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Midlife Crisis Forum

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Questions & Answers with Mike & Susanne

Mike Bellah Th.B., M.A., Ph.D.
In the first place, I am not an authority on midlife or aging. My academic studies have centered not in psychology and sociology, but in theology, English literature, and technical communication. Thus what follows is the opinion of a veteran not an expert. Here is advice from one who has walked where many of you are walking; simply put, these are words from a sympathetic fellow-struggler in this experience we call midlife.
(See also "My Qualifications.")
Susanne Beier, M.Ed., NCC, NCCC
A Ph.D. student at Walden University, Susanne earned her master's degree in counseling and psychology from Rutgers University. Her professional counseling practice, which began in 1985, focuses on adults in crisis, including those experiencing marital conflict, divorce, job loss and career change. A recognized authority on these subjects, Susanne has been featured in such publications as New Woman, Self, Working Woman and Cosmopolitan.
(See also "There's Light at the End of the Tunnel.")

(April--June 1998)

Please feel free to ask any question you want on this page. Just click here to view my policies on writing questions, and then here to ask your question.

Notice: The answers on these pages are offered as a free and supplemental service to readers. They are not intended to substitute for individual, professional counseling.

June 24, 1998

Q Hello,
Why does it happen? We were married almost 21yrs when my husband decided that I wasn't what he wanted. He moved in with a woman 9yrs younger than me, 12yrs younger than him. She is the opposite of me in everything she does and says. We are separated and he wants a divorce but wants to make sure he has to give me nothing. He tells our kids he loves me but not like he used to (how)?

I think he is confused because everything he has done has been done within 3months, He has only known this woman for 6 months. I would like to think our 21yrs will count when he finally realizes what he is doing but I wonder. I am afraid that if I get on with my life he will want to come back and if I don't take him it will only hurt him more and this time it really will be my fault.

Confused But Still Here

A Dear Confused,
Hopefully your counselor is helping you to focus on yourself and helping you to see that the problems that your husband has are his alone. Unfortunately in many of these instances the culprit does not see what he is doing....only feels the pain that he/she is in themselves. This is not an easy time for him either.

As I've said in previous letters, you have NO control over him at this time. The only control that you have is how you will react to it and to find your self-esteem again. I wish I could say that the 20+ years of marriage counted in your favor; unfortunately, it usually serves as a reminder of "how long" they've been unhappy and everyone has "drained" from them (the midlifer). It is not until they have felt some of the reality that comes with this type of situation (loosing half of everything) that they start to focus more on what they stand to loose.

Does your husband say he still loves you? That would up the odds some. Either way though, this is going to take time to resolve itself. Continue to meet with your counselor if for no other reason than to have someone be there "for just you".

susanne

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Q Hi,
My husband who is 46 recently lost his mother, his father passed away a few years ago and he and his brothers are not close at all. He is going thru the classic midlife thing. Instead of dealing with the grief, the estate, his business or anything that is real, he is out looking at a new career as a fitness trainer..

He has supposedly taken his space - which he spent with a friend near his favorite gym where he was able to go work out as often as he wanted. While taking his space he was going to take a notebook and pen and write down his feelings. Well, we got together yesterday and he shared his writings with me. He said nothing at all about feelings, it was more like a to-do list and a list on how he would get himself established as a fitness trainer. The only things on his list that had to do with us were goal setting.

Anytime I try to talk about feelings he gives me very closed body language/ One other thing I did not mention - he has a 30 yr old married female friend that wants to be a fitness trainer too. They spend a lot of time together (20 Hrs a week) . I know they are not involved physically but nevertheless it is some kind of relationship. I am unable to talk to him about much of anything without him becoming defensive. I have heard that it is best to just wait it out - if you can stand it. I am seeing a counselor. Do You have any suggestions?

Patient but frustrated!

A Dear Patient
The death of your husband's parents has made him at some level realize his own mortality and it sounds like midlife has set in. As is typical in this stage, he wants to escape, to live and fulfill some of the dreams that he's had in the past. Of course this cannot be done. We can't change time and the length that we've lived.

Let me point out that this time of life is difficult for both parties. Your husband is in a lot of emotional pain, as are you. Yours is as a result of his actions; his is as a result of dealing with the tremendous losses that he's dealing with and the life that, he feels, he's lived "unlived." He may say to you that he's been unhappy for years, but usually that is the excuse that they use to justify their behavior at this stage. The truth is that he may have indeed been unhappy with his life and/or marriage, but mostly his unhappiness is and was with HIMSELF.

Is he willing to go to marriage counseling or is he totally detached? If he's not willing to go to counseling, go alone. I definitely recommend that you see a counselor that will help you deal with this pain and anger that you have to be feeling, and will help you to find your self-esteem, which by now has to be severely bruised and battered. Ask the counselor how much experience he/she has in dealing with midlife crisis situations. Or join a women's support group, but do something that will help you to not feel so isolated. ok?

good luck.

susanne

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June 15, 1998

Q Hello,
I have read all of your responses and can relate to all of this. My husband (37) also moved out 2 1/2 months ago. We have two children (13 and 9) and the trauma and heartbreak they have experienced is unimaginable. We went the counseling route initially, however, the last time both of us went, the counselor got a little too close to his problem so he has bailed on that! I realize that he is struggling with a "crisis" of his own, but of course, is adamantly denying that has anything to do with his mindset at all. I am continuing to go, as are the children, so ... for the moment ... I know that we will survive. I am striving to take her advice and do those things for MYSELF and concentrate on my own happiness, but it is difficult never having really concentrated on ME alone for my entire life.

As with most of the other information I have seen, he blames me for all of his unhappiness with the marriage. I didn't do this, or did too much of that, never had the time for him that he needed, didn't share things with him, etc. I know that the blame, anger and guilt he spews at me is a cover for the anger and guilt he feels himself, but this "new" him is simply mean and cruel at times and very difficult to take. He knows all of the buttons to push on me and it is very tough to not turn around and revert to that behavior which got us to this point in the first place. Right now he simply doesn't want to work on our relationship, says it's over and wants to move on with his life!

I know that he is in the middle of an affair with a younger woman (she's 28), however, he continues to lie about seeing this person even though they have been seen together and, this being a small town, rumors are running rampant. I have accepted that this is going on, but my question is ... shouldn't I let him know that I am aware of the game he is trying to play and that they shouldn't even try and play me for the fool! Or do I just keep this knowledge to myself and continue on with my and the children's life?

