Why is it that men find the Mid-Life Crisis harder to deal with than women?
Firstly, let me clarify something first, there are both men and women that seem to sail through into old age without a bat of an eyelid, and then there are those who suffer terribly upon realisation they are no longer in their prime, etc, anymore. Yet statistically, women deal with it much better than men.
How to men typically react?
If we look at the typical life of a man; he leaves education and goes to work and remains there until he retires. Okay, he may change companies, get promotion, change companies, cities or even countries, but there is usually a thread of consistency in these actions. And it is the sudden and unexpected break in this consistency that makes that critical change more impactful, especially when it occurs in our middle years. That steady life-long routine is no longer there and is broken in some irreparable way (please see previous blog article for a possible list of eventualities) and leaves us feeling very vulnerable indeed. And once this break in the routine is recognised as permanent, then our doubts and fears, etc can start to creep into our mind with (for many) some devastating impact.
How to women typically react?
A typical woman has a different life where more impactful changes occur more often. These changes tend to be education, work marriage, pregnancy, birth, changing phases of a growing child, child leaving and entering different phases of school, grown children leaving home for further studies or work, returning to work, regular change of a new boss and colleagues, up to retirement where the woman still tends to have her stable sanctuary of home and her close friends (especially those who she knows from her pregnancy onwards). So, middle age tends to be another phase in their life and they tend to get on with it a lot easier than men.
Not only that, women tend to talk more easily about their problems than men to. Even the mental process on how women deal with problems is different to men, such that it helps them in dealing with changes occurring around them.
How do men typically deal with that mid-life crisis?
Losing that physical or mental or authoritative prowess is always hard to deal with, regardless of how fit we are. But the death of a friend or colleague who was seen as fit, healthy and with a forward-thinking outlook can shocks us too. We compare ourselves with their life of health, career, capabilities, etc and it is always possible to find something better in this person than within ourselves. When we do, we tend to determine a higher risk to our own life. And that’s where panic can start to set in and may try to overcompensate.
For men, status means a lot, and in some cases, everything. This status can either be with a father or as a high-ranking manager in work. Or in some cases, both. When men bond with men, certain defences are let down that makes them more open and vulnerable. For many, a natural situation is with father /son role. A loss of a father can be devastating in many aspects; the reliant and expectant bond is gone; the role figure is no longer there and the role responsibility transference to you can also be a shock and hard to deal with. Being head of the family, or part of an older surviving generation can be difficult for many to handle.
The other problem when one loses an important position in employment. A lot of men carry that status around with them outside of work, thinking themselves as though they are still at work. Suddenly being unemployed is very difficult for many to cope with without that actual crutch being there, thus causing high levels of stress and has been known in occasions to be the trigger of heart attacks, depression, feelings of failure, etc. Very few have the chance to enter back into employment at the same level (less even higher), where many have to take a lower position and some find no further work at all. And here is when another problem tends to start; those who have had responsibility and has been taken away from them (and have operated in a certain way in achieving their previous results), they try to impose those ways of working in their new role, company and new culture, which could lead to less responsibility or even worse, losing that position altogether!
And what do men do when they are in such a mid-life situation?
For those who don’t implement their plan B; they bottle it up. When our partner asks us questions men tend to take it personally, withdraw more from the relationship, start an affair, drink, or just go to waste in some other form. It is great women ask their partners what is bothering them, but for most men, it is not in the way they need. They feel as though their role in the relationship is now wrong in some way and their expectancy as a partner, husband, father, etc that was determined in their younger years is no longer valid and their ‘manhood’ is threatened and weakened, for example. This puts risks to health, marriage, family, friends, etc.
The problem is, there is usually no ‘plan B’ to help men out of this situation, nor to realise it’s now time for a role re-definition. Also, for those lucky few who do manage it, realise it’s also time to open up to their partner and re-plan their remaining life. The other problem is, most men have never considered a plan B would be required and when in the middle of this conflicting time, don’t really know they need a plan B, or if they do, don’t really know how to go about it.
