Life is a cycle of seasons, and the transitions between seasons can be worrying. There can often be minor interruptions in lifestyle, which are soon resolved. But when they persist, there is a crisis. Midlife is one of those periods that has been recognized as a period of potential crisis.
Midlife is between the late 30s and late 40s. It is different from the premenopausal years that occur later. Until the 1900s, only about 10% of women reached middle age. Their roles were well defined within the limited sphere of home and family, as wife, mother, domestic slave. The midlife crisis was unheard of.
However, the 20th century has seen an incredible lengthening of lifespan, with women living well into their seventh or eighth decade. Then, around the age of 40 or so, when the business of having children ends and children begin to assert their independence, a stretch of life looms before women that seems like a void. Husbands, too, may be going through their own midlife crisis and are like cranky hedgehogs. Or in a role reversal, they become too dependent on their wives. Women begin to feel trapped.
A woman can feel that life is passing her by. “Who I am?” she wonders. “Does my life count for something?” An inexplicable loneliness invades her as if she had no true identity of her own. Aware that her beauty and energy are gradually fading, she sinks into depression. This feeling of worthlessness is aggravated if there is marital dissatisfaction. The 20th century saw revolutionary changes in all aspects of life. Education, employment outside the home, the collapse of the joint family system, migration to the impersonal atmosphere of cities, changing sex roles, women’s liberation movements, youth culture, and rapid advances in science and technology , have created a kind of insecurity in the traditional woman. As she tries to keep up with the changing times, stress becomes her part.
It is in this context that Midlife Crisis becomes important. Whether single, married, or widowed, nearly two-thirds of women go through this phase. A career-oriented spinster of hers high up in the administrative hierarchy suddenly decided that she can no longer live alone. She conjures up images of being incarcerated in some Nursing Home, and the prospect of her alarms her. She therefore frantically searches the newspapers for a suitable spouse and may unwisely select an undesirable partner or enter into a cohabiting relationship. A sober middle-aged widow may decide to give herself a new image. She can visit a beautician to have her comb her hair, pluck her eyebrows and fix her wrinkles with Botox. She even she can start wearing heavy makeup and dressing like a teenager. She can flirt outrageously with eligible men or have an affair with someone younger than her son. People notice, gossip and laugh, but the woman throws the property to the wind and is brazen in her behavior.
A spinster with unfulfilled maternal desires may decide to have a baby out of wedlock or offer to ‘rent her womb’. Some psychologists say that the midlife crisis is just a convenient excuse for irresponsible behavior. But it can be argued that if this were the case, why wait until middle age to indulge? The Middle Ages is merely a transitional phase, and is not something to be feared, but to be welcomed. The crisis usually occurs when there is a lack of preparation. EM Blaicklock says that “the Middle Ages are the time when the fruits of life begin to ripen.”
You must be prepared for. It is a time to take stock of oneself and examine one’s lifestyle. One needs to identify the factors that can contribute to a crisis and address them individually. Is there a fear of losing youth, sex appeal and beauty? Does a few gray hairs, or sagging breasts or weight gain create panic? A psychiatrist says: “Feeling good and looking good is related to the balance between mind and body.” And Longfellow assures us that “age is no less opportunity than youth itself, albeit in another dress.”
Exercise, a balanced diet, relaxation, and a general interest in the world around us will bring a glow back to middle-aged faces.
Has the marriage relationship become boring? So one needs to put more effort into changing it. A little more love, communication, and care can go a long way to set things right. The husband may also be going through a midlife crisis and may be uninterested or unable to respond to her feelings. Therefore, a woman must verbalize her needs in a direct and specific way, making her understand that she is going through a difficult stage and she wants her understanding and love. A good husband will not only support his wife emotionally, but also give her the space he needs to develop her sense of self-worth. If a woman is suddenly widowed in middle age, her depression may increase. Or she might rush into an affair that is not a sensible thing to do while she is under stress.
For a woman who has spent the best years of her life being an exemplary mother, who has found identity and fulfillment in her children, the realization that they no longer need her and that a great generation gap opens up between them, makes her feel marginalized and useless. Middle age is also a time when one becomes vulnerable health-wise. Diseases such as obesity, hypertension, diabetes, the need for dietary restriction, medication, exercise, make her aware of her mortality. She begins to ruminate on her situation and gets stuck in self-pity. The decrease in monetary resources and the restrictions caused by retirement also represent a threat to her tranquility.
All of these stressors have a snowball effect, which can undermine a woman’s self-confidence and lead to altered behaviors such as depression, irritability, irrational behavior, assertiveness, or abnormal sexual interest. In fact, this phase is like going through a ‘second emotional adolescence’.
Anticipating and preparing for midlife can make the transition smoother. Life does not end at that stage. Floyd and Thatcher say: “The Middle Ages are a time for discovery, not stagnation. It is a time ripe for new beginnings, a threshold for a rich and exciting future. Approached with good humor and flexibility, and an open In exchange, half years and more can be the best half of life”. Life has many different seasons. In every season a woman needs to reevaluate her values from different perspectives. Whether single, married or widowed, she needs to flourish in her own identity, and not be a rubber stamp for her husband or a doormat for her children; neither she nor she should allow herself to be exploited even by her own family. She must also make decisions and assert herself when necessary.
Hobbies and new interests make life interesting. “Unleash your creativity,” urges Ann Morrow Lindbergh. Music, reading, traveling, painting are mood lifters.
Good friends are active in difficult times. They act as confidants or as sounding boards when one needs to vent. They provide support in times of stress and depression. Groups like Emotions Anonymous help their members open up and talk about their problems. They learn from each other’s experiences and help each other redefine their ideas and values. They become happy and confident. Artificial supports like drugs and alcohol are not the answer, nor is an extramarital affair a solution. It may just lead to feelings of guilt that are hard to shake.
Husbands and children need to realize that their supportive love can work magic to get them through the midlife crisis. But unless a woman verbalizes her needs and fears, they can’t know.
Finding time for introspection, refusing to condemn oneself for imagined shortcomings, and becoming aware of the temporary nature of such a crisis, is half the way to overcoming it. People tend to put God last when faced with a crisis. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13 are encouraging. “I am not yet all that I should be, but I am putting all my energies to confirm one thing: forget the past and look towards what is to come.” Prayer overcomes many crises.
Midlife is the season before the fall of life. Autumn is sure to follow, lighting up the personality with the golden hues of maturity and peace. Life will begin anew with a new vision of what remains of the future.