Middle-Age Slump

He wants a divorce, but it might be a mid-life crisis. Here's how to counter the impulse to split up.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015

My husband (age 42) and I (40) have been married 11 years. We
have two girls, ages 1 and 3. Over the past six years, we have moved
for my job four times. Each time my husband had to find a new job, even
though he is still in the same profession. The last move was actually
for him. I took a demotion and we moved back to his hometown so that he
could go back to a position he previously enjoyed.

My husband is a paramedic, so he has learned to block his
emotions somewhat. He has no problem with getting angry or mad, but the
sensitive emotions do not come easy. He did say that he feels middle-aged,
out of shape, and with nothing to show for his life.

Because of our many moves, he doesn't have any close friends
around, but he does have family. Although he has never been unfaithful,
he says that he is not sure now that he still wants to be married. He
wishes he had his own apartment to go back to for the night.

He is disappointed in himself to be even thinking about
divorce; he wanted to be the only one in his immediate family to stay
married. He just doesn't have romantic feelings for me any longer. I
feel very rejected. A marriage counselor we consulted said we are
normal and going through a typical stage of marriage. My husband has
thought about going to a counselor himself since he may be depressed;
he doesn't seem to want to participate in his hobbies any more. He says
he can't participate in sports or go motorcycle riding any more because
we have kids.

I try to get the two of us out together once a week, but many
times he is so anxious to get back to the girls, we end up going home
early. I have taken the girls with me to my parents for a weekend
leaving him alone and he said he loved it. Should I do more of this? I
thought that would just drive a bigger wall between us. We talk about
this problem a lot, but I always end up crying myself to sleep and then
he feels worse. I am at the end of my rope. Do you have any

Your understanding nature is admirable, but giving your husband a
break from family life while you keep carrying all the duties is not
going to make things better in the long run. Yes, your husband sounds a
bit depressed. But that is in fact an almost expectable event around his
age, when people must come to terms with their limitations and old dreams
for themselves. If he thinks separation or divorce is going to cure
that, he is sadly mistaken; it will only increase his loneliness and
disappointment. It's an internal process, and you can be supportive of

Every couple should know that if a marriage is good, the excitement
of early romance eventually fizzles -- only to be replaced by much deeper
feelings of attachment. The solution isn't separation; it's finding ways
to make life together novel and exciting.

You could help your husband by engaging in a conversation in which
you focus not on your feelings but on helping him explore his
expectations of fatherhood and also to dream some new goals for himself
in the context of family life. He needs to be connected to a brighter

Getting in shape might be one goal. You could find ways to support
each other in meeting goals, including having time together.

Your husband may be anxious to get back to the kids when you go out
because depression exacerbates fears and guilt. And it may also be
because he doesn't quite know how to feel romantic around you right now,
because he sure doesn't feel romantic about himself.

You two need a kind, loving conversation that's not about leaving
but about updated dreams for the road ahead.