You’ve heard all the jokes about men’s midlife crisis — the new sports car, the new exercise regimen and the younger woman. But if it’s happening to your husband its no laughing matter. The good news is your man may go through a midlife crisis — your marriage may even end — but you can come out better for it. That’s according to a new book called “How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis,” by Pat Gaudette and Gay Courter. Here's an excerpt:
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love, never so helplessly unhappy as when we have lost our love object or its love.
— Sigmund Freud, written in 1930, age 74
You are in a committed relationship, married or involved exclusively with one another. You thought everything was glorious—or, at least as glorious as it gets. All relationships have some rough spots. But now it seems that you are always fighting. Or he just doesn’t act like himself anymore. He doesn’t like his job. He wants a sportier car. He says you and he have grown apart. He wants something but he doesn’t know what.
All relationships have their difficult times, but when a previously sensible man morphs into an angry stranger, the difficulties compound. Does your man say he is no longer “in love” with you but his reasons, if any, are vague at best? Is he trying to reinvent himself as a younger, hipper guy? Is he looking for an elusive “something” that he can’t define? Have you twisted yourself inside out in an attempt to please him, but with no success? Maybe it’s time you stop trying to change yourself and focus on the real cause of his conduct. If this is new behavior for him and he is between the ages of 35 and 50, your man is blazing a trail through midlife—and he is probably having a crisis. But how do you know for sure? And if it is a crisis, what can you do about it?
You are not alone. Pat Gaudette has been through a midlife crisis twice—first as the person in crisis, then as the person affected by the crisis—and wanted to help others find their way through this confusing time. Because she understood the importance of having a strong support system, she established the Midlife Wives Club on the Internet for women caught in the middle of their man’s crisis, and later went on to write this book.
To join the Midlife Wives Club, log on to www.midlifewivesclub.com. Here you will find women sharing their experiences, giving advice to others, and finding answers to the questions that had been undermining their confidence. In this safe place, you will discover not only a sisterhood of survivors, but also a surprising bonus: men—themselves bewildered by their jumbled feelings—who provide another viewpoint that may help fit the puzzle together. Women’s midlife crises are also explored online. However, this book is a window into male midlife crisis primarily from the perspective of the women who take this unexpected journey—even though they were not planning to go and their bags were not packed.
When you read the stories on the website, you will not find the contributors’ names as they appear in this book (with the exception of the authors Pat Gaudette and Gay Courter). Most participants select screen names. While screen identities work in an online environment, Midlife Wives Club members are real people telling intimate stories, so we decided to give them fictional first names. We told online club members a book was in progress. Some chose to actively participate in the process, filled out questionnaires, picked pseudonyms for themselves and their partners, and altered other aspects of their identity. We assigned other contributors fictitious names.
Midlife Wives Club members log on worldwide, but while a region or country may be specified, no location is precise. The Internet is a global community, and midlife issues are faced by most couples to some degree—whether they live in Australia or Alabama, Japan or Johannesburg, London or Louisville. One of the strengths of the club is the support network that is available 24/7, regardless of time zone, because when people are distraught, they need immediate assistance and comfort.
While a few of the members’ posts contain direct quotes, all have been edited for conciseness and clarity, as well as fictionalized further to protect anonymity. Pat, who pioneered the website, is sharing the story of her second marriage with “Frank”; however that husband’s name has been changed. She is married again and nothing in this book reflects any aspect of that marriage. Gay has been married to Philip (real name) for 35 years. Nobody, except for Pat herself and Gay’s family, is identified correctly. If someone sees their real name or that of a spouse, it is merely a coincidence.
How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis contains the wisdom distilled from hundreds of thousands of anguished queries from apprehensive women and empathetic responses from the seasoned veterans who share their survival tactics. The contributors are mostly Americans, but there is strong international representation. Most are the partners of middle-aged men or are having relationship issues and find many of the discussions on subjects like marital disputes, adultery, abuse, abandonment, and divorce are pertinent to them. Some of the women are relieved to learn that their worst fears are not justified. Others see the pieces of their marital puzzle lining up to form the picture of a classic crisis. How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis will show how other wives began to suspect something was wrong. Some found out in one rude awakening. For others the realization came more slowly. For every woman the news is shattering, and she must face an onslaught of decisions and choices as she ventures on her unanticipated expedition. All along the way, fellow travelers down this bumpy road will share their experiences as well as their varied perspectives. Some women may choose to leave their spouses, others stand by their men through thick or thin. Many feel they have been left with no choices when their mates leave them. When the men chime in, their point of view is set off in “His Turn” sections, because understanding the nature of the beast is crucial before making life-changing decisions.
What are the men feeling? Is this a typical rite of passage? Will he get over it? Will life return to “normal”? Is every man vulnerable? Is he depressed, and might therapy or medication help? How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis includes the latest research—and controversies—on male midlife crisis. Social scientists disagree about how to define this phenomenon and whether there is a male counterpart to a woman’s menopause. But just as every 2-year-old learns the word “no!” and most teenagers turn ornery, every person experiences a midlife turning point to some degree. Around the time Pat’s second husband, Frank, became a grandfather, a serious illness forced him to face his own mortality, and the weak economy pushed their business to the brink of bankruptcy. The cumulative stress resulted in a midlife crisis. While Gay’s husband, Philip, did not have to confront so many issues simultaneously, he was not immune to the doubts that come when a man realizes half his life is over. Pat’s husband bought motorcycles and sailboats. Gay’s lusted after a classic sports car but ended up with an airplane. Pat and Frank drifted apart and agreed to a divorce. A plane crash helped Gay and Philip clarify their goals and values, and they adopted an older child from foster care. Pat found contentment in a new career and subsequent marriage. Not every couple will identify their transitions as a crisis, but they probably have experienced alterations, choices, and changes from mild discontent to full-blown upheaval. Some couples are adept in traversing the obstacle course of life as a team, others have a harder time working together or overcoming individual problems from their past that cannot be repressed at midlife. Long-time club members show how the midlife crisis experience evolves. Some of the participants who have been members of the club for many years share the long-term progress of their crisis. In Chapter 10 we learn how their crises resolved and the current status of their marriages.