A bit of history to be considered also ... this same experience occurred approx. ten years ago - he was having an affair, left my daughter and I, lied about it, etc. only to return briefly, me get pregnant, and left again after our son was born (6 wks old!). It took him six more months to realize that his life was with his family and he came back to us. I told him then that I could not handle the lying and deceit again!!! When he returned, he told all he knew how much stronger it had made our relationship and that he was very happy he had made the choice he did. Recently, my sister and her husband, with whom we are close, went through a similar situation and even then, my husband and I discussed the affair and lying issues. Still he continues to do the same to me. What should I do??

I love this man with all of my heart! We have been together for 20 years, married for 18 (anniversary in 3 weeks!). Right now, I understand, that he is not the person I have known all these years and I have read all of the wonderful books, talked to counselor, and am trying to take control of MY life. I can be patient, and I even realize that my life may be lived without him, but ... I am struggling with how to handle the times when we MUST interact (the children, etc.) because I am so angry that he is doing this to me (AGAIN!) and yet want to do all the right things in the event he does "see the light" and decide that his family is worth it!

These websites are the source of much inspiration to me, just knowing that I am not alone in my feelings and emotions has helped immensely. To all who are going through a similar situation -- moment by moment, day by day!

Thanks to everyone for sharing ...

-- Hoping and Hanging!

A Dear Hoping,
It's easy to see how your husband does not see how his "lying" is the same as that happened with your sister's affair. If he did, then he (your husband) would have to take responsibility for his own lying. And since he does not want to deal with any reality or consequences to his present behavior, he doesn't recognize it in anyone else.

I don't doubt that you love your husband. A 20 year marriage is a sad thing to end. I question though, HIS commitment to it. YOU and you alone, need to decide what you need out of this marriage. Is the security, or perceived security, more important than his betraying you? Did he see the light last time? What is different now? You need to work these issues out with a counselor. That is, what are you willing to settle for and why? Are you more afraid of "beginning new" than staying in an adulterous relationship?

The bottom line is that you cannot change HIM. You have no control over him The only control that you now have is how YOU will react to this situation? I wish there was a magic pill that you could give him to "see the light" but, alas, there is no such thing. The only decision that you have to make right now is what can you tolerate and what can't you. In other words, what line cannot be crossed in your personal set of ethics?

I strongly recommend that you continue with the counseling by yourself. IT Takes TWO people to save a marriage...and he doesn't sound too committed right now.

susanne

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Q Hi Mike,
Found your web-site in a magazine I bought here. Here's my "crisis". I had my son (only child) when I was 38 (My husband was 49). At 50 my husband and I moved to his native land of Greece (since the job market for chemists was pretty much over for him-he was 61). So I was whisked off to this beautiful island (which is really lovely), not speaking a word of Greek, with an 11 yr. old son (didn't speak Greek either) who was thrown into the local elementary school here and found myself without any friends or relatives. My son (now 15 1/2) is doing fine. He is now fluent in Greek and is in high school.

My husband was just diagnosed with Parkinson's and I am going through the start of menopause. I feel often depressed and lonely and look forward to my daily visits here at this cyber-cafe! (I understand you're from TX?) I was actually born near San Antonio but lived most of my life in NY and LA. Any advice.

Many thanks.

cybermom in Greece

A Dear Cybermom
Your experience tells me that you already are quite resourceful--to adapt to and thrive in a foreign culture takes a lot of inner strength--so I'd say face this new challenge as you did the last one. Can you remember what helped?

Also, with your husband's illness, your own bodily changes, and your son growing up, you are facing common stresses that make the midlife transition particularly difficult. Thankfully, there is also much to gain in this new era of life (Have you read "Letting Go?").

You say that you are lonely. Have you made new friends in Greece? Or have you poured yourself only into your husband and son? (And the fear of losing them is now overwhelming).

I'm all for Internet friendships. I especially enjoy my new friends at Best Years, but there is nothing like the human touch. I suggest reading "That's What Friends Are For" and then making an effort to develop some new friends who can share the burdens and joys of your second half of life.

Good luck.

Mike

P.S. Nice to hear from a fellow Texan.

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June 12, 1998

Q Hello,
This is not only a question. It's a "thank you" to Mike for starting this site, and to Susanne for a frank, honest, and heartfelt response to a question I sent in. It literally changed my life for the better. When I wrote in a few months ago, I had a question about midlife crisis and why my husband was looking at internet porno, talking sex with other women, and feeling a need to be "interesting" to other women, while being negative with me in every aspect. Susanne clued me in to the fact that he didn't have a capacity to love (after I described several behaviors) -- and I was caught in the middle of it. She let me know that it wasn't a personal thing against me -- it was his problem. She said I needed to decide if I felt better with him or without him. After that, it became clearer and clearer to me just how right she was. I even went to counseling, alone, like she suggested.

Today, months later, I am in love with someone else --- ME!!!!! I have started college, joined a sports league (and won 1st place!), and have done a hundred other things for myself. It feels so good. I still plan to leave my husband, as I told Susanne from the beginning, but now it is not an angry leaving. I realize now that he is just different in too many ways, especially morals. Most importantly, I do not feel the same for him. Strange thing is he now thinks I'm having an affair or something. (I guess I am - with myself). We have a child 10 years old. My question is, "Is it good to live parallel lives and hang on for the child, or let go and start a new life"? I feel in my heart that going forward is the right thing for me...the question is when. Counselor recommends waiting because of the child and fact that I am pursuing studies. What do you think?

Ready To Leave

A Dear Ready to Leave
First let me thank you for your kind comments. You made my day! It is always nice to know that someone is happier with their life and that I was allowed to be part of that. Now to your question. WHEN is a good time to leave? And how long to stay for the children? That is an age old question and there are no right answers. We have to make these decisions on our own, because only we (in this case, you) know where you and your child are at emotionally.

I suggest that you find a good therapist that will help your child (daughter, isn't it?) understand that SHE is not responsible for mommy and daddy having problems. Several sessions. I usually suggest to hold on as long as possible if children are involved, but it becomes a question of the level of stress that the household is in. In other words, is there fighting going on? Long periods of silence? Children sense this and often think that they are the cause of it. This is why I say let your child meet with someone who they trust and can tell how they feel. Then, you will know what the right time is. You will have done all that is possible for the family including making sure that your child is ok.

