How a Midlife Crisis Can Lead to Divorce

Published June 19, 2020
Couple having a disagreement at home

The symptoms and behavioral reactions associated with a midlife crisis can certainly lead to a divorce. Whether you are experiencing a midlife crisis, or your partner is, it's important to understand what a midlife crisis is, what triggers it, and how you can prevent your marriage from crumbling because of it.

How Midlife Crises Cause Divorce

A midlife crisis is a personal and individual transition period that may be accompanied by uncomfortable symptoms that can result in detached and impulsive behaviors and thoughts. This discomfort can trigger a slew of marital and relational issues that may culminate in a divorce. Because partners experiencing a midlife crisis may withdraw, become more easily agitated, and seek major life changes, their current partner may be left behind feeling confused, hurt, and hopeless.

What Is a Midlife Crisis?

A midlife crisis can last from several months to up to 10 years. During this time, one reflects back on the beginning half of their life and confronts the mortality associated with entering into the second half of their life. If you are wondering if you are experiencing a midlife crisis, or if your partner is going through a midlife crisis, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for. Aside from being in the age range of 45 to 65, signs and symptoms of a midlife crisis may include:

  • Perseverating over past regrets
  • Not sure which direction to move in
  • Wanting to make major life changes, but not knowing where to start
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Change in appetite and sleep habits
  • Increased symptoms of anxiety and/or depression
  • Obsession with youthfulness and quick fixes to look or feel younger
  • Impulsive decisions
  • Withdrawn from others

If you or your loved one is experiencing thoughts of self harm or harming others, reach out for help immediately.

Midlife Crisis Versus Midlife Transition

While a midlife crisis isn't listed as a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statics Manual V, it can be accompanied by one or more mental health disorders, which can further complicate this transitional period. Unlike a midlife transition, a midlife crisis may be filled with more emotional turmoil and possibly a related, formal mental health diagnosis. While some say that a midlife crisis is the same as a midlife transition, the word "crisis" indicates that one is more of a struggle to work through. Mental health disorders that may accompany a midlife crisis include:

  • Substance and/or alcohol use disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Increase in presentation of personality disorder symptoms

When someone is in the midst of a personal crisis, they tend to focus more energy on themselves, which can damage their marriage. Their partner may feel them pulling back and try to engage with them more, which can lead to arguments, or pull back as well, which can lead to a major relational detachment.

Mature man hits the drink

Life Events That Cause Midlife Crises

Significant life events or changes can trigger a midlife crisis. Common themes that may come up regarding major life transitions include questioning your identity, re-evaluating your self worth, and wanting to prioritize having fun on your terms. Examples of life events that may trigger a midlife crisis include:

  • Loss of job or retirement
  • Becoming empty nesters
  • Birth of a child
  • Major illness or health issues
  • Death of a close family member or friend
  • Being away from your partner often due to work or other obligations
  • A specific zero birthday such as 50 or 60
  • Having to move or relocate
  • Decline in physical capabilities

How to Prevent a Midlife Crisis From Causing a Divorce

There are ways you can prevent a midlife crisis from causing a divorce, although keep in mind that it takes the commitment of both partners to make a relationship successful and healthy. The best possible scenario is that both partners are committed to each other, are supportive of difficult life transitions, and are willing to seek outside, professional help if issues cannot be resolved. Keep in mind that the partner experiencing the midlife crisis may ask for a divorce, but their partner may ask for one as well if the relationship has deteriorated.

If You're Having a Midlife Crisis

Know that anything could be triggering your midlife crisis, and that it isn't necessarily your partner. While your partner may play a role in your midlife crisis, often, there are more personal, deeper feelings, insecurities, and fears at play. However, you may have felt unhappy in your marriage prior to your midlife crisis, and reaching this transitional period may bring up thoughts of wanting a divorce. There are several ways you can go about preventing your midlife crisis from affecting your marriage. To start:

  • Recognize if you're having a midlife crisis and know that this may be a challenging life transition for you.
  • Allow yourself time to process your thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. Seek out a counselor or therapist for added support if you'd like.
  • Think about what is triggering your midlife crisis specifically (partner, career, relationships, family, travel, general regrets, personal reflection on choices, general mortality fears).
  • Know that you may be unconsciously projecting or deflecting your inner pain onto your partner. This may result in you feeling more agitated with them, feeling higher levels of unhappiness around them, and/or wanting more space.
  • If you feel safe with your partner, and you've identified your core triggers, ask them if you can speak with them about how you've been feeling. Before speaking with them, be sure to let them know that you either want to be heard and supported, or if you want them to help you come up with proactive solutions.
  • If you feel safe with your partner, let them know what you need for the time being, so you can fully process what's going on with you, while still being transparent with them. Set some scheduled check-ins so your partner isn't left wondering how you're doing.
  • If you both are dedicated to your marriage, find ways to connect that feel good to both of you. This may look different than how it was before, or you both may decide that marriage counseling is the best option for you in this moment.

