What Is A Male Midlife Crisis? Understand It So You Can Overcome It

male midlife crisis

How My Male Midlife Crisis Started

My male midlife crisis had been growing steadily more acute for three or four years, when, aged forty-one, I hit rock bottom.

Actually, that’s not true — there was no “rock bottom” as such. There were no drunken tears. No staying in bed for days on end. No rocking back and forth with my head between my legs. I didn’t even buy a little red corvette.

Here’s what there was — waking up every single day to a continual stream of negative thoughts and emotions about my life and how I’d flushed it down the toilet.

Some of these questions may be familiar to you:

  • “Why didn’t I do X instead of Y twenty years ago?”
  • “Is this all there is?”
  • “You think you look bad now, just give it another ten years.”
  • “I can feel the cold hand of Death on my shoulder.”
  • “What’s the point of anything?”
  • “I wish I was twenty-one again.”
  • “Women don’t even look at me anymore.”
  • “I need to change something, but I don’t know what.”

Why exactly I was suffering from a midlife crisis, I probably couldn’t articulate if you’d asked me.

I was married and enjoyed the company of good friends. I was self-employed and made okay money. I was yet to experience any major health issues or tragedies in my life.

Compared to many people in the world I guess you could say I led a pretty privileged and comfortable existence.

In my head, though, my life hadn’t quite turned out as I’d expected it to. Or wanted it to, for that matter.

I hadn’t led the amazing life I’d envisaged back as a twenty-one-year-old, fresh out of university and ready to take on the world. Instead of taking on the world, I’d I shrunk away from it.

All my youthful hopes and dreams had slowly fallen away one-by-one until I was left with the day-to-day existence of merely striving to make money. But for what?

The crushing sensation that I’d wasted my life pressed down upon me from the moment I opened my eyes every morning, to the moment they closed again at night.

Do You Experience Similar Male Midlife Crisis Symptoms?

As you’re reading this post, the chances are that you’re going through a similar form of crushing ennui and feelings of hopelessness caused by a male midlife crisis that I went through.

Maybe you’ve asked for help and been told, “There’s nothing you can do but just get on with life”, “Get over it”, or “Why don’t you go on a road trip or something?”, and so on.

As well-intentioned as these pearls of wisdom are, they’re of zero use to the sufferer of a male midlife crisis. Intellectually you know they’re right — you should just “get over it” — but that can be much easier said than done.

While everyone’s experiences, problems and reactions to their male midlife crisis will be different, the means of getting over them are universal.

This post focuses on what a male midlife crisis is (and what it isn’t) in order to arm you with the information necessary to fight it.

male midlife crisis

What Is A Male Midlife Crisis?

As with anything to do with the human psyche, there’s a great deal of confusion out there when it comes to pinning down what a male midlife crisis actually is.

Both sufferers and “experts” alike often have wildly different ideas as to what the term means, and so I think the best place to start here is to nail down some definitions.

  1. Male”. This one’s fairly obvious. While studies show that women are just as likely to suffer from a midlife crisis as men, in this post I’m going to address the phenomena of the male midlife crisis (sorry ladies).
  2. Midlife”. Estimates vary of course, but the general ballpark we’re talking about here is between the ages of thirty-eight and fifty. (More on this later.)
  3. Crisis”. In relation to a male midlife crisis, this can best be summed up as simply the crushing realization that life hasn’t turned out the way it was supposed to, and yet it’s half over… Death is no longer some distant event in the future, but a physical reality that’s getting closer every day. How each man reacts to this crisis is, of course, another matter.

Understanding what exactly it is you’re struggling with is the key to overcoming it, and so let’s stick with this word “crisis” a moment in order to really nail down what it means.