The Midlife Wives Club is an interactive website with a forum, which is arranged by current discussion topics, that offers immediate feedback to questions and a way to express feelings and get help. How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis has distilled the best material and advice from thousands of postings on topics like how to tell your children and family, what to do if you suspect infidelity, and how to deal with your emotional rollercoaster. Worried mates will find practical advice on everything from what to do today to planning your future with—or without—the man who seems to be changing before your eyes. We urge readers to join the club online to get answers to their own questions and also to use the resources in the book’s appendix to locate other pertinent websites and books that club members report helped them cope.
CHAPTER 1: THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY: WHEN A MARRIAGE CHANGES — AND WHY
Rude Awakenings: First Signs of Trouble
Many members of the Midlife Wives Club recall with excruciating accuracy the precise moment they knew their lives would never be the same. Grace had a premonition. Her husband, Roger, had returned to England from a trip overseas. After sleeping late, he said he wanted to take a walk to get some fresh air and buy a paper. Grace was anxious to hear about his trip and watched the clock. He seemed to be taking much longer than expected. She began to pace the house, which was tidy and clean. She had stayed up into the early hours making everything perfect for him, because before the trip, he complained about the children’s messes and how he yearned for “clean spaces.” “The fact that I was trying so hard to please him while he was planning to leave me chokes me to this day.”
Then, she saw his briefcase by the front door, where the children’s backpacks usually littered the hallway. She picked it up to keep the area neat, but for some reason, she popped open the clasp and noticed a packet of condoms. “My heart was thudding, but I felt incredibly calm,” Grace said, “even though I knew from that moment my life would never be the same again.”
But it hadn’t been a bolt out of the blue. Grace had known for a long time Roger was unhappy with his life. He had become depressed the previous year and was taking antidepressants. He was losing his hair, which bothered him. Plus he lost his parents within a short duration of each other and felt guilty that he hadn’t spent more time with them in recent years. He felt pressure at work and at home, and he looked forward to the business trip because he said it might help give him some “needed space.”
As Grace walked slowly down the street to meet him, she noticed a guarded look in his eyes. She spoke in the calmest voice she could muster. “Do you have anything to tell me?” He said no and she repeated the question. Roger appeared flustered and shook his head. “Are you having an affair?” Grace asked.
Again Roger denied it, but Grace asked once more. This time he admitted it. “I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach,” she said, “yet I couldn’t stop asking the questions that would hurt me more: how long it had been going on, how old she was—twenty years younger than me!—and if he was still seeing her. Roger told me the affair started six months earlier and reminded me of the day he called in a panic when he learned there had been a takeover bid for his company and they were talking about who might be redundant. I remember thinking that was such a harsh word for someone who had given ten years to his job, and how my heart had gone out to him. He said he had to work late, which I understood, but instead he went out with her. I kept up the interrogation until he confessed that he loved her. From that moment, my marriage of 18 years was over.”
Another woman, Annie*, could barely bring herself to recall the moment she faced the truth. It was especially painful for her because as a reporter in Nashville, she was used to uncovering other people’s dirty secrets, but chose to ignore her husband Larry’s unexplained absences. One day, on a whim, she opened the accounting files. “He paid the bills and dealt with the taxes—chores I hated—so he hadn’t hidden the receipts for jewelry and lingerie. But there they were: the proof my marriage was a lie. Up until then, I had a starry-eyed naiveté about love that made my heart turn over every time I saw Larry walk in the door. To think I felt that way even though he had been with another woman!”
Like Annie, Lee* avoided all the signs. “I had been out of town for my father-in-law’s funeral and stayed a few extra days to help my mother-in-law. The children went home to Wisconsin with my husband. A neighbor agreed to take care of the children after school until their father got home from work. They were at her house when I got back in town, so I went over to pick them up.” Lee wanted to hurry home to unpack, but the neighbor asked her to come into the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
” ‘There’s something I have to tell you about,’ she said, then told me how she had seen James with another woman at a local park. I was about to say it could have been someone from work and she shouldn’t jump to conclusions when she said they were kissing. I looked straight at her and said, ‘Not my James, he wouldn’t do that, there is no way he would ever do anything like that!’ I asked if she could feed the kids supper, then went home and confronted James when he walked in the door.” James began to cry and begged Lee to believe he had needed to talk to someone who’d experienced the loss of a father. Lee asked him about the kiss, and he swore the neighbor had been exaggerating a friendly peck on the cheek. Still Lee suspected there was more to it.
All these women were blindsided by revelations that their marriages were far rockier than they had imagined. Why? Was it something they had done? Had their spouses been tempted by another woman? Had their husbands changed over time, and they had failed to notice the signs?
Excerpted from “How to Survive Your Husband’s Midlife Crisis: Strategies and Stories from the Midlife Wives Club,” by Gay Courter and Pat Gaudette. Copyright © 2003 by Gay Courter and Pat Gaudette. Published by Perigee books, a division of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publsiher.