everything that she wanted, yet now she wants to leave? It sounds like she is already detached from the marriage and perhaps things aren't as perfect as they seem. Perhaps she was so deeply disappointed in her husband prior to his "change" that she is truly detached from him already and is really ready to leave. On the other hand, maybe she is telling YOU that and in fact it isn't so.

Regarding her feelings of guilt, that is one of the consequences of leaving someone (even if you think they deserved it). It is something that she needs to accept. Wanting for it not to be so (the guilt) does not make it so. She should work on making a decision either way; I am quite sure that this stage of indecisiveness is not helpful to the marriage.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

This week's questions are answered by Susanne Beier, a professional counselor and a regular contributor to the Best Years' pages.

November 28, 1997

Q Hi.
My wife had an affair with my so called best friend. That was 21 years ago. We are still married. Sometimes I care for her and sometimes I don't want her to even touch me. I got hurt, The affair lasted a total of six months. They met 2 and 3 times a week in the back of his van. I still hurt very much to this day. I can't ever get it out of my mind. There will always be a wall of some kind between us. She now loves me. But I don't have it to give back to her. My heart took a deep plunge when she told me she had an affair. I have never gotten over it. Any questions or ideas, or anything you would like to know?

Signed, Can't Get Over It

A Dear Can't Get Over It,
You say that your wife had an affair 21 years ago? When were you told about this? Did she confess this recently, if not, 21 years ago? You are still together? You also say that you got "hurt" which I don't doubt for a second. However, in all the following years, or even immediately after the affair, did you at any time look at what perhaps YOUR role was in getting her to that point?

They say that you can't take someone from a marriage unless there is a problem with the marriage. Much as it may seem unkind and unfair, that is how it is. Did you perhaps work too much? Were too tired when you got home? Too involved in building up your career? What was the state of communication in your marriage at the time of this affair? Also, how long did the two of you know each other before you got married? Are you as angry with your former "best friend"? I assume that he is a "former"? Or are you still friends with him and angry at your wife? Do you feel that SHE is the guilty one that lead HIM into it? In most cases of affairs when it is the women having an affair the husband blames his wife as being the culprit. When the man has the affair, women tend to blame the "other" woman instead of laying the guilt to where it should be.

Having said all of that, don't you think that you should give up this anger? The past is not going to be changed no matter how much you don't like it. You obviously had some nice times with your wife or you would not still be with her. I recommend that YOU seek counseling in helping you deal with resolving this anger that you are holding on to. It is poisoning you and skewing your whole outlook on life.

Is it fair to assume that you don't trust women at this time? I would expect so. I suggest that you go to a male counselor. The counselor will also help you deal with the total sense of betrayal that you are feeling, or have been feeling for so long. If you can't afford a counselor, go see your minister, priest or rabbi, they too should be able to help you deal with some of the emotions. that you are feeling. The key thing is to learn how to get PAST this event and how to go on in rebuilding your relationship, or even to find out if that is possible.


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Q Dear Mike:
I enjoy reading your column. My comments and question are different from those I usually see posted. I am married 12 years. I am 36, my husband is turning 40. I am a confident person, educated, good looking and fit, a very good wife and mother. (You can see I take pride in myself!) My husband is an excellent worker, good provider, good looking and fit also, though not very affectionate most of the time.

Lately he has become disillusioned more than he usually does. It is almost always a result of what he perceives as not having anything to show for all his work. But he has SO MUCH to show for it! We have been through A LOT over the years, and I have ALWAYS been very supportive. But now I have come to a bridge where I am not willing to be supportive anymore. My husband has told me that "men want to feel needed and accepted by other women" and other such comments. But he also tells me he wants to spend the rest of his life with me.

I see this as very selfish. It seems to me he wants his cake and eat it too. Over the past 8 months he also has taken up looking at pornography on a consistent basis, and telling me how beautiful and sexy other women are, and that he thinks about having sex with other women. It is insulting, and I have told him so.

In one of your posts someone wrote "Supporting your husband in whatever he does is the best way of showing how much you care." This is one area where I cannot support!! In many of the responses to questions on your site, it seems to be recommended that the woman "hang in there" while a man has his "affair", whatever form it may come in. It seems to me that if a man truly loved his woman, the only "affair" he might need might be a new job, a new car, a new hobby. Not a new woman! It makes you feel unappreciated, taken for granted, like you don't mean much to your man.

