Many of the wives who contact me are dealing with a husband who appears to be going through a mid-life crisis. This can be true whether there is a separation or not. These wives watch as their husband emotionally distances himself from his marriage, his spouse, and his family. They watch as their husband rejects what was once dear to him. They watch as he not only isolates himself, but also sometimes lashes out – for some imagined offense that the wife never committed. At first, the wife might try to ignore these slights. But over time, it can become harder and harder to deny.
She may even ask her husband if she has done anything wrong. And he may deny that she’s to blame at all. He may tell her that it isn’t her, that it is him. And yet, he continues to be emotionally cruel or even downright mean. She might explain: “I never would have described my husband as a mean or cruel person. In fact, his kindness was the very thing that attracted me to him. He has always gone out of his way to show me how much he values me. He has always been wonderfully sweet. But last year, things changed dramatically. It happened after his 50th birthday. My husband now questions everything. Things that used to make him content are no longer good enough for him anymore. Many of his friends are starting up their second marriages with younger wives. And I can’t help but notice that since all of this started, my husband is very critical of me. He will talk to me in a sarcastic tone. He never used to challenge my judgements or opinions before. But now, he will act as if I’m mistaken or just not very bright when he questions my ideals. It’s not teasing. In fact, there are times when it almost feels like an attack – as if he is criticizing or rejecting the values that we both used to share. I don’t understand this meanness. He denies that I have done anything wrong. I’ve asked him and I’ve searched my memory to determine if there is anything that I could have done. I keep coming up empty. I am at a loss. I think that I am a good wife who is mostly considerate and loving. So I don’t understand where this meanness is coming from.”
Understand Why He’s Struggling: I know that it’s almost impossible not to take this personally. But some of the time, a man going through a mid-life crisis will almost reject every part of his life – including his marriage, until he realizes that none of this is going to make things better. He will reject his old life and try on new roles, wanting desperately to feel at peace again. There are times when this is a frustrating process. He’s trying so hard to find his place in the world while in mid-life. It’s jarring to look around and to realize that you are much more than half way to mortality and that you only have so much time left.
Part of a mid-life crisis is desperately trying to determine how you want to spend the time that you have. There can be an almost frantic juggling, as you try on new roles and temporarily pause or discard old ones. That’s no excuse, of course. But it is the way that a man often feels.
Why You May Be Seeing The Mean Behavior: This discarding of the old or comfortable may be why you are seeing him remain distant and act mean. He’s not yet sure where you fit into this new life. So he is emotionally distancing himself until he figures it all out. The meanness could very well be born out of frustration. He’s hoping to feel better, but he hasn’t gotten the relief that he has hoped for. There are times in the process where men feel like an old fool instead of a reborn person (like they had hoped.) This can mean that anyone in close proximity feels the brunt of this disappointment.
I’m not defending middle-aged men who are mean to their wives. But sometimes, it helps to remember that even though it may not look like it, this is usually a man who is struggling. This doesn’t excuse his treatment of you. And you would be well within your rights to say something or to excuse yourself the next time that it happens.
What To Watch For: What you want to be really observant about is to notice if his frustration turns to indifference. Believe it not, indifference is more dangerous to a marriage than anger or frustration, at least in my opinion. A man distancing himself from his marriage can eventually become indifferent. And this is when his emotions for and commitment to you can shut down.
I don’t mean to scare you. Many men eventually come to their senses and escape a mid life crisis just fine. For many, it is a temporary situation. But you want to watch for that indifference. Because the sooner you address it, the better it is for your preserving the health of your marriage.