Four Common Relationship Questions From Midlife Crisis
In our conversations with thousands of people in a midlife marriage and relationship, we’ve developed effective and unique guidelines for supporting relationships to weather crisis. Here are four critical questions with answers and tips for how to better balance out your challenges.
However, know that much of our midlife marriage and relationship support is usually specific to the person, relationship and situations as they arise. If you’d like to talk, please Contact Us and let us know your timezone/city so we can schedule you for a phone session.
How much do I talk to my Midlife Partner or Spouse?
You may have discovered that communication is awkward or spirals into conflict. You might find yourself responding by offering more solutions or talking more which only spirals the situation more out of control. Your partner is facing a crisis, and we need to buy time for them to sort/grow through their crisis. So, the counter-intuitive first step is often to pull back some on your communication.
Generally, on average, you want to follow our one out of every three rule. This means that you only reach out, to your midlife partner, one out of every three times you feel the urge. If you feel like talking to your husband or wife, only do so, one out of every three times.
There are multiple reasons why you want to reduce your interactions in a midlife marriage & relationship. Here are a few:
- A person in a midlife crisis is experiencing and processing deep internal conflict. So, the more you reach out, the more they lash out at you with their pain and confusion. By giving them space, you give them time to process their change and internal conflicts without taking it out on you.
- More than likely, you are holding a story that they aren’t comfortable with anymore. Over time, you may be able to shift how you hold these stories in the relationship as it transforms. However, you may not even be aware of what the stories are right now. For example, a person may love working with cars their whole life, and at midlife, they stop caring about cars. If you bring up their love of cars, they will react negatively and lash out at you for holding them back.
- During midlife, an individual often has two personalities – the old person you married and the new person waking up inside of them. You can see it in how they talk. They will alternate between being an immature newer personality and their old self. The switches in personality will confuse you. So, you may need time to adjust the way you talk to the new “Tom” versus the old “Bob”. Sometimes it helps to give the new person a new name (e.g., Tom) so that you remember there is a different personality in play. Pay attention and see if you can tell which story they are holding before you talk to them. Is this the new Tom or the old Bob? This is partly why it’s so important to pace your communication since you don’t want to create conflict with the newly awakening person.
- Because the midlife person is in transition and they are developing into a new person, the more you talk to them, the more energy you take from their personal transformation process. They are often fragile, and in survival mode, so they don’t have the capacity to return polite conversation. Words can hurt, and we want to minimize hurtful words during midlife, otherwise things will get said that can destroy relationships permanently.
An analogy we use in our teachings is that a person in midlife is often like a glass of water at the edge of a table. You don’t want to be the one to knock it over. You may feel like giving your partner help or energy, but that help is actually what pushes the glass off the edge to fall and break. Only connect lightly and be the calm, centered, loving person observing the glass at the edge of the table and not pushing them off the edge.
If they reach out to you, it’s okay. However, when you feel like saying something to them, only allow yourself to speak 1/3 of the time. This goes for intimacy as well. If you feel like kissing or touching them, only reach out one out of every three times.
This ratio (1:X) can change depending on the situation. So, we often recommend a different ratio depending on your unique situation. You can self adjust the ratio by watching how everything plays out. For example, if communication is good, you may make the X smaller (1:2). Or, if there is more conflict, make the X bigger (1:4).
How do I navigate the Midlife conversation with our children?
We often hear stories of the person in midlife crisis saying and doing inappropriate things in front of the children. For example, they may say something to the effect that the family is not okay and that they aren’t sure they’ll be okay. These kinds of statements, while common feelings for a person in midlife, can be traumatic for you as well as your children.
Most children know when something is up with their parents. They are tuned into us for survival. So, when something goes wrong with one of us or in our relationship – they feel it.
One tip we often give people who are in a midlife marriage & relationship support session with us is: don’t waste energy trying to hide that your husband, wife, or partner is going through a midlife crisis from your children. You can shelter them from harm, however, be open about midlife as an important time of transformation.
Here are a few more tips on how to communicate and work with children in a midlife relationship:
- Say things like, “Dad needs time to sort out who he is.” or “When you reach your forties, sometimes you feel like making changes in your life.” Reassure children that midlife is a normal phase of life. “What mom is going through right now is a big shift in life. She loves you very much. I love you very much. Mom just needs space to learn more about who she is becoming. So, we’re going to give her space to do that.”
- Don’t overshare; children are not adults. They can’t process the situation in the same way you can. Parents often over-explain the situation to the children. This will only create more anxiety for the children. Keep the discussions simple, answer their questions but don’t give extra information either.
- You may get the kids out of the house more. Give your partner space and take the kids on a day trip, to friends or loving relatives homes. Getting the family out of the house gives the person in midlife time to reflect and be on their own.
- Allow the person in midlife to be out of the house more. They are trying to find themselves and often feel they can’t do that while in their current relationship, family, or job. Give them space to find out who they are in this new phase of life.