By the way, does your husband want to stay married? Let him know that you know about this new affair. Let him know that you cannot tolerate another betrayal and if this is what he needs to do (and then not deal with his consequences), YOU deserve better. I mean tell him that YOU and your child deserve someone who is there for both of you and not sharing his time and emotional energy with someone else. Good luck to you and thanks again for the nice words.

susanne

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Q Hi,
I am a 45-year-old married woman who is thinking about adopting an infant. Have I lost my mind? I know I'm not alone, but can you shed some light on some realistic things I need to take into consideration. I am very excited about raising another child, but I'm really scared when I think about another little person being totally dependent on me. My children are 15 and 18 years old.

Beverly

A Hi Beverly,
You're right; you are not alone. For some inspiration, check out "It's Her One Time Around" and "Confessions of a Midlife Mommy." For some practical help, visit Rita Kennen's Midlife Mommies on the web at www. midlifemommies.com.

Good luck.

Mike

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May 30, 1998

Q Hello,
After reading many of letters I realize I am not in this alone. We have been married 20 years and my husband has decided that even though he still loves me very much, he cannot stay married. He has always had freedom to do what he wants and to have what he wants.

He wants to SCUBA dive period. He had a wonderful job that he will not give up, but he dives as much as possible. 10 years ago he had to fly as much as possible. He has all his toys and a loving supportive wife.

He says he doesn't want anything from me and I can have it all. Do men ever recover from this nightmare? He has not moved out. We are still doing some things together. Last night we went to dinner. This has only been going on for 4 weeks. We both cry - we talk - I have seeked help but he won't. He doesn't want the responsibility of being married. We have no children. We have been the "perfect" couple in the eyes of everyone who knows us. I thought we were happy and had a loving marriage.

JG

A Dear JG,
You don't say your or your husband's age, but I assume from your letter that you are either in your late thirties or early forties. Is that correct? It sure sounds like your husband is in some sort of crisis, in addition to midlife. From your letter you describe that he had many "toys" over the years and it sounds like he becomes obsessed with each new one. Like the scuba diving now. Is he the oldest child in the family? Always went for what he wanted and worried about the consequences later on? Or, did not get anything and is now at this stage of life making up for things he wanted earlier?

In either case, this is dangerous behavior on his part toward the marriage. You don't say whether he includes you in his activities. Does he? What do you two do together? You say that there are no children, so how much time do you spend together? Even if he does not go for counseling I suggest that you do. You need to find out why you have put yourself in the backseat for so long and to either re-discover, or in fact, discover your self-esteem.

You should also start doing some things that make you feel better, with or without him. He may even pay more attention to you if you are not just sitting around letting him do "his thing" while you wait for him to "get back to you". In every marriage there is a chance to save it, but BOTH parties have to be willing to work on it. One can never do it alone. So, I repeat myself by telling you that you should continue counseling, preferably the two of you, but if not that, then you alone. I wish you the best.

susanne

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Q Hi.
We've been married almost 33 years. we've certainly had our ups and downs. we have a beautiful home, 3 grown kids, grandbabies, a beautiful retirement plan. He's going on 54, i'm 53. we lost our twin grandbaby to sids last september, lost my mom in 1993, his dad in 1992, my brother in 1987 and his mom is going on 82. He has a wonderful job and money is no problem.

He works with a girl at work and they have been chatting on the internet and he talks to her every day at work. She's twelve years younger than him and has no kids. I found out about it and confronted him. He's losing weight, can't sleep, doesn't know if he loves me, want's to go looking for rubies on some hill with his bare feet with her. He's always been faithful to me and never lied, but now he's keeping things from me and said it's none of my business. He has this dazed look in his eyes and is very crabby. I asked him why he likes her and he said she has a job, doesn't smoke, she likes me and she's pretty.

now he's given me a host of demands to deal with. quit smoking, get a job and then we'll see. i had a affair almost 28 years ago and he still brings that up. i've worked off and on (between babies) for about 13 years. he says i've never contributed to the marriage and it's all my fault. i'm a nervous wreck, my stomach is in knots ,

i don't know what to do. now he's getting his teeth fixed and taking ghensing. one minutes he's talking about us and our plans and the next minute, he's going to leave if i don't quit badgering him about her. he says they're just friends and nothing happened. i need help. he doesn't want to talk about it. and he won't go for help, any ideas?

Nervous

A Dear Nervous,
I am so sorry that you have had all this pain within the last 5 years. The losses of loved ones that both you and your husband have endured are overwhelming. Your husband is showing the classic signs of midlife crisis. There is not much that you can do at this time, because no matter what you do, you will be wrong. So....for now, focus on yourself. Go to a counselor who specializes in marriages and mid-life. Join a women's group and talk about all of this.

This whole thing is doubly painful for you because it is another "loss" that you are experiencing. I suspect that he too is mourning in his own way. That may be, to experience everything that he's never done before. Going to a mountain looking for rubies? That's a new one on me. However, it clearly shows that he wants to "escape" from his present reality. He believes himself the victim at this point. Always being responsible and there for everyone else. Right? Now he's thinking, "what about me"?

You say you had an affair 28 years ago. He did not break up the marriage then and continued to stay with you, thus, he forgave you. So, him now going through this whole thing is NO excuse. Don't let him now make you feel guilty over something that happened 28 years ago. It does NOT mean he can now have an affair to make up for yours!! He probably did forgive you all those years, but now that he's in midlife crisis, he's looking for reasons to be the victim. Poor me.

Stop blaming yourself for everything at this juncture and begin building a life for yourself. He may leave; he may not. Whichever way it goes, it will be HIS choice AND his consequences. When the financial realities hit him (like that you are entitled to half of everything), THAT will be the time that he will be coming back into our current world.

Like I said before, start doing things with friends. Join a class. Talk to your minister, priest or rabbi or a counselor. You WILL get through this. I did. It is very tough and very painful, but in the end one of the best growing experiences that you will ever have. I wish you the best.

susanne

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May 24, 1998

Q Mike:
I have been married for 14 years, have 2 children aged 5 and 8. For the past 5 years, we have been more like roommates than spouses. We had arguments over several issues without resolution during that time and I often questioned whether I was still in love with my wife. Our sex life was almost non-existent as we had sex once every 2 or 3 months, for at least 5 years . My wife actually tried to have it more than I did. My dad died 3 years ago and we've had numerous arguments over spending time with my mom, since.

Five months ago, I became romantically interested in an employee of mine who's been with the company for 5 years. We began a sexual relationship about 4 weeks ago and we are in love. I've been in counseling with my wife for the past 3 weeks. My wife says she really loves me and has done much to correct the problems I've had with her but I don't have emotions towards her; she doesn't know about the affair; I really feel I want to leave my wife but at times I feel really guilty as to how I can do this to my kids. I've always been a great dad; I want to leave but I feel bad when my wife breaks down and asks how I can do something this terrible. I don't want to pass up my chance at true love. Please reply.

