As middle age starts to slowly creep up on you, you may begin to experience a sense of dread, regret, and hopelessness. “Is this it?” “Is it all downhill from here?” Perhaps you’ve recognized the signs, and you know exactly what you’re facing: a midlife crisis. The experience is awful. Through the lens of this feeling, every part of your life seems stagnated, your personality feels atrophied, and your self-worth has plummeted. Even well-meaning reassurances from your friends and family don’t do much against such a pervasive and destabilizing force. Naturally, you can’t wait for this feeling to end, and you’re probably wondering, “how long does a midlife crisis last?”
As a love and relationship coach here at Happily Committed, plenty of my clients have had marriages harmed or even destroyed by midlife crises. I know just how dangerous and painful it can be, and how seriously it needs to be taken. If you’re experiencing one right now, my heart goes out to you: it’s a hurtful and degrading feeling, and I know how hard it can be to even put into words. I hope this article can help you get back on your feet. In it, I don’t want to simply talk about the time frame you can expect for this crisis to disappear. Instead, I’d like to focus on something far more important: the steps you can take to speed up the process.
How Long Does a Midlife Crisis Last?
There is a lot of data out there regarding the duration of a midlife crisis. What makes it even harder is that plenty of people are experiencing a midlife crisis without even knowing that they’re in one! However, even when factoring in the difficulty of getting a clear answer, the most reliable data generally points to a midlife crisis lasting between 2 to 5 years for women, and between 3 to 10 years for men.
I know that number seems alarmingly high, and if you’re in the middle of these feelings, the thought that there might be years of it ahead of you can be really dispiriting. But don’t get too down on yourself just yet. The reality is that, with the right attitude and approach, just how long a midlife crisis lasts is completely under your control.
Overcoming a Midlife Crisis
At this point, it’s important to take a step back and separate what you’re feeling from what’s causing those feelings. That’s because our emotions can really suffocate our ability to think critically about problems, and stop us from finding solutions to them. The reality is that your way out of the woods is to identify the causes of your midlife crisis and put in the effort to address them. So, with that being said, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of a midlife crisis and what you can do about them. By tackling the problem head-on, you can shorten the amount of time you have to spend mired in this awful feeling.
Wake up, Work, Sleep, Repeat: The Midlife Crisis Cycle
One of the biggest causes of a midlife crisis is, coincidentally, the easiest to miss: routine. This is because it’s a problem that doesn’t seem like a problem at all, and the negative effects it has on your life build up so slowly that it’s impossible to notice them until you’re in the middle of a full-fledged crisis. Now, I don’t mean to say that any kind of routine is terrible or harmful to your mental health! Obviously, for many people routines are crucial to their productivity, their sense of stability, and to things as fundamental as their sleep cycles. The danger is in the fact that, left unchecked, routine can start to envelop every facet of your life and block you from experiencing new things.
The very things that feel threatened by a midlife crisis – our sense of youth, identity, and vitality – are precisely the same things that become stifled when routine cuts us off from new experiences. Think about it: being young is defined by experiencing new things, our sense of identity comes from the lessons we learn and the ways we react to those things, and vitality is the zest we feel from navigating a world rich in excitement and discovery. When you slip into a routine, you effectively cut yourself off from stimulus. And just like that, your sense of excitement about life can begin to atrophy. This is the root of that awful “is this it?” feeling.
On top of that, routine also makes your perception of time speed up, which is another miserable part of the midlife crisis experience. That’s because there’s nothing remarkable that stands out as the days begin to blend together and zip by. The reason why time didn’t seem to fly when we were just newly becoming adults was that the world was rich with things to learn, and in every day there was something to discover, meaning that time seemed to pass very slowly as we took everything in. But, here’s the thing: the world hasn’t changed, you simply might have become disengaged from it. The reality is that there is just as much to learn and experience now as there was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. There always will be.
So how do you break out of routine? You’re probably thinking it’s easier said than done, which is true if you’re thinking of changing every single part of your life all at once. Of course, with most of us, many parts of our routine (like work) are unchangeable for now. However, it’s enough to start small. Identify those parts of your schedule that you do have control over, fight through that brief anxiety we all get about trying new things, and plan some time to engage with things that have always interested you. The key is to get out of your comfort zone, otherwise you’re just walking a road you’ve already travelled, which isn’t really going to solve the problem. If you’re feeling a little nervous, you’re doing it right. Putting in that effort and fighting that feeling is going to make you feel alive.
This is a really critical part of overcoming a midlife crisis, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are plenty of ways to wiggling out of a suffocating routine, and if you’re still not sure how to begin, check out our course in breaking routine!
You Don’t Feel Confident Anymore
If you’re in the middle of a midlife crisis, you’re probably experiencing a serious loss in self-confidence. This is really common for people to go through, but the root of this feeling is commonly misunderstood. Here’s why: confidence always comes from a sense of accomplishment, but what most people get wrong about this is to focus only on big accomplishments. Sure, accomplishing massive life goals and succeeding in ambitious projects gives a certain type of confidence, but it’s not the long-lasting kind we need to feel self-assured day by day. This is why many people going through a midlife crisis are surprised to feel so unhappy with themselves, despite having done things they know they can be proud of, like raising a child or having a good job!
