Advice: Men at Midlife

Please explain "men's midlife crisis." I need to know if my husband is having one and what I can do about it.

Let's focus first on the term: The folk diagnosis of "men's midlife crisis" is often used to describe a series of seemingly unexplainable emotional pressures to make a drastic change. It is called a "crisis" because of the disruption it can cause for both the man and his family. A midlife crisis can entail buying a Corvette or having an affair with the secretary.

The behavior can manifest in many ways. But the important question is: What emotions drive the behavior? From an emotional perspective, men may start to feel wanderlust, a desire to recapture the emotions and experiences of youth. And these experiences are often rooted in sexual expression and conquest.

From a conscious perspective, men want adventure, challenge, love, and passion. Sometimes these passions are channeled into hobbies, cars, and gadgets. However, the "why" of these passions is inscribed in male biology.

From an unconscious or "ultimate" point of view, the "crisis" may have evolutionary roots. Evolution works by furthering genes.

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Males have evolved to seek mates, but also to seek multiple sexual conquests. As controversial or unseemly as this may sound: biologically speaking, men are capable of siring multiple children with multiple women, and are therefore driven to seek new and varied partners.

The so-called midlife crisis is often sparked by the need to look elsewhere to satisfy that wanderlust. Most men, fortunately, are not lured into disrupting a family and having an affair, though we all know some who are. But here's a key data point for men and women: Men rarely report being happier after making a drastic change in a relationship. In fact, they often report regret about disrupting their family structure.

One positive approach: Discuss your husband's emotions openly and non-critically. The data are clear: Any major disruption comes with great pain and will not necessarily lead to more happiness. Fortunately most men understand this and, with encouragement from their partners and friends, work to revitalize their marriages.

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