One man’s crisis is another man’s storm in a teacup, of course, but here are the…

Eight Most Common Emotions Associated With A Male Midlife Crisis:

  1. Fear: of death and of an inability to complete goals
  2. Regret: dwelling on “mistakes” made in the past
  3. Ennui: boredom and lack of interest in things which maybe were once exciting
  4. Purposeless: inability to find meaning and direction in life
  5. Restlessness: strong desire to mix things up and experience new things
  6. Helplessness: feeling trapped by life’s circumstances
  7. Anger: at others and feeling like a failure over the way things have turned out
  8. Confusion: not knowing who you are or what to do about your situation

Now, while all men may experience many of these same feelings, not all men react to them in the same way.

  • Some internalize, becoming overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions but without taking much action.
  • Others externalize them and act out, much to the bewilderment of those they know and love.

Male Midlife Crisis

Three Main Types Of Male Midlife Crisis

  1. The Cliché Crisis. This is the familiar external reaction of a guy who quits his job, leaves his wife for a twenty-three-year-old, and buys a Harley to ride across America. Popularized in popular culture as a figure of fun, this crisis is nevertheless no laughing matter as it tends to result in some pretty destructive behaviors.
  2. The Subterranean Crisis. This is the far less dramatic, but just as painful, general sense of angst, ennui and purposeless that gets carried around internally, without talking about it or taking much action to overcome it. This type is much more common than the Cliché Crisis and makes up perhaps eighty percent of all male midlife crises.
  3. The Depression Crisis. If the other two crises are serious, this one takes it to another level. Men suffering from this form of male midlife crisis enter a full blown depression in which jobs are lost and marriages break down, or worse. (Suicide rates have jumped by forty-three percent in middle-aged men over the past fifteen years.)

What Causes A Male Midlife Crisis?

The first notion of a male midlife crisis arose in the early 20th century, maybe rather predictably within the circles of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Practitioners such as Carl Jung saw middle age as a crucial period of metamorphosis in a man’s adulthood, and he dubbed this stage “Ego-Self Separation”.

Jung and others identified many of the traits we associate today with a male midlife crisis — a quest for meaning in life, anxiety, ennui, fear of death, etc. — but stopped short of describing it as a midlife crisis per se.

Roughly speaking, Jung saw the first half of a man’s life as the time in which the ego reigns supreme as he receives his education, chooses a career, begins a family, and procures all the trappings of success such as money, a nice car, and a big house.

Problems can arise in the second half of a man’s life, however, as he gets older and a sense of his own mortality moves from the back of his mind to the front.

Consequently, the thirst for meaning becomes more important than the acquiring of material possessions. It is here, in Jung’s reckoning, that the ego loses touch with what’s really important and a man is thrown into an existential crisis.

It is here, in Jung’s reckoning, that the ego loses touch with what’s really important and a man is thrown into an existential crisis.

Faced with deep and meaningful questions such as “Where am I going?” “What’s the point of life?” and “What’s my purpose on this planet?” psychoanalysts like Jung correctly concluded that when a man ponders these questions, he often realizes that maybe his life has not quite turned out the way he expected.

It is this dichotomy between expectation and reality — between being young and envisaging a future in which anything is possible, and reaching that future and realizing it’s probably not going to happen while understanding on a visceral level that death is real — is where the root of the male midlife crisis lies.

However, these internal factors, i.e. the thoughts and emotions associated with a midlife crisis, are usually brought on by a mix of external factors in a man’s life.

Male Midlife Crisis

Here are the five main external causes for a male midlife crisis:

