Thirty-five feels too young for a mid-life crisis, but I can’t think of any other way to explain what my husband went through five years ago. He didn’t run out and buy a red sports car or take off with a younger woman; both of those reactions would have been total cliches, but they might have been easier to deal with than how he reacted. He was totally despondent, and at first, I had no idea what to do.
Psychologist Suzanne Phillips, MD, defines a midlife crisis as “a period of emotional turmoil in middle age (40-60 years) characterized by a strong desire for change.” Never an overachiever, my husband managed to come into his midlife crisis a full five years early. Which is why I didn’t recognize his crisis for what it was at first.
In hindsight, I can see why it happened. We had just had our second child. We had to transition our family of three to a family of four. My husband’s job was becoming more demanding and more stressful. Our son was born a week before Thanksgiving, which meant that my husband was not encouraged to take any sort of leave. (Anyone with a job in retail is expected to work the weekend after Thanksgiving.) On top of all that, my husband was about to turn 35.
His depression didn’t come all at once. He spent more and more of his time at home in front of the television, watching action dramas or playing video games. He barely helped out with household chores. He was always tired. Even his sex drive was low, but that didn’t bother me much since I was dealing with a newborn and postpartum hormones.
I barely recognized the man I had married.
We argued and fought often during this period. I couldn’t understand what was happening with him. I needed his help and support as I dealt with a newborn while making sure our 4-year-old daughter didn’t feel left out. The arguments became worse and worse; we were having shouting matches over dishes and laundry. Stupid sh*t.
Everything reached a crescendo and we just couldn’t handle it anymore. We had a screaming match that ended with him slamming our bedroom door and me leaving in the middle of the night to sit in a diner with a weak cup of coffee. It was the biggest fight we’d ever had.
When I returned a few hours later, we were both calm enough to talk. Like popping the cork from a bottle of champagne, all the emotions he’d bottled up for months came gushing out. Raised by a divorced mom, he was worried that he wouldn’t be a good enough father to our children. He felt stuck in a stressful job that wasn’t his intended career. He was not where he’d imagined himself to be at this point in his life. The worst part was that he didn’t know how to change it — or if he could change it. After our big fight, he was certain that he had lost me as his wife.
My heart broke as I listened to my husband pour out his fears and his seemingly hopeless wishes for our family. All I could do was tell him that we would figure it out together. He didn’t have to do it alone. We fell asleep that night wrapped in each other’s arms, both of us physically and emotionally exhausted.
There’s no quick resolution to a despair that rocks you to your core. We had many lengthy discussions about his worries and his dreams. I asked him questions to help him clarify his future goals. Goals that we would accomplish together.
No matter what, I reminded him often, he wouldn’t have to go through his depression alone.
I’m happy to say that he’s in a much better place. We still don’t own any sports cars, and I’m totally cool about his work wives. His fortieth birthday came and went without any kind of crisis. One is more than enough in this marriage.