The Myth of The Midlife Crisis: Is It Really a Factor in Divorce?

Midlife Crisis. It’s a term that has become so embedded in popular culture that no one thinks to question it anymore. A guy suddenly leaves his wife, gets a flashy car and starts having an affair with his twenty-two-year-old secretary? Midlife crisis. A woman ups and walks away from her family to pursue a life as a sculptor in an art commune? Midlife crisis. In fact, any time someone makes an abrupt change in their lifestyle, relationship or career at any point in their thirties or forties, we automatically assume that it’s a midlife crisis.


Are we assuming correctly? Or is the “midlife crisis” just a myth that we bought into years ago, like the “seven year itch,” and we never went back to check our facts? Apparently, the answer to that is yes. According to modern psychology, the majority of adults go through their adult years without ever succumbing to the need to suddenly start having affairs, drive fast cars, or abandon their careers in the name of some emotional turbulence that strikes out of nowhere in their forties.


A vast body of research, including interviews, surveys, mental health screenings and even personality tests, reveals that most people never even experience a midlife crisis. So if it’s something that the majority of people never experience, why is it such a widely accepted concept? That’s a question that Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, began asking in the 1980s.  The answer might surprise you.


Research shows that very few people have real “midlife crisis” experiences.


According to Whitbourne, she began studying this concept over thirty years ago, and discovered that very few people in their forties actually experience what is termed a “midlife crisis.” Most of them, she says, are concerned with being closer to their families, being successful in their careers and being viewed as good people by their peers and community members.


The only people, Whitbourne says, that she discovered were more likely candidates for a midlife turn around were a very specific minority group. This group is characterized by their general unhappiness, which is not specific to their 40s, but rather has followed them throughout much of their life and tends to come to a head after several decades of unhappiness and unfulfillment in their adult years.


These people, Whitbourne says, are often the orchestrators of their own downfall when it comes to the struggles they face. They tend to make poor decisions with regards to their relationships and careers.  Resultantly, it places them in unhappy circumstances that they then try to escape with yet more poor decisions. If Whitbourne is to be believed, the only people who suffer from a “midlife crisis,” are the people who haven’t been happy for a very long time, and are making a last ditch effort to escape the misery that has plagued them for decades.


If you or your spouse are considering divorce as a result of what you think may be a “midlife crisis”, perhaps it’s time to consider getting some help and addressing the problems that have caused trouble for many years now. Who knows? Maybe you won’t have to end up in divorce court, and maybe the issues that need to be dealt with have very little to do with your age, or your marriage, after all.