Then there are those who ‘want to open up to their partner’, but for some reason, can’t. Maybe they don’t trust their partner, believe in them, or don’t want to be together with them anymore. Let’s stay with those who want to stay with their partner or give their relationship another go and are wondering how to open up and show their ‘vulnerability’ to them. The role of women has changed significantly over the years and women are more self-assertive, more confident and more self-sufficient (and rightly so), but for many men, this feels like an unintentional attack on their ego and don’t know how to deal with it and thus back off. Questions I’m always asked is ‘what if she leaves me when I tell her what I’m feeling?’ or ‘won’t she think I’m weak if I open up?’ The answer you will never know until you ask, but if you don’t ask, then that distance between you two will continue growing and at some point, may be too much and separate with probably with a lot of expensive acrimony and bitterness in the air. If you do talk with each other, then your relationship has the potential to re-grow in a new direction together. Remember, male mid-life is not just for men, it affects women too.
Now I hear you saying, ‘but if I talk to her, she’ll think me as weak and will leave me.’ In some cases women already know your strengths and weaknesses, what you think and feel and the relationship goes on from strength to strength. Yet, for many, this isn’t the case. On those seldom occasions when a relationship or marriage does come to an end through not discussing anything together is a great shame, especially when we consider the years of commitment already invested in a relationship. By discussing all key problems together, it also helps for finding out the true reasons of a failed partnership and if it isn’t salvable, then how to break up amicably, thus giving you both a stronger start to and independent mid-life and probably saving a lot of cash too!
Another problem men have is when their partner notices something is wrong with you and you feel somehow threatened and thus tend to bite back and retreat. The problem for women is they usually care and approach this as they would with female friends.
Tips for men:
This small list is a starter to get you on your way, however, seek help if you want to make further progress and are not sure how.
- Open up emotionally, even if you start to handle it as a conflict (in your mind, it probably is!) and talk. Maybe if it helps, plan a time and put a basic structure of what you want to say. It’s probably not the right things, however it gets your mind more open.
- Agree with your partner to answer all their questions as honestly as you can.
- Also, apologise to your partner first and at the end should you get a little bitchy toward them. You don’t mean it personally and it’s your ‘protection system’ kicking in. I would also recommend you ask them for some time to think if something is asked and you don’t know how to respond.
- Explain to your partner you are fully open to all comments and listen objectively to them.
- If, and only if, a discussion starts to flare up into an argument, have an agreement to stop the discussion, calm down and get back to the subject again.
Tips for women:
- Men are simply kids at heart when it comes to emotions and their ego, so handle them gently, yet carry on confronting him until he says what he needs to.
- Don’t tell him what he needs to do. If you can, phrase your advice so it seems they have come up with the idea themselves. If your partner is open to suggestion, then maybe it’s good to break it into smaller stages first.
- If a discussion gets out of hand, agree a stop signal and have a break. But come back and continue the discussion to the end, or as far as you both can go. Some subjects may need more time (maybe several days) to be realised (from both you and your partner).
- Remember, keep on praising them. Their ego is seriously damaged and needs to be stroked. They haven’t had the immensely varying life experiences you have had and this step they are going through is generally too big for them to handle in one go.
- Keep asking questions and reformulating their comments that help them look at other aspects of their life as benefits. Their past life is no more and no one can expect that of anyone who has hit mid-life.
- And your partner needs to feel your closeness, so remember to hug him and make him and his ego feel needed.
- You may also have mid-life problems and don’t know how to go forward with them (kids have left home, partner is always at home, death of friends or loved ones, etc), tell him what your problems are and how you need him to help you through this difficult time. Make suggestions and ask your partner how they think they could work this out together.
- Once you are understanding this new and wonderful (2nd adulthood) life situation you are in (and there’s no way out of it!), start planning and visualising on how you are going to get through this together… and do it! Plan a new career, a new business, a new partnership, renew your vows, take more holidays together, be involved with the community, whatever. This is the start of a new growth.
- I mentioned visualising above: take some minutes each day to visualise how your day will go and what you want to do. And in the evening review what you have done. If there was anything you wasn’t happy with, how would you react differently next time and visualise it.
- Remember, we are constantly faced with challenges, problems and issues throughout our whole life, they never stop, but the greatest harmony a partnership can has is working through these problems together.
If you wish to review this new life situation with powerful exercises on how to get one with it, please contact me and I can explain how one of our sessions work. These sessions are useful if you want to make the most of your new 2nd Adulthood and live your remaining life to the full.