Midlife Crisis or Relationship Crisis: How Can I Tell?

Reader’s Question

I was hoping someone could answer a question for me… My boyfriend is 44 and is going through what some people call a male midlife crisis. He doesn’t know what he wants. One minute he wants a relationship, the next minute he doesn’t. He’s always sending mixed signals… Is there something we can do to help him through whatever this is he’s going through?

Psychologist’s Reply

A “midlife crisis” is actually a type of depression in which the individual does a mental and emotional review of their history and life. Their behavior may change and they may try to recover fantasies from their younger years — buying a sports car, that kind of thing. They may behave in a way that is unexpected for their history and personality. In a true midlife crisis, almost all aspects of his life will be affected and he will question his job/career, family, direction in life, his health, his accomplishments, and a variety of others concerns. If his only issue is the relationship, it’s not a midlife crisis — it’s a relationship crisis!

If it’s a relationship crisis, you should review his history on your own. Does he have a history of stable romantic relationships or has he jumped from one partner to another? Has he been recently divorced or been in a situation that would place him in the “still recovering stage”? Has your relationship with him reached a point where he’s actually hesitant to continue? Does he have a history of relationships that don’t get beyond a certain stage such as long-term planning or commitment? Has this relationship been at a stand-still for a long time?

If it’s a true midlife crisis, look for signs of depression (sleep problems, no energy, poor concentration, social withdrawal, etc.). If he’s depressed, recommend seeing a physician as a starter. If it’s a relationship crisis, ask him to consider counseling as a couple or individually. If he’s resistive to all attempts to help him, then it’s likely he is slowly fading out of the relationship and using a “midlife crisis” as the reason.

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