Maybe I just don't care anymore, because after all else I have been through with my man, I am not willing to go through this. I feel like leaving him everyday. I have been to counseling (helpful), but he refuses to go. PLEASE COMMENT!

Ready To Leave

A Dear Ready to Leave,
Your husband is definitely at the beginning stages of a mid-life crisis. The fact that he says that men want to be needed and feel accepted is a red flag. It doesn't sound like he's interested in anyone else at the moment, but I believe that he is very vulnerable to that at this time. That is, his listening, and believing, someone else telling him how wonderful he is etc. Tell me, when did YOU last tell him, and mean it, that he is the best thing "since sliced bread" to you?

You sound very angry in your letter, almost like you are preparing yourself to "leave" before "you get left". Are you afraid of that? Your statement about yourself being" confident, educated, good looking , fit, good wife and mother" tell me that in fact you are feeling insecure about those roles. Who are you trying to persuade? Yourself? Your husband? It sounds to me like your self esteem has taken a beating and that you are basically if not mystified, upset about this latest development.

Also I get the sense of "why him"? "What about me"? "I need to feel needed and appreciated too". I suggest that you two go to see a marriage counselor, one who is experienced in dealing with mid-life issues. You may not be able to prevent his mid-life crisis, but you will be able to learn how to better deal with it. In your letter

I get the sense that it upsets you when you read that the general advice is to "hang in there". What is meant by that is that it is better sometimes to "outlast" a crisis in a marriage instead of taking immediate action and paying the consequences later on. Remember it's for "better or worse"? Well, this would qualify in the "worse" category. If you had a good marriage up to this point, don't you think it's worth the extra effort to save it?


click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

November 22, 1997

Q Hi.
The past year has been one of "walking on the west side of the wilderness" for me. I left seminary after two years with a Master of Arts degree instead of the Master of Divinity I had planned to get because the financial strain on my family was too much. I've thought much what my vocation is. I've returned to software development to make a living; I find programming interesting, but it does not satisfy my "call" for a vocation in ministry. In addition, I have a master's degree in music composition. I did not pursue that vocation, either, because of financial difficulties. So I've had two "vocations" which seem to have died, two identities which remain in the closet. I can pursue them to some degree as avocations, but I feel split into two lives; the one which requires most of my time, but which is the less desirable, and the other which gets very little time left over for it, which is far more desirable. Again, there is a financial constraint to any decision due to the cost of my seminary education.

In a few weeks I will turn thirty-nine (and cannot believe it!). I was recently diagnosed as diabetic, so I've been acutely aware of those issues which Erikson would term "generativity and stagnation", of my own mortality and the preciousness of the time I have. I feel like I spend (and am compelled to spend) most of my time preparing for or making money for a "living" which never comes. In short, I continue to walk on the west side of the wilderness, accompanied by a mid-life crisis.

I've read your online page, and have found it to contain much wisdom. Thank you! Please provide any direction you might consider helpful...


A Dear Wandering,
As one who, like you, has spent some long and painful years on the "west side of the wilderness" (Exo. 3:1), and who, like you, has a degree in theology but is not now practicing "professional ministry," I have two thoughts.

One, remember that time spent in the wilderness can be good for us, even necessary. Evidently, God thought Moses needed 40 years of it before he was ready to lead the way to the promise land. And your diabetes sounds much like Moses' "slowness of speech," a reminder that God makes his strength perfect in weakness.

Two, I'm sure you know that ministry doesn't have to be professional to be ministry. I pastored a church for 12 years, but I have never had more opportunity to meet the needs of people (my goal in ministry) than I do now, as a teacher and a columnist.

So my advice is to seize your present opportunities--for personal development, and for ministry to others. As you do, new opportunities may present themselves, but none more important than what you now see before you.

May God bless you richly--Mike

click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

This week's questions are answered by Susanne Beier, a professional counselor and a regular contributor to the Best Years' pages.

November 17, 1997

Q Hi.
Is there any research on why the brain sets midlife in motion and what happens?

Thank you



Do you go through any changes, that are similar to menopause for women, if so what are they?


