Boomerangst:Turning Dilemmas Into Discoveries – Your Partner’s Mid-Life Crisis
Is your partner going through a mid-life crisis? Here, advice for when relationships turn toxic.
Q. I’m 63 and married to a man 53 who’s going through a mid-life crisis. He’s dealing with the effects of an abusive childhood, one of which may be chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It hasn’t been diagnosed but his one eye doesn’t function because of blows he took as a child. We’ve been married 20 years and each have children from previous marriages, one of whom he blames all his anger and frustration on (my daughter). He has a hair trigger and is angry most of the time at everything. We are extremely successful in business, although he’s a workaholic and a workout-aholic. I’m energetic and young for 63 but resent the fact he’s wasting the time we have left, specifically my time, as he’s much younger. I also question why I permit myself to be treated with such callousness. He has been to anger counselling this past year and I see some change but I suspect he’s also learned how to hide it better. Do I stay or go?
— Helen in B.C.
A. A starting point would be to ask yourself what Dr. Steven Stosny calls “the core value questions.” He’s a Maryland-based author and an expert on relationships, anger and abuse. He too grew up in a violent home. Those questions are: Is this relationship bringing out the best in both of us? Is it offering both of us opportunities for growth and development?
Dr. Stosny, who’s appeared on Oprah to discuss these issues, says the motivation must come from deep within your husband. He has to want to change. “I’m sure he doesn’t like the person he is and the husband he is and I’m sure he wants to change,” says Dr. Stosny, emphasizing that changing is also difficult and tedious work. “New behaviours take about 12 repetitions every day for six weeks for something to become a habit.”
The launching pad, or the internal motivation, must come from your husband’s deepest values. But you provide the external motivation, Dr. Stosny says, “by saying something like, ‘I love you, but the way we are together is toxic. If you can’t act like the husband and person I know you are deep in your heart then we can’t stay together’.” He also points out that there is an implicit promise when you form an emotional bond – with a baby or a lover – that you will always care how the other person feels, especially when they feel bad. Your husband’s constant anger is essentially a betrayal of that trust, making you feel even worse.