Michael

A Michael,
I know this isn't what you want to hear, but your guilt is justified. You will hurt both your wife and your kids if you move out.

As far as your chance at true love, perhaps that chance lies not in discovering a new lover, but in rediscovering an old one--one that you once loved enough to commit yourself to for a lifetime, one that you've somehow lost touch with in the intervening years.

I, for one, believe you can re-ignite feelings for your wife, but not as long as you continue the affair.

Good luck.

Mike

******

Dear Michael. I agree with Mike...although leaving now with your "new love" seems like the best thing since "sliced bread"...it is only a short term solution. I wonder how much of your "emotional energy has been devoted to your co-worker...and as a result away from your wife...over the past five years. Even though you were not sexually involved, you still spent time thinking about this other person, didn't you? Thus...you took time away from you and your wife's possibly solving the problems that caused this chasm to begin with.

Did you ask yourself how your "new love" will react when a big portion of your salary goes to your present wife and kids? It will surely put a crimp in your lifestyle. And don't forget...your wife gets half of everything. Is it worth it??? More than that...is your new love willing to put up with that??? It's all fine and good when you have everything....the picture drastically changes when you lose it all...and wonder what happened.

susanne

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Q Hi,
My husband of 20 yrs is having a midlife crisis. He left me and our 3 girls about a month ago. He moved in with a woman who was our neighbor. He started out telling me that he might be back, then 2wks later he told me maybe we needed a separation and again 2wks later now he wants a divorce and money within 3 months. He was always a great Dad now he never see the girls because they won't go with her. I still love him and hope when he thinks about everything we may be able to work it out but who knows. I guess it just helps to know that there are others going through similar things. I also need to believe there is hope.

Thanks,

Kay

A Kay,
One thing I do know for sure; there is hope for you. You may or may not get your husband back, but you and your girls can get through this. Just seek some help--professional counseling, your pastor, priest, or rabbi; your family and friends, a support group--and take care of yourself (don't put your needs on hold until your husband decides what he will do).

I also think you might find some reasons for hope on this web site. Have you read "The Myth of Normalcy," "Christmas in July," and "Letting Go?" Also check out what others in your position are saying on the Midlife Crisis Forum, and if you want more daily interaction, check out the new Extra site (WebBoard).

I wish you the best.

Mike

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May 18, 1998

Q Hello.
My husband and I have been married for nearly 22 years. The first 5 years were really rough. The next 13 were really good. The last year has been hell.

In the last 3 we have experienced multiple close, unanticipated deaths (his family) and many surgeries/hospitalization (me.) For the last year he has pulled away, shows very little or no affection and tells me he 'wants to be himself'. He does not want me to leave, doesn't know if he loves me or not and absolutely doesn't want to talk about any of it. He also has our very sensitive 17 year old daughter convinced he doesn't love her either.

Any hope or just hopeless! I'm at my wits end.

Signed,

Alone but Married in Iowa

A Dear Alone but Married,
It sounds like your husband is going through midlife. Also that the "unexpected deaths" are having a big impact on him becoming aware of his own mortality. Was it one of his parents? Anyway, I wish I could give you a quick answer, but there is none. It takes time, and often counseling, to help get the focus back.

You say you went to counseling for a few sessions, but your husband quit. Did the counselor perhaps get too close to some of the issues that your husband was not ready to deal with? It is not unusual for people to leave counseling when things get too intense.....but often they return. I hope this happens in your case.

Even if your husband does not go to counseling with you, you should go by yourself to help you deal with this very scary period of your life. It will get better. hang in there.

susann

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Q Hi,
I can not believe I found this!!! I have been wondering what is wrong with me and no one told me!!!

My question is this...I don't know if it is the "crisis " that is causing the problem or my husband. We have 4 lovely daughters and I love them very much. My husband has been very difficult to live with for the past 20 years, but I have been a good wife. But now I just don't care anymore. I hate the way he is, and I really do not like him.

Why can I no longer put up with him? I can not believe I am thinking about throwing it all away!!1 I have lost weight and look pretty good, and I actually look around!! I am so ashamed!!! OKis it me or have I just waked up? I am terribly confused!! I am 39 and he is 49. Thanks

ekv

A Dear EKV,
You are experiencing the "cross-over" period that most couples experience. In women this identity crisis(?) often begins around age 39. It is the time that we decide to go after our goals and become more independent. The kids are now bigger and we are not as "needed" as before. Thus, we now have time to think about all the things we didn't do.

I don't suggest that you dump your marriage at this time, but rather put this in the proper perspective. Why not try to spend some energy going to marriage counseling to see where you two are right now? Or, how about starting a course or going to/returning to college? In other words spend your energy in a more positive fashion. Don't disrupt the whole household until you are ABSOLUTELY sure that you are happier in a new life.

How old are the children? How is your husband reacting to your change of attitude? It's very interesting. As women approach this age they tend to become more independent and start school, new careers, etc. It has to do with "self-actualization" that was put on hold years ago. Men on the other hand, start to feel a need to be more nurturing and want someone who is there for them and makes them feel "special" and "needed". Thus, they often hook up with younger women who are at the same emotional stage that they are.

Complicated huh? I strongly suggest that you go to a counselor to help you work some of these feelings through. Also, review some of the columns in Q&A and review how much damage it causes all around to the family when one of the partners decides to just go off and "find themselves."

susanne

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Q Hi,
My wife is having an affair with her boss. She denies it, of course. I know they spend up to sixty hours a week together, go on 'business trips' and that she has purchased an entire new set of sexy clothes, underwear, negligees. She gets calls even on our free times, then hurriedly showers and leaves me and kids.

I love her; she tells me she would die without me and kids. Tells me this job is only until we get house paid off, then will quit and find less time consuming job. I personally think it prostitution on her part. In any marriage, both must have freedom of expression. Hate this but judge it on day by day basis.

She has fantastic sex with me. Cries and tells me she loves me so much it hurts. We'll see. I feel that way too... now!

Cheated

A Dear Cheated,
Your anger comes out loud and clear in your letter. Could you possibly be wrong? Even if you're not, and your wife is having an affair, what part did you play in it? How much time and energy have you given her? What are your working hours? When will your house be paid off? What does your wife do that she has to travel so much?