  1. Youth culture. As previously mentioned, a great deal of the blame for the male midlife crisis can be laid at the door of Western culture’s bizarre obsession with youth, coupled with a derisory attitude toward the elderly. It is this longing to recapture a lost youth that leads to “typical” male midlife crisis-type behaviors, such as dating younger women, changing physical appearance, or buying a Harley Davidson.
  2. Physical aging. Bellies get bigger, hair gets grayer and balder, stamina declines, wrinkles and strange hairs start appearing in odd places… It’s these physical changes that prompt many to come to the realization that their youth is finally over. Not only is youth over but life itself is halfway done too, and mortality is brought sharply into focus for the very first time.
  3. Work and career. Men often start to feel trapped and disillusioned at work when they hit middle age. They may finally “have it all” — a comfortable salary, job security, great colleagues, a nice office overlooking Brooklyn bridge, etc. — but wind up wondering is this it? Is this all there is to life? A deep sense of regret over unaccomplished goals can also tip a man into a midlife crisis, especially if he’s unemployed or has failed to do what he really wanted, such as pursue a creative career of some kind.
  4. Wives and girlfriends. Being married or in a lengthy relationship while middle-aged can cause similar feelings of boredom (she’s too comfortable and familiar) annoyance (she won’t let me do what I want) bitterness (not enough oats have been sown) or doubt (should I even be with her?). Single guys, on the other hand, can become equally stressed as, while the pressure to meet someone grows, the dating pool shrinks.
  5. Death of loved ones. As we hit middle-age, parental bereavement becomes more likely, and this can play a part in triggering a male midlife crisis. Also, our own mortality can be brought to our attention by the death of friends or other family members unlucky enough to go in their forties or fifties.

Transitioning from youth to middle-age is a tough time for most men, but those who go into a fully blown male midlife crisis usually do so because of their reaction to these external factors.

One guy may experience the exact same life events as another — a steady job, a long marriage, signs of physical aging, etc. — and yet not enter a midlife slump.

This is because there are a whole range of factors, including childhood, genetic makeup, predisposition to depression, past traumas, etc. that make people react to the same events in different ways.

As already mentioned, these external forces are the reason why many academics dismiss midlife crisis in men as nonexistent, but the fact is, a U-shaped curve to life happiness levels has been confirmed by academics now for years. And the 40s are rock bottom.

U-Shaped Curve Of Happiness

While researchers may be reluctant to agree that the midlife crisis actually exists, they have now discovered a “U-shaped curve of happiness” covering our teens to old age.

The chart below reflects one study showing how people’s happiness and well-being levels plummet from age eighteen, hit rock bottom at middle age, and then rise again from the ashes the older we get.

male midlife crisis

Source: PNAS paper: “A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States” by Arthur Stone


This particular U-shaped curve is from an American study but data has been collected from all over the world, tracking tens of thousands of people over the course of their lives, and they all bear the same results: we’re at our most miserable during middle age.

In other words, while a full blown Cliche Crisis in which a man drastically alters his life, or Depression Crisis in which he’s unable to get out of bed for weeks at a time, are relatively rare, the Subterranean Crisis is not.

In fact, negative emotions and a loss of happiness is practically a universal phenomena among middle-aged men. Even when factors such as education, wealth, marital status, children, and health are taken into account, the U-shaped curve remains.

It seems counterintuitive to think that you will start to get happier the older you get, but this appears to be the case. But why?

There are two main reasons why happiness increases the older we get:

  1. Acceptance. As we get older we begin to accept the fact that the giddy, youthful hopes we had for the future are probably not going to pan out. With this comes an acceptance and appreciation for what we have.
  2. The brain. Studies done the brain indicate that once we pass fifty, it simply starts becoming happier. This is thought to be because it becomes more optimistic, developing a tendency to gloss over negative information in favor of positive information.

male midlife crisis

A Brief History Of The Male Midlife Crisis

Following the earlier ruminations on midlife by early-20th-century psychoanalysts such as Carl Jung, it wasn’t until 1965 that the actual term “midlife crisis” was conceived.

The honor fell to a Canadian psychoanalyst and social scientist named Elliott Jaques, who published a paper called Death And The Midlife Crisis, in which he describes how men’s (and women’s) sensitivity to their own mortality becomes significantly heightened once they hit middle age.

Over ten years later, in 1976, the term “midlife crisis” was finally popularized in a few hugely influential books, such as The Seasons Of A Man’s Life by the psychologist Daniel Levinson, and Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life, by Gail Sheehy.

While these books firmly established the notion of a midlife crisis in society’s consciousness, since then it’s largely been dismissed and ignored by academics.

