I get a decent amount of correspondence from wives who have husbands in a mid-life crisis. The wives are understandably worried and concerned. Often, the wives are looking for some way to jolt their husbands out of this. They have often tried to talk to him or debate this, but nothing has worked. Their husband is usually defensive and perhaps gets angry during the discussion. Many of these wives can literally feel their marriage, and their husband, slipping away. So they decide to write a letter because they want to say what they feel desperately needs to be said.
However, many aren’t sure how to go about this, or even if this is the best idea. Here’s a typical concern. A wife might say: “my husband has been in a mid-life crisis for about a year. At first, it started out just with my noticing that he seemed restless, distant, and distracted. I mentioned it to him and he denied that anything was wrong. Then, he attended a high school reunion and that is when things really got bad. He started complaining about our finances and saying that many of his classmates were in a much better place than he was. He talked about quitting his job and going back to school. He started spending ridiculous amounts of time in the gym. Of course, this worried me. But I wasn’t completely panicked until he started talking about a marital or trial separation. Now, he hasn’t pursued this yet. But I am sure that it is all just a matter of time. I have tried to discuss this with him. Numerous times, in fact. But then we end up arguing and he accuses me of just accepting the status quo and questioning why I never want to seek more in my life, as though I am some kind of slacker. I want to tell my husband that it is honestly time to grow up. We are adults with adult responsibilities. We can’t just get all caught up in pondering the meaning of life. I love my husband and it kills me to watch as he slips further and further away from me and he grows more and more unhappy. I want to write him a letter and tell him all of this, but I don’t know if that’s a good idea. What should a letter say to a husband who is in a mid-life crisis?”
I can certainly give you some guidelines, but since you know your husband better than anyone else, you would be in a better position to judge this. Plus, only you are intimately aware of the situation and what your husband finds most problematic. But here are my thoughts. I hope that they are helpful.
Understand Why You Have To Be Very Careful About What He Hears In Your Message: I understand wanting to tell your husband to snap out of it or to grow up. But from my experiences and observations, I’ve come to the opinion that this is a strategy that is very risky and that often fails. This is especially true because you’ve said that your husband argues and gets defensive when you try to talk to him about this. Honestly, what you are experiencing is very typical. No one wants to perceive that their spouse is saying that they are being an old fool who needs to just snap out of it. I know that sounds harsh, and I know that this isn’t the way that you mean it. But what you need to understand is that this is how your husband hears it. He’s at a place where he is obviously struggling and feeling a little badly about himself. So the last thing that he probably wants is to hear is the person closest to him criticize him at a time when he feels the most vulnerable. (I know that men in mid-life crisis often don’t LOOK vulnerable. But that’s what the crisis is – trying to hide or banish weakness.)
The Tone You May Want To Consider In Any Letter: Before you write the letter, I want you to try to put yourself in your husband’s shoes right now. I know that this is a challenge, but I think that it is so important. Imagine that you feel solely responsible for your family’s finances. (Even when their wives work, men feel that it is ultimately their responsibility.) Now imagine you saw former friends who have more money than you. This makes you feel awful about yourself. So you try to control what you can. You consider going to school for a better job, but you realize that you are aging. You try to hit the gym to feel younger. But still, you are aging. This all hurts. And your wife is looking at you with angry eyes and demanding to know what is happening with you.
I am asking you to envision this because I want you to feel what he is feeling before you put pen to paper. And I want you to understand how important it is that you approach him with understanding and support rather than in a critical way or in a way meant to “shake some sense into him.” I’m not sure that the actual words matter. It is the sentiment that matters. And in my experience, the sentiment should be that you worry that he is struggling, that you love him, and that you want to support him in this. You want him to know that more than anything, you want him to be happy and to know how valued he truly is – regardless of whether life didn’t work out exactly as either of you planned. In the meantime, you want him to know that you are there for him – to listen to or to support him – or to offer whatever he needs.