The two of you should go to marriage counseling right away. As it is you will drift apart and the anger that I see in your letter will finally come out....perhaps in your having an affair ("to get even"). This would be a big mistake and does not accomplish anything.

Go meet with someone who can help you determine why your wife works so many hours, and what has happened to your marriage. You blame her job, but the hard truth is that no-one can be "taken" to have an affair unless they are vulnerable and there are problems in the present relationship. The TWO of you need to work this out.

susanne

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May 15, 1998

Q Hi,
I just wanted to let you know that your article hit right on target. I will be turning 40 in two months and have been feeling disoriented for the past year, feeling as though I need to re-evaluate everything and one in my life. I am not sure why, when I married at 30, had a son at 36 and a daughter at 38. My husband is 9 years older than I and we have been married for 9 years now.

I have an executive position with a fortune 50 Company and I seem to balancing everything all right. However, I feel as though something is missing. My husband travels about two nights a week on average and when he is away, I feel lonely. And when he is back in town we do things together. He is not overtly affectionate and he seems to be satisfied with "relations" once a week. However, I feel a need for somewhat more. I summarize this for you basically to ask why am I feeling this way when I have everything going for me? Is it a phase that I am going through that will go away once I pass through 40.

There has been a vendor representative who has been flirting with me; he is married and I find myself flattered. However, I also know that nothing will come of it because I also realize that it is not reality.

I would love to get your thoughts on what I am going through. Also, is there any advise you can offer on how to affair proof a marriage. I know I would not have an affair because I would be devastated if my husband did. What are your thoughts!

CBA

A CBA,
Actually, there is a good book on affair-proofing a marriage. It's called His Needs, Her Needs, by Willard Harley (you can find it at your local bookstore or purchase it online from the BookNook). I suggest that you read it, ask your husband to read it, and then that you discuss it together.

Just tell him some of what you've told me . . . that you have been feeling lonely and vulnerable, but that you love him and want your marriage to work.

I'm glad you recognize the unreality of an affair. It does seem like a quick fix (feels good to be flattered), but is devastating in the long run for all involved.

Finally, I do think the midlife passage is a phase you will move through, but that does not mean your feelings are unreal or trivial. You do need to re-evaluate and then recommit to the things you consider important in life. Maybe spending some time on this site will help get you started.

Good luck.

Mike

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Q Hi Mike,
I came across your page after a long fruitless search on the internet. I know I'm too young to have a midlife crisis, but it sure feels like one! Yours is the only page I've found which addresses issues like mine, so please read what I have to say.

I'm 23, recently graduated from college and have my whole life ahead of me. That's not what it feels like, though. It feels like I'm trapped by notions of what I *should* do with my life, something momentous, something worthwhile, something admirable. I look at my life as a long span from now to 60+ and feel I owe it to myself to "do it right." Doing it right for me involves getting an even higher degree, having a family, interesting hobbies, etc. At the same time, I want to enjoy my younger years, go travel, try many different professions, move from place to place and experience different things.

But I feel that if I take the time to do these things in the now, I'm not making progress towards my long-term goals. Some of these things are mutually exclusive! I'm caught between trying to plan long-term, and enjoying life short-term. Maybe I just want to do too many things at once and exhaust myself, then become depressed that I can't do it all. The end result is that I've lost motivation for my long-term plans because they seem so unattainable, so far away, with little hope of reward. I also feel guilty entertaining my short-term desires (take time off from work, school, go travel, etc) because I feel I should be making progress towards my long-term goals. Perhaps I should redefine my long-term goals, but that feels like I'm letting myself down, that I can't achieve what I've considered important.

Perhaps I'm "simply" depressed, but it really feels like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. The reason I feel that it's a midlife crisis is because it entails the major signs of one -- assessing one's life's worth, redefining priorities, feeling stifled, feeling directionless, feeling at crossroads, and last but not least discouraged and unmotivated. "What's the meaning of life, and is it really worth doing it the meaningful way?" is the question that seems to shine through most of the questions on the Q&A page. Many people do the meaningful thing for a while, then something snaps and they reconsider everything they've achieved and move to personal gratification because life seems short. Well, I've reached that stage at 23, except I'm not old enough to have gone through the meaningful stage. I'm torn between doing life the meaningful way, and doing life the hedonistic fun way, and I can't seem to strike a balance, I can't seem to do both without compromising one. Please help.

Reka

A Reka,
Please don't take this as a compliment, but you remind me of me at your age. Some of us are simply too perfectionistic and serious for our own good.

I remember at your age being afraid that I wouldn't achieve my goals quickly enough. So I pushed myself really hard. Also, like you, I realized I needed to live fully in the present too (so I turned that into a goal to be "accomplished" too).

Now, at 49, I realize I took myself way too seriously, and missed a lot of life because I did. I suggest you read The Perils of Perfectionism, Barbie at 50, The Road Not Taken, Life's In-Betweens, The New Materialism, and A Midlife Getaway.

Then take your own advice and "redefine your long-term goals." It won't hurt if it takes you a few more years to get where you're headed. And it's a small price to pay for really enjoying your youth.

Mike

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May 8, 1998

Q Hi.
I need help. My wife and I have been married for 10 years; we are 36-years-old. We have 2 children, ages 10 and 6. My lovely wife has been a stay-at-home mom for the last 9 years, while I have had good success in business. Money has not been a problem for years. Recently, my wife came to me and let me know that she is very confused and feels an overwhelming need for space, freedom, and independence. She said she's not sure we can survive this as a couple. I am blown away by this - devastated to say the least. She says she has divorce as an option and is thinking it through.

The catalyst that seems to have started this is my wife has recently started singing in a band with her younger sister (they are from a very musically inclined family), and she just went rabid over the band thing (she is talented and gets a ton of attention). I tried to put the brakes on the band thing and I believe that was what pushed things to a head. I have since decided that if she needs to perform I will support her in it.

She has become completely appearance focused (she works out constantly, lays out in the sun, wears "young", skimpy clothes, has gotten more earrings (all this from a very classy, well educated lady).She truly looks great. This lifestyle is completely out of character for her. She says she repressed the "real her" her whole life and she's not sure where this is all leading. She has recently gotten her own checking account, applied for a job, and gotten her own email address. I am a wreck and don't know how to handle this.

We are in counseling and the counselor tells me I must give her space, that she is becoming an independent person which she never did as a child, partially because of her relationship with an overcontrolling, critical mother. The counselor wants to help us stay together, but has told me that right now it's up to my wife to work things through in her head - that we can't know how this will go. She says my wife has lived her whole life feeling guilty and doing what she thought other people wanted her to do - not what she wanted, and that I must ensure that the pressure and guilt from what she is feeling now doesn't force her to make a decision before she has figured out what she really wants.