Often times, the new person in a midlife crisis is not capable of connecting to children. They are disconnected from their parenting self. To over push them to work with the children as a way to help them heal is a mistake. This will create conflict that only speeds up the breaking of the situation. You can use a variation of the 1/X rule for how often they connect to the children.
Show your love to the children and give your partner time to rediscover a new connection with the children. Don’t use your children as a way to reconnect to your partner, because if you do, most of the time it will only degrade your partner’s relationship with the children. You have to be patient for your partner to grow into a stronger person first and then reconnect later.
Do I still want to be in the Midlife Relationship or am I Pau?
This may be a simple yes or no, but for most people who talk to us, it isn’t. The situation is one where you feel a deep love for the partner, but the situation is so painful that you need to find a way out of the pain. Most people experiencing a partner in midlife crisis will say it was one of the hardest moments of their life.
The word Pau is Hawaiian for being done with something. It means DONE DONE! It means you are fully done with it and don’t want to put another second of energy towards it. So, ask yourself if you are truly done with this relationship? Are you Pau?
This matters because fundamentally, you have two approaches to resolving midlife relationship problems.
- Long game – You are willing to do anything to make things work, and you are willing to take a year or two to make it work.
- Short game – The situation is about to go into divorce or separation.
A little help goes a long way in solving relationship problems.
How you approach the situation depends on which game you are in. The most common first step we have to do is buy time to help you stay in the long game. Almost all the relationship advice out there pushes midlife relationships into the short game. The most common first step when we help a person is to shift the game from the pre-short game back into the long game.
We help balance you to be in the right time frame. Our advice is tailored so you will win either game. Know our long game advice is vastly different than the short game advice. Be careful who you listen to since most advice that works at other points of life will do the opposite for the midlife relationship and push you into the short game.
It’s important to know when you or your partner is Pau. If either of you hits Pau, then you are in the short game. Any work to play a long game only makes everything worse once a person is Pau.
We are here to help you navigate this gracefully. When you are near the short game, we can help get things into the long game to save your marriage. When things are challenging, we then help protect you and walk you safely through the short game. This is something we assess in the first call with you.
You can’t measure when Pau will be in the future. To measure Pau is to create Pau. Instead, you just know if you are in Pau. If you have to ask, you are not quite there yet. The person in midlife crisis will feel like Pau is around the corner, and you will feel Pau is years out. No matter how close Pau feels, it only happens when it happens. In other words, as long as you are both not in Pau, you can play the long game.
We work with people both in the short and long games with midlife relationships. If you still want the relationship, you are in the long game. You aren’t ready for Pau. In this phase, you need to release your desire to know when Pau will be. Otherwise, you risk creating the end of your relationship prematurely.
Now, if your midlife partner has mentioned the word divorce or moved out, this complicates the situation. Your spouse has determined they are Pau. If you think you’re partner is Pau, you may consider talking to a good divorce lawyer and being prepared for Pau – even if you aren’t ready for Pau.
Do I need Support in my Midlife Relationship?
When a person is in midlife, the partner is juggling understanding these four aspects of the situation:
- Holding together the old life while your midlife partner or spouse is moving away from it
- Coming to terms with your midlife partner’s new personality
- Wondering what the midlife person will do next
- Working hard to minimize the conflict in the situation
Without an outside perspective, to help you pace yourself, it’s easy to make a mistake, say the wrong thing and create more conflict. Too much is happening all at once, and even small mistakes explode out of control.
The simple truth is that most people need someone to reinforce the proper actions: otherwise, we are often our worst enemies acting out of fear. Another person can help you see what you can’t and calm the situation down. When we work with you, we see the different angles that help you stay in the long game or more gracefully move forward in the short game.
Even strong people will make mistakes. We’ve seen so many people send the wrong text, say the wrong thing at the wrong time and create more conflict and pain than necessary. At times a person knows they are doing the wrong thing and cannot stop themselves without outside help.
Our goal is to step you into the long game to create new options. The options that lead to solutions are often counter-intuitive. It’s important to use each problem to improve your situation rather than avoid the challenges. We use the mistakes made in the past to teach you how to improve your situation.
Usually, when a person finds our website there has been some sort of big change in the relationship. The person in midlife has just been discovered to be in an affair, or they’ve moved out. If this is the case, know that the next three months will be the most challenging. It takes about three months to resolve or work through the emotional turmoil in play. So, the anger, frustration, grief, sadness – whatever you’re feeling now – will need time to process.
Give yourself that time.
Remember, you’re not alone. Seek out others who will be nonjudgmental and kind. If your partner will go to a counselor, great! If not, don’t worry about it. They have their path, and sometimes they won’t accept help. First, seek out a coach or counselor who can support you!
You can start right away with this video we made to help you understand and address your partner’s midlife changes!
We work over the phone and also offer couple retreats!