Give yourself time to process your feelings before going through with a divorce. You may find that you had other issues to work out that impacted your marriage, but weren't because of your marriage.

Counselor giving advice

If Your Partner Is Having a Midlife Crisis

Surviving your partner's midlife crisis can feel really challenging, painful, and as if you've been abandoned, especially if they've shut you out of their process. It's important to keep in mind that you will never be able to control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. You can, however, work on creating a safe environment for your partner to explore this stage in their life. Begin by:

  • Mentioning that you've noticed a shift in their behavior, and that you're here for them if they want to talk.
  • Ask them what they need from you and from your relationship. If it's space, be respectful and honor their wishes. Be sure to set a date to check in again.
  • Let them know you are here for them and support them.
  • Avoid starting arguments or pushing their buttons, even if they're acting more agitated with you. Know that this likely isn't about you, but is more about their "stuff."
  • If they've been avoiding you or pushing you away, let them know that it seems like they'd like some space and that you're willing to give it to them. Let them know that you are open to reconnect when they'd like.
  • Keep in mind that for some, a midlife transition is extremely painful and scary, and emotions may be displaced and taken out on you. Don't get sucked into their unhealthy processing by engaging in tiffs. Instead, let them know you hear them, and you'd be happy to talk when you're both feeling calm.
  • Take time to think about what you're comfortable with. For example, some who have experienced a midlife crisis engage in extramarital affairs, or other risky behaviors. Note if you'd want to work on restoring your marriage if your partner told you about this.
  • Take care of yourself and focus on what makes you happy. Know that it isn't your job to be your partner's therapist. This is something they need to confront on their own and while you can be supportive, it is not on you to figure out what's triggering them.
A sad woman, man blurred in the background

Will My Partner Return After a Midlife Crisis?

Each situation is unique, and it's hard to predict whether your partner will return after a midlife crisis. If they physically left, they may return home, but they may seem different to you or have a new outlook on life that you may or may not be comfortable with. Note that it's not only up to them to decide if the marriage is the best fit for them, and that you have a say as well. If your partner has physically left to focus on themselves, spend some time figuring out what you want, and what makes you happy as an individual.

What Is a Midlife Crisis Divorce?

A midlife crisis divorce is a divorce that is directly tied to one or both partners experiencing midlife crises. While a divorce may seem like a fix to everything that feels wrong relationship wise, those who make this decision impulsively often experience regrets later on.

Midlife Crisis Divorce Statistics

While divorce overall has decreased, for those in the midlife and senior cohort, divorce is increasing. Research indicates:

  • Of those age 55 to 64, about 5to 11 out of 1,000 will divorce.
  • Those age 65 and older, about 2 to 6 per 1,000 will divorce.
  • Of those ages 40 to 49, about 21 per 1,000 will divorce with those on their second marriage and who have been married for under 10 years divorcing at higher rates.

These studies note that some people grow tired of their relationships as they reach the second half of their life and want to focus more on their needs and their wants. Societal and cultural approval of divorce has also changed drastically over time, making it more acceptable to file for divorce.

Middle Aged Man Taking His Wedding Ring Off

Midlife Crisis Divorce Regrets

For those who followed through with a divorce during their midlife crisis, some experienced common regrets. Common midlife crisis divorce regrets include:

  • Regretting hurting loved ones
  • Regretting allowing emotions to guide impulsive decisions
  • Regretting wanting everything in life to change
  • Regretting impacting their children's lives

Can a Midlife Crisis Cause Divorce?

A midlife crisis can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and subsequently a divorce if not processed in healthy ways. While a midlife crisis can lead to a divorce, there are ways you and your partner can work together on strengthening your relationship if you both are on board.

How a Midlife Crisis Can Lead to Divorce