And, via clichés of fifty-year-old men buying sports cars and running off with their secretaries, ridiculed by the general populace.

The decade most associated with the male midlife crisis — the forties — has been almost completely neglected by researchers.

A classic example of this is a 2016 happiness study conducted at the University of Alberta which, while claiming that the male midlife crisis is a myth, didn’t study anyone over the age of forty-three.

Does The Male Midlife Crisis Really Exist?

The argument that the male midlife crisis doesn’t really exist, broadly goes like this:

  • The symptoms are too disparate. Men suffering from a so-called male midlife crisis display a wide range of symptoms and can act on it in a variety of ways. This means there’s nothing for us to measure effectively, so it probably doesn’t exist.”
  • Getting stressed out in midlife is totally normal. This is a time when men often feel overwhelmed by work, debt, a spouse, kids, etc. which is perfectly normal and happens to most people. This doesn’t mean you’re going through a midlife crisis.”
  • The midlife crisis is a cultural phenomenon. Not all cultures display evidence of midlife crises. Men in Japan or India, for example, seem to be able to make it through their forties and fifties without going through a midlife crisis which suggests it’s not something intrinsic to being male and middle-aged.”
  • Major life events get mistaken for midlife crises. External events in a man’s midlife, such as the death of a parent or a setback at work can trigger a period of depression. This is totally normal and could’ve happened at any point in life. Again, there’s nothing here to indicate a midlife crisis, but more of a general crisis that we all go through and get over.”

While these are all valid points, there’s nothing here to suggest that the male midlife crisis doesn’t actually exist. Just because different men react and act out to it in different ways doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Getting stressed out and/or suffering from a depression brought on by general life crisis is normal and common. But again this doesn’t mean there isn’t something to do with reaching this stage of life that brings on a midlife crisis.

And the fact that it probably is a cultural phenomenon brought on by the West’s obsession with youth, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist for those of us who do live in Europe, America, or Canada, etc.

What Age Does A Male Midlife Crisis Start?

The classic age for the start of a midlife crisis in men has always been forty-five, but new research and a cursory look on a few online forums shows that they often kick in somewhat earlier.

Forty is a popular age, but men are becoming crippled by their midlife blues now anywhere from age thirty-five onwards.

male midlife crisis

How Long Does A Male Midlife Crisis Last?

Whenever this question is asked of a therapist or some other kind of “expert” the usual response is “It depends” — on your age, personality, ability to cope with stress, strength of support from a wife/girlfriend/friends/family, how bad the midlife crisis is in the first place, etc.

When cornered into giving an actual time-frame, they’ll usually come up with a ballpark figure of between three and ten years.

However, that doesn’t mean that a male midlife crisis has to last this long, or that getting over it depends on all the factors listed above.

The Male Midlife Crisis: What To Do About It

The truth is, there’s no need to wait for the U-shaped curve of happiness to start heading upward in your sixties until you can start feeling happier again.

If you’re willing to put in the work to overcome a midlife crisis, then you can start feeling one-hundred percent better about yourself right now.

Male Midlife Crisis

All you need is an action plan…

In my book Midlife Crisis In Men: How To Overcome A Male Midlife Crisis In 12 Steps, I detail the exact steps you need to take to reclaim your thoughts, emotions and rejuvenate your life and end your midlife crisis.

The book leans heavily on practical exercises as well as theory and takes you step-by-step through the exact things you need to do to rediscover the real you. For more information, simply follow this link.


midlife crisis in menAnd if you’ve been keeping everything bottled up inside fearing ridicule or because you simply not having anyone to talk to, reach out!

Contact me for one-on-one midlife crisis coaching that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (unlike therapy) and I’ll develop a personal action plan tailored to your life so you can overcome your male midlife crisis for good.

Feel free to drop me a line with any questions you may have on my contact page. And share your story below in the comments section.

Are you suffering from a male midlife crisis? What symptoms do you have? How long has yours lasted?