I am trying not to push but it hurts so bad to think I may be disposable in her eyes. She and the counselor tell me not to take any single thing that comes from her as definitive - because she is in effect a rebellious 14-year-old and very confused. The term the counselor used is she is going through "individualization" which should have occurred when she was a teenager. She is in effect questioning her whole life and whether any of this is really what she wanted.

We have agreed not to act hastily and are going to do counseling and not do anything (separation, divorce)for 6 months. She said the question she has to answer is whether "the new her" can handle the boundaries of a marriage.

She is feeling very cramped in our home and wants us to buy a larger one with more room for her to have privacy. I agree with the need for a larger home but I am afraid of buying the nice home we've always wanted and getting kicked out of it. Our counselor said the house wouldn't fix our relationship but could help us by providing more space for all concerned.

Does any of this sound familiar? I welcome any advice.

Thank you,

Robert

A Dear Robert,
Your counselor is right on target by telling you that this is something that your wife has to do for herself, that she is trying to find herself (individualize). Often when one goes through this stage, it is also referred to as "extended adolescence," that is, totally self-focused and feeling critical of anyone who represents responsibilities and also victimized ("what about me?"). Like an adolescent the more pressure you put on them, the more the "forbidden" behavior becomes attractive.

You need to let her find her own way; hopefully, with counseling it will be back to you and the children. How are the children coping with this? You should have them also see a counselor. They need help to understand that it is not something that they did or did not do that made "mommy act different."

No matter what happens, be sure to continue going to your counselor, if for no other reason than to help you to shore your self-esteem back up and to deal realistically with the pain that you (and she by the way) are going through. But mostly for the children. Good luck

susanne

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Q Hi.
After reading other Q&A's on your page, I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "midlife crisis" (sure feels like it!) but here goes:

My wife and I (no kids) have been married 15 years. I just turned 40, she's 37. We are lovers, best friends and companions for life. We believed this when we were married and we believe it today. We have excellent incomes, a beautiful home and are conservatively saving for our future.

Last week we took a week off to house sit for my mother (she went on a cruise) in the house I grew up in. The entire week was stress-free, like being home again without responsibilities -- for both of us. The trouble started when I got out my old high school yearbooks. I had been yearbook editor, popular and friendly with so many people from my class. Looking through the pages of the old books with my wife -- at the friends, the inscriptions, the memories (and here I had purposely avoided both my 10 and 20 year reunions!) -- I was filled with such sentiment and a longing for that time in my life.

Since then I have been extremely depressed. Desolate. Everything around me seems black and my attention span is terrible. I feel as though I have missed something important in life. It's been 22 years since I last saw most of these people. The times were so good. I've been asking myself, did I make the right choices at that time? Did I pursue the right career? Is everyone I knew then fulfilled today, while I am not fully? Worst of all, I keep thinking (fantasizing?), what if I had pursued that one relationship with an incredible girl who liked me so much (she even asked me out once) but I just had no interest in her at age 17? (of course, this has brought on incredible guilt as I adore my wife). Shortly after, I even drove around the old neighborhood, looking up homes of old friends who obviously don't live there anymore -- trying to relive the moments and actually feeling the 'old feeling' of belonging to that era. It was like the old Twilight Zone episode where the guy is trying to go back to his youth, when someone appears from his past and tells him, "Sorry, only one summer to a customer."

The fact that I am now 40 and am where I 'am' has just really hit home. Is this all there is? Is it all work and retirement from here on? Hard work and bills and no time for friends? Will I ever again feel the joy I felt from my wonderful youth?

Finally, I let all of this out to my wife who said, kidding me, "Do I have to worry about you going through a midlife crisis? They say this is when you want the sports car, the young girlfriend and you stop loving me." Of course, I know that is not what I want. But I do feel a sudden desperation that my life has played itself out.

How would you classify my present emotional situation. Is this normal? It seems very immature to me, but at the same time, I don't care. I want to feel the 'old feelings.' Reading other letters from your site has already helped to bring me somewhat back to reality -- but I'm still in a rut. Please reply soon. Thanks.

School Dazed

A Dear Dazed,
You are going through a very typical stage of development (entering middle age) and the feelings of loss (panic?) that come with it. What we really long for is the independence, time, and opportunity to be what we wanted to be and to be with whom we wanted to be with. Then we grow up....and life can become quite dreary and hard.

At the midlife crossroad we question everything, just like you are doing. Did I pick the right relationship? Pursue the right career? This is the time that you need to focus on what you've done "right". You have a wonderful marriage, are successful financially, etc. Could it be that you have simply accomplished your goals that you set way back then, and now you feel that "now what?" feeling? When that happens, we tend to negate any accomplishments that we have done and focus on what we haven't.

There are no easy answers on how we best get past this stage; it is simply to survive it. Give it some thought; what would life be like without my wife and add to it the loss of everything material that you've worked for (that you've both worked for). The hard truth is that you will never be 17 again, even if you surround yourself with all of the trappings of that era (cool car, cool girl...); you have matured. Time snuck by you.

Now you need to focus on what you and your wife can do together for the next 30+years. What goals can you TWO accomplish? Have you spoken with your priest/pastor? A counselor? Maybe you and your wife can both meet with them. Hopefully that person will help you identify what you have accomplished and also help you see that midlife love can be as exciting as when we were younger.

Don't fall into the old trap of thinking that middle age is the end. It isn't; it is the beginning!!! Now you have the financial resources to have the fun that you planned to have when you were 17. Don't throw this wonderful time away. You don't want to be 70 and say, "why did I throw it all away?" Good luck to you. Hang in there.

Susanne

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May 5, 1998

Q Hi.
I have been reading the questions and answers on this web site and it is somewhat comforting to find that what I have been going through with my marriage/husband is fairly typical of a mid life crisis. One day he decided that he wasn't happy. Now he says he never was! He says he loves me in that he cares about my well being and that that is all he ever felt. This is not true. He was a very happy, loving , devoted husband.

We have two kids, 12 and 9. My husband has said that he is staying out of moral obligation, but I'm wondering, "Will he ever turn back into the same good, happy, loving husband that he used to be?" I see that many people have written to you about the same thing, so I won't go into detail, but wondering how they fared? Do you ever hear from these people again? Is there any way I could contact them? Are there any statistics on how often the man snaps out of it (when the wife has hung in there of course)? It is pretty tough to live through. I want to know what are the chances?

