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Updated 27 August 2013

8 signs of a midlife crisis

If your husband is going through a midlife crisis, it could become one of the most confusing and painful times of your life – and in his.

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If your husband is going through a midlife crisis, it could become one of the most confusing and painful times of your life – and in his. Not only will you wonder how someone you thought you knew well could change so much, but also why he is being so nasty to you.

"This is not an easy time for either spouse", says Ilse Terblanche, Cape Town psychologist. "Women could be going through menopause and this is also the time when there are often kids in the house going through adolescence. Men's seemingly difficult behaviour could be driven by depression or a sense of inadequacy. When children leave the house, men can also feel their role of protector or provider is over. So all round, this can get quite difficult."

So what are the signs that your husband could be going through a midlife crisis?

Infidelity. Men feel a decreased sense of virility as they grow older, hence the need to 'prove' their masculinity. And what better way to prove it than with the new secretary of 20? Many men who have been faithful all their lives, suddenly develop a roving eye in their forties or fifties, to the unavoidable detriment of their family life. The kind of woman they go for, is also often not really their type, but she is virtually, without exception, young and pretty. Those are the qualities he feels validate his masculinity.

Sudden interest in and change of appearance. A man whose idea of keeping up with fashion has always been an annual, single shopping spree in a chain store, will suddenly become fashion-conscious and also start wearing clothes meant for men half his age. Hair suddenly gets dyed or the style is changed, or an ancient gym contract is resurrected. He spends a lot of time in front of the mirror.

Resurrection of youthful behaviour. Your husband suddenly shows an interest in contemporary music, or goes to places where people younger than himself generally hang out. Or interests that he used to have, suddenly become interests again after many years. Or old friends that haven't been seen for years suddenly make a reappearance. Many middle-aged men who have never mastered the washing machine or the microwave, suddenly come up to speed with the latest in communication technology, such as SMS's and e-mails, especially if they're having an affair.

Sudden depression. Midlife is a time of reflection for many men. Goals they had in their teens and twenties, that may not have been reached, can be a cause for depression, because many men believe that what they have not achieved by age 50, is unlikely to be achieved afterwards. Some men can also become aware of their mortality and find this daunting. Many men have also reached a plateau in their careers and they find themselves harking back to their glory days. They also have lots of family responsibilities during this time in their lives, and these can also feel overwhelming.

Lack of interest in spouse/family. If your spouse suddenly loses interest in you sexually, or just generally in family life, that should be a warning signal. The lack of sexual interest could also signal the presence of another woman or insecurity with regards to sexual performance. Lack of interest in sex could also be a sign of depression. Conversely, sudden new sexual techniques that are unfamiliar to you, or a renewed interest in your sexual relationship, could also signal the presence of another woman.

Change in social patterns. If your husband has always been a homebody and suddenly starts going out to all sorts of pubs and clubs or starts having boys' nights out for the first time, it's midlife-crisis time. A change in social patterns usually signifies something significant's happening.

Sudden increase in alcohol consumption. Many young men have heavy drinking habits, and if your husband suddenly starts drinking more than usual, he could be harking back to his youth, or the increased drinking could be a reflection of where he is hanging out and with whom. He could also be stressed out or depressed, which could lead to the increased alcohol consumption.

Sudden impulsive decisions. These are a hallmark of the midlife crisis. Sudden and life-changing decisions are made, such as resigning his job, emigrating, selling the house, asking for a divorce, etc. usually without consultation with his spouse.

So how can you survive your husband's midlife crisis?
"Many marriages do not survive these difficult times, especially if the husband undergoes a change of personality and is constantly unfaithful", says Terblanche. "Marriage counselling and medication in the form of anti-depressants could go a long way to alleviating the stress of this very trying time, during which many marriages come apart at the seams."

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated April 2012)

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