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 July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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 suggestions?

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 that.

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 future.

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.