Please let me know what you think, what are the odds? What percentage snap out of it?

Thanks, Cheryl

A Hi Cheryl,
I don't know the statistics. I think Susanne said once that less than 25% of men in affairs end up continuing them (but then that's not exactly what you asked).

I'm printing your letter with the hope that some who have "snapped out of it" will respond. The problem is that most of these people (and their spouses) probably do not read the Qs and As on this site, at least not as often as those, like you, who are going through the crisis.

Finally, I can offer you this. I am one of those men who did see the light, who now regrets the heartache I put my wife and kids through, and who will spend the rest of his life making it up to them.

Good luck to you.

Mike

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Q Hello,
Tonight I literally got onto Yahoo search and typed, "What should I do with my life now?" out of desperation. One thing led to another, and I eventually found your site. I'm in a bit of an odd predicament; for over twenty years I have worked as a self-employed artist working in clay and teaching. Now a chronic pain disorder has destroyed my throwing skills and I find that I'm tired of working in isolation. I miss life.

I don't want to start over--I want to restart my passion, solidify my strengths, and find some place to hire me as a teacher, artist, creative thinker, etc. to give me a steady, home base. Does this sound nuts? I have great ideas, but not always the resources to see them succeed. I know one thing, I'm tired of always having to create my own jobs for myself. Believe it or not, I want a boss! Anyway, I love your site and plan to be a regular reader. Any advice appreciated.

DiannaBanana

A Hi Dianna,
What a handle!

No, it doesn't sound nuts. I'm sure just such a position exists out there---somewhere. And, of course, the hard part is finding that somewhere and then convincing the person in charge that they need your gifts.

Have you tried professional placement firms? How about placement offices at your local state employment agency, or, better still, a college or university you once attended?

Most importantly, the professionals I listen to urge networking. Are you a member of a professional organization that lists job openings? Can you join one or more? How about discussion groups on the Internet that deal with your interests? You might meet people there who can put you in contact with the right employers.

At midlife, more than ever, it seems that successful job hunts depend not so much on what we know, but who we know.

Good luck and let me know how things work out for you.

Mike

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April 29, 1998

Q Hello,
I read your site often. Its been very helpful, thank-u. My husband of 20 years has changed very much lately. I suspected him having an affair. I was very much neglected in all ways. His affair was with a girl on the INTERNET. He would chat with her all day and night if he could. He never told me. I was taking out the garbage and found part of the phone bill and a prepaid calling card. Her number was on both of them. He was even calling from work. I also found love letters she e-mailed him. He would always minimize the screen if I came into the room. I found about 9 more phone cards.

He would never talk about what was wrong (his personality changed a lot and he would always storm and stomp out of the room. He was planning two days golfing with his friends out of our state and in the one she lives. I truly believe he was planning to meet her yet he strongly denies. We had casually talked about net affairs, which he could not understand someone being in love with a person they never met. After getting all details including her name I confronted him. He denied her. Then I got all my material proof out and had him in a corner. He confessed all. He did tell her he loves her. He doesn't want us to separate. He is all lovely told me yet he hasn't initiated sex yet, I have.

My feelings are on a rollercoaster now. I do still love him but my life has changed. He did take his eyes and mind off me and on her quite a while. I would never leave him. He wants to put this behind him and us go on a though nothing happened. I want to believe he'll never do anything again but IM so confused. Can u help me in any way? I have no one to talk to. IM not sure if he is still in touch with her. It's so hard to forget all the pain he gave to me. IM waiting for a reply.

ANXIOUSLY WAITING.

A Dear Anxiously Waiting
Do you remember when you were in high school and "daydreamed" about some cute guy in school, or TV? We all do that because it is "safe," meaning that our emotions, although intense, are protected against someone outright rejecting us. This is the same with the type of "affair" that your husband is having. It is safe. He does not have to deal with the day to day problems with this women and of course she doesn't have to deal with him on the same basis. Therefore, they can both escape from reality.

It is quite mind-dazzling to have someone tell you how wonderful you are, etc. It can even be intoxicating, especially since he is probably questioning all the choices that he's made in life up till now. That includes the marriage. It sounds as if you still love him. That in itself is worth asking him to go to counseling with you. He may not at this stage of the game. Often they don't cuz they would have to deal with the reality of the situation. By the way, that also includes women who have affairs. It applies to whoever the party is that is doing the damage.

Yes, it takes two to make a marriage work and to go bad, but when the break comes, it is usually one partner who starts acting out. Such is the case with you. I suggest that you go to counseling by yourself if he refuses to go. It should help you to deal with this situation and also to help rebuild your sense of self-esteem. I also want to refer you back to the bestyears site to review some of the old letters, and answers, to questions and situations such as yours. If nothing else, it should help you to see that you are not alone. okay? hope this helps.

susanne

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Q Hi,
My husband is having a midlife crisis. He is also experiencing depression. Is depression a normal part of a midlife crisis? He is only 33-years-old. He has made some major changes in his life in the past 3 1/2 months. For example he never drank in our 13 years of marriage and now he goes out about 2 to 3 nights a week to night clubs to play pool and drink socially. He has become very moody and want to be left alone a lot. He is so distant. We hardly do anything as a family anymore.

He says that he feels smothered. First he said he wanted more independence and wanted a separation and then he said he didn't really want that and he went back and forth with that for a month and a half; I felt like a yo yo. We planned to save and invest more money this year and instead he has spent as much money as he can get his hands on. He is like a totally different person than the person I spent 13 years of my life with.

I have cried almost every day I feel like he is putting me through so much. I feel that my heart is breaking, I love him so much and want to help him get through this but I don't know how. I worry that he might have an affair. Although he reassures me that he has not had an affair. We talk a lot and he always tells me that this is about him not me. But I feel so helpless IM not sure how much longer I can deal with this. I don't like feeling so lonely.

What can I do to keep from going insane. I am trying to be patient. How long will this last? He says he just want privacy; I feel like he is keeping secrets from me. Sex is non existent but we do hold each other most nights even when we are sleeping. We have always has a good marriage; we get along well and I feel that we are great friends. We have children that we both love very much. I feel that it is worth it to stick it out but I need some survival tips.

Broken Heart

A Dear Broken
Your husband is a little young for "midlife." It "typically" doesn't start till around age 35. However, that does not mean that some people don't start younger. Your husband's behavior does sound like he's having some sort of relationship outside, no not necessarily a full-fledged affair, but flirtation. It sounds like he's detached from you, especially since he's withdrawn from you sexually.