A Dear Rock and Jim,
Although the midlife crisis is not as much a biological "change" as is menopause, it is indeed, at some level, physical. The emphasis here is on the "human developmental" changes or phases of life. Much research is out there that will substantiate this point. One of the most famous is Gail Sheehy, whose book "Passages" became world famous. She found, with little surprise, that everyone has difficulty with the steps of inner growth, even when outer obstacles appear easilty surmountable. Bernice Neugarten finds that " much difference exists between men and woman as they age. Men seem to become more receptive to affiliative and nurturant promtings (someone telling them how wonderful they are....this is MY interpretation), where women become more responsive toward and less guilty about aggressive and egocentric impulses (mom going back to school....again, my interpretation)."

My suggestion to you is to check out some of the books referenced in Mike's book list on his web site. I've recommended some in addition to the ones he's listed. Or, you may want to go to your local library and research Human Development. Hope this answers your question.


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November 17, 1997

Q Hello,
My husband had a six month affair with an overnight disk jockey he was listening to at work. He called her frequently to request songs. They flirted and she asked him to start talking dirty to her. They met and had an affair. Through all of it she got quite a bit of money from husband. He is 43 and we have been married for 23 years.

He changed overnight. All I knew was he was distant and he began smoking again after 20 years,. My older children suspected before I did and had me confront him. I found out he had just that weekend set her up in an apartment. She was kicked out by her husband. I kicked him out and filed for divorce. He begged to come back. We were trying to pay all the bills she created in his name when he admitted he was still calling her until the 30th of the month when she left her radio show.

I was devastated and kicked him out again. He cried and begged to come back. I took him back again. But in my heart how will I ever know that if she was still on the radio, he would be here? She went back to her husband and changed her phone number. He says he was telling me to come clean; he says he was confused. I am terribly confused and upset. I thought things were getting back to normal and they became unglued completely.

The hurt and devastation don't seem to end. Everyone says he had a midlife meltdown. He has since quit smoking and trying to regain his former self. I am scared. I have suffered three broken hearts in the past 7 1/2 months.


A Dear Dee,
Dear Dee, It almost sounds as if your husband was "victimized" or "conned" by this woman. I half expect someone like her to be featured on "America's Most Wanted". Seriously, I realize that this has been an extremely difficult time for you and your family; however, your husband sounds like he does want to work things out. Personally, I feel that a 20 year history together deserves that. I know you forgave him once and he betrayed you again. It sounds like he was "addicted" to this person. Surprising as it might seem, one CAN get addicted to a person. My suggestion for you is for BOTH of you to go to some marriage counseling. Make that a pre-requisite before you take him back. Painful as it may sound, you both need to discover WHAT ended this marriage.

Did you both take each other for granted? You do not say what his job is. Does he work by himself, thus needing the radio for company? There are many developmental issues that he, and as a result you, are dealing with. A good counselor can help you solve some of them. The good news is that I've seen couples who've survived this stage of their marriage and they are stronger, and yes more romantic, than ever before. I hope it happens to you. Good luck.


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November 9, 1997

Q Dear Mike,
I'm 20 and from Austin, TX. My father is 42 and going through a midlife crisis. My parents have been married for 21 years. He owns his own business and has 3 (wonderful) children.

It all started with comments like "I'm tried of people taking and not giving" and "I've worked hard all my life and nothing to show for it". He has lost 22 pounds in the past 2 mths and just recently decided to move out. Before this every night he would not come home till 11 or even 12 (he gets off work at 4). He says he is not having an affair but he will not tell us where he is living. I look at him and he does not seem like my father. I care and love him so much. I do not live at home. I'm married and have a family of my own. I'm not there all the time but I do talk to my mother. She has just accepted the fact that he does not love her anymore. Even through he says that he does and wants to spend the rest of his life with her. She opened her own checking account and had to withdraw her money from the joint account. She says that this is not the man she married and she is scared of what he might do. He refuses to see a doctor. We have tried multiple times to get him to see one.

I miss the way things use to be. Most of all I miss my dad.


A Dear Hurting,
Your dad's symptoms certainly do sound life a full-blown midlife crisis. I know it hurts you to see him like this--plus your mother suffering as she must be--and I wish I had some advice that would make the pain go away quickly and easily.

Yet my experience is that most midlife crises end slowly over time. And since you probably can't shorten this (you can't help those unwilling to help themselves), I recommend that you find a way to endure--for both you and your mother.