The truth is that lasting self-confidence comes from the small and almost imperceptible accomplishments that we make as we navigate life. This ties right back into our conversation about routine: as we experience new and unfamiliar things when we’re out of our comfort zone, we’re essentially met with tiny obstacles that we must overcome, over and over again. When we succeed, we slowly begin to build up a sense of self-respect and confidence, knowing that we can handle the next unfamiliar situation we find ourselves in. Here’s an extreme example: imagine you’re going to an exotic foreign country with no experience and no one there to guide you. At first you’ll be uncomfortable, and you might even make some mistakes like paying too much for something or accidentally getting off of a bus miles away from your destination. However, as time goes on, you begin to learn the ropes. Slowly you get a handle on how to navigate this world, and with each new situation, your confidence to solve the unfamiliar problem in front of you grows. That’s the root of lasting inner confidence, and you don’t have to go abroad to experience that right now! You simply have to make an effort to have new experiences and engage with unfamiliar things that interest you. To loop back to our earlier topic, the opposite of this entire process is routine.
Here’s where routine throws a wrench into the process: when you’re firmly in your comfort zone, there aren’t any fun and unfamiliar challenges that you have to overcome. There isn’t any sense of day-to-day accomplishment and growth, instead your personality and sense of capability start to feel increasingly rusty. But don’t worry, this isn’t a feeling you have to live with! Just as with routine, the trick to fighting a lack of self confidence is to get out of your comfort zone, embrace being uncomfortable, and try new things. It takes a serious effort, but it’s worth it.
You’re Bored with Your Partner
Unsurprisingly, this might be the most difficult thing for people to admit: that awful realization that you’re bored with your partner. This isn’t the same as not loving them, it’s just the feeling that your relationship is missing virtually all of the excitement and energy it used to have. Often my clients describe this feeling as having moved from a relationship into a partnership, where romance has been swallowed whole and replaced by managing the logistics of your very busy lives. The good news is that this feeling is normal, and it doesn’t have to be a plateau that your marriage never recovers from. If you know what’s causing it, you can take steps to fix it, and like so many others you can one day look back on it as just another challenge that you and your partner overcame during your time together.
Often, when nothing else is really wrong in the relationship, this “slowing down” is due to both of you experiencing your own quiet descent into boredom, routine, and the begrudging acceptance of the “new normal”. This disengagement from each other is just one of the many ways that a lack of stimulus, excitement, and self-confidence can manifest itself. The reason I know this is due to the high success rate of one particular approach towards reinvigorating a stagnating marriage: encouraging each other to re-engage with your own passions and goals. It may seem paradoxical, but giving each other the chance to be yourselves and to experience new things independently ultimately strengthens your bond by giving both sides of the relationship newfound energy and confidence. When you’re both feeling happier and more engaged with life, you’re more willing to engage with each other too. After all, when you two first met you were entranced by the new things you discovered in each other. Giving both of your identities a chance to flourish ultimately nourishes the foundation of your attraction to one another! Make sure that, throughout this process, you’re making an effort to communicate and be open about exactly what you’re feeling. Sharing this journey hand-in-hand is one of the strongest ways out of the fear and doubts that come with a midlife crisis.
Avoiding a Mid Life Crisis Mental Breakdown
Unfortunately, plenty of people experiencing a midlife crisis don’t know how to stop feeling like they’re in a freefall, and it’s precisely these people who have to endure the feeling the longest. Feeling trapped in a cycle of doubt, regret, and fear for years and years can eventually lead people to mental breakdowns. That’s why it’s so important to understand the power of your own perceptions and attitude: focus on the things you do have control over, because those are your tools with which you can climb this mountain.
Where a lot of people stumble is misjudging the scale of the solution: it’s not about leaving your spouse, it’s about improving the relationship. It’s not about dropping everything and traveling the world, it’s about making sure to take more time to do more exciting things. It’s not about quitting your job, it’s about finding something that gives you a sense of accomplishment every single day. Of course, on some rare occasions the answer really is to leave your spouse, find a new job, and travel the world, but in the vast majority of cases this isn’t a sign of someone solving their problems: it’s a sign of someone having a mental breakdown. Start small, and start with what’s in front of you. The road you need to take will become a lot clearer as you continue deliberately down this path.
With all of that being said, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can shorten the duration of a midlife crisis:
1. Break out of the Mid Life Crisis Cycle by keeping routine in check.
2. If you don’t feel confident anymore, make a concerted effort to experience new things and leave your comfort zone.
3. Overcome feeling bored with your partner by encouraging each other to engage with the things that matter to both of you.
Ultimately, remember that plenty of people have successfully faced this challenge, and you can too. As always, me and the other coaches here at Happily Committed are always available if you need help figuring out your path forward. Feel free to reach out to us by clicking here.
Your coach when you want to know, “how does a midlife crisis last?”