If she's not in some kind of support group, urge her to join (maybe go with her the 1st time). Also, make sure you don't let your dad's and mom's problems keep you from giving your own family the attention they deserve. The same goes for your job, friends, church . . . and whatever else you consider important in life.

Finally, It's best not to burn bridges. Both your dad and mom need to know that your love is constant and you want to be a part of their lives. By the way, they will get through this--and so will you.


Note: Hurting's letter is typical of many I receive from wounded family members. If you are reading these words thinking that your midlife decisions affect no one else but you, think again.

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The next two questions are answered by Susanne Beier, a professional counselor and a regular contributor to the Best Years' pages.

Q Dear Mike,
Same as above
A Dear Hurting,
I know first-hand what you and your family are going through. My children also were adults when "mid-life" struck our house. Even though I am a certified counselor, I was not spared any of the pain that you and your family are going through. I just recognized it quicker and sought out help faster.

I agree with Mike that at this time the only thing that you can do is to support your mom and to ask her to seek some sort of counseling. In your letter, however, I get the impression that mom has "accepted" the status and seems to be going on with life. Is it perhaps your own pain that is making you feel that you have to be there more for mom? This has to be very tough on you. Be very careful that your own feelings of disappointment in your father and the resulting split in your family does not take over your own life and marriage. Mom has to help herself, as difficult as that might be for you to accept; tell her (when she complains to you) that you feel that she should join a women's group, travel with a friend, start a hobby, take a night course, etc. She may not take you up on it at this time but don't give up recommending it to her.

By the way, have you at all spoken with your dad about this? Don't give up on him; remember that he WAS there for you all these years...if you can. Don't choose sides; even in your angry state remember that they are both your parents. Easy to say, huh? But it's true. I wish I could give you some "pearls of wisdom," but all I can say is that the best thing during this time is to do nothing (as far as your parents that is). Focus on your own life, have mom come for visits, and vow to yourself that you will not make the same mistake when YOU get to this developmental stage.

good luck--susanne

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Q Hello,
I don't know where to start. A month ago my husband of 11 years told me that he loved me because I was the mother of his two daughters, but he didn't know if he was "in love" with me. We are seeing a counselor through our church. He tells the counselor that he is satisfied with everything in his life except his marriage. This caught me so off guard and has been devastating.

I have had several people suggest to me that my husband may be going through a "mid-life" crisis or some sort of depression. My husband is 39. We have two daughters ages 6 and 9. We both work full time and enjoy financial security. He has a great job as a sales rep, however, his largest account is on the selling block and his second largest account may bid a large piece of his current business. Our life is full but hectic. Also, his mother is terminally ill and now bed-ridden with cancer. My husband doesn't talk about his feelings much. He's the type to keep things inside.

My questions is this: Is there really such a thing as a man's "mid-life crisis?" Is it a chemical thing like menopause? Any help you can provide is greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time.

Tired from Chattanooga, TN

A Dear Tired
Mike forwarded me your letter. It very much sounds like your husband is a good candidate for "mid-life crisis." In fact, sounds like he's smack dab in it. You say that you are seeing a counselor at your church. Was this your idea? Did he agree willingly? Often when people (yes it affects women too sometimes) go through this stage, they will "appear" to cooperate, but in reality they are fully "detached". From your letter it also sounds like your husband may just feel totally "overwhelmed" by life's circumstances, such as his mother's terminal illness and his possible job security.

You do not say whether your husband travels for his job. Does he? Also, have there been signals that he no longer is involved in "your" relationship? Change of habits, such as starting to work out if he didn't do that before, change in his appearance? I hate to be the one to say this, but is it possible that he is having an affair? Perhaps an "office flirtation"? Did the two of you get into a rut, focusing on the financial security and forgetting the "relationship"?

These are all questions that you and your counselor should be dealing with. To answer your question, YES, there is such a thing as a "mid-life crisis," although I think the term is being used for basically a number of unacceptable behaviors. It is a "developmental" phase of his life. I also believe that a chemical imbalance plays some havoc in it, but don't have the evidence to back that statement. I suggest that you read all of the Q&A letters that Mike has posted on this web site. It's my belief that you will recognize yourself in some of them, and I hope that some of the answers given there are a help to you and your family. On a personal note, I know how frightening this whole thing is, but have faith....there is a light at the end of this tunnel.


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