Did something happen recently? Change of job? Illness? Death of a parent? These are all things that cause us to reflect on what we've accomplished in our life and what we've not accomplished.....I agree with you that he's depressed. He's also confused. How old are the children? How is he with them? I know that this is going to sound "canned," but you should really consider speaking with someone: your minister, a counselor, etc. Go alone if your husband will not come with you.

I know this is a very difficult time for you. I wish I could offer you a magic answer, but there is none. Is your family supportive? Do you have supportive friends? All of these factors will help you. How about him? Does he have friends? Did he withdraw from old friends? Does he have all new ones? In closing I again suggest that you go to counseling. Join a local women support group. It can be very helpful in getting over these things. good luck to you.

susanne

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April 23, 1998

Q Hello,
My name is John. I am 48-years-old and for the last year I have been going through something. I feel depressed all the time but it is not like depression. I have begun to understand that I am not going to live forever. In fact, at the most, maybe 20 more years. Because of this I don't want to do anything. I love to play Golf and I do do that as much as I can, but I don't have any interest to mow the yard, work around the house, take care of the cars, or anything else because it all seems to be for nothing because I am going to die anyway.

I know this is not right, but I can't seem to overcome the feelings of hopelessness. I drive past the old building that I used to play in when I was a young boy, and they are tearing them all down to make way for newer buildings, and all I can do is feel sorrow and cry over the loss of these landmarks.

Is there anything a person can do to overcome these feelings of depression.

A John,
You are dealing with the issue that prompts most of our midlife crises; that is coming to terms with our own mortality. Of course, we've always been mortal--always known that our bodies would one day grow old and die--but, until we're about 40, most of us ignore such thoughts. Now we no longer can. We see a parent die, maybe even a midlife friend, and we can no longer turn our backs.

So, although I can't say that I'm completely at peace with the idea of my own death either, I have discovered some things that help. Following are three of them.

One, it helps me to know that, in this imperfect world, the alternative to death is also unacceptable. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn" the poet John Keats describes a beautiful young couple who will never age, whose beauty will never fade, whose romance will never die. Why? Because they are only a picture on an ancient vase; they are frozen in time.

Of course, the downside to their immortality is that they will never kiss, never know the delight of marriage, or the joy of children. In this world, death is part of the price we pay for living. So don't let an obsession with death keep you from your midlife pleasures; these are joys, I'm convinced, that are among life's best.

Two, although our bodies must die one day, there are things that will outlive us on this planet, things that can keep our memory and influence alive. I think Keats saw poetry this way. Like the pastoral landscape on the Grecian urn, Keats' poetry has never died because the human imagination lives on.

Midlife is a time for us to think about a legacy, a time to pour ourselves into projects and people who will outlive us, and who will thus present the best of what we have to offer to future generations.

Three, I can't talk about facing my mortality without mentioning a belief in the hereafter. My Judeo-Christian view of heaven is a place where all desire is realized, where the joys we experience in this life are known in their fullness, where all that is hurtful and bad (in me and in my world) is replaced by that which is uplifting and good.

So, John, go ahead and give yourself time to grieve over lost youth. Such grief is both normal and necessary. But then get on with life. These really are your best years, and, further ahead, it gets even better.

Mike

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Q Hi,
I found your wonderful web site while searching for items under the title midlife crisis. I have a question for you:

I am 40-years-old, been supporting myself since I was 17. I am now single and raising an 11-year-old daughter. I have been a teacher for 15 years, teaching elementary and middle school.

How do I begin to search for a different career without totally losing the job security and good wages that being a teacher gives? Also, I'm more of a generalist (being a teacher) than having specifically oriented career interests.

All I know is that I'm burned out on being a teacher and am so tired of the constant work supporting myself and my daughter. I want to try something related to teaching without the daily grind of teaching. I am also open to something completely different. Also, I'm trying to be more socially active to improve my life, via church and other interests.

I am feeling trapped, desperate and am looking for that "light at the end of the tunnel."

Thanks.

Sara in Redwood City, Ca.

A Hi Sara,
Certainly, you can train for a new career while keeping your current job.

I'd suggest talking to a career counselor at a community college or vocational school. What career is currently hot, pays good money, and fits your interests and abilities?

For instance, since technology (including using the Internet) is so hot in education right now, how about teaching teachers to use it effectively? There are many "techies" out there who have the knowledge, but most are not good teachers, which you undoubtedly are.

Just a thought. There are many other possibilities. So get started by talking to a counselor (maybe more than one), and good luck. Let us know how things turn out.

Mike

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April 20, 1998

Q Dear Suzanne,
I have read some advice that you have given to other people and I wanted to ask for your advice about my situation.

I have been married for 11 years and have two boys ages 5 1/2 and 1 1/2. I am 29 years old, my husband is 14 years older than me and is now 43. I believe that he is going through a major midlife crisis. For many years we were married he could have easily won "the best father and husband of the year award". He has always been considerate, understanding, loving, supporting, trustworthy. Our marriage did have some problems, I tend to be somewhat controlling and he tends to do "as asked" but grow resentful inside. But he always wanted to be the good guy and was. Myself and the kids have always come first to him.

Now things are different. I don't recognize him. It started in November, I could see that things were "brewing" inside of him but I did not realize how serious they were. One day, after a fight he said that he wanted a trial separation, that he did not love me anymore and hasn't for long time. I went into shock. Thinking that a break would be good for us I went to Poland (my homeland) for a month. When I returned things were better between us but not for long because he kept doing things which his "old self " would never do and we fought about it. He got this wonderful job and he does not see the world outside of it. He started traveling (to Florida) first a little then more and more, I rebelled against it more and more. That did not help. Finally, he said that our good period was just him trying to work at the relationship but that he does not love me and that we have grown apart and that he wants out. We went to two counseling sessions but there was no commitment to the marriage on his part, so we stopped.

He is still living with us but spends half of every month in Florida and basically pulls two jobs. At one point he said that he got a job offer in Florida and that he will go there without us, and that I can leave and go with the kids to Poland (this is UNIMAGINABLE for his "old self). He is obviously in pain, he does not sleep well, eat well and he is OBSESSED with his job, he lives, breathes, dreams, etc his job. Of course, at his work he gets only praise and he is the "golden boy" of his company. I am getting help from a therapist in part to learn how to handle him, and it is helping a tiny bit. My questions for you are following:

Is he in a midlife crisis? - he thinks that he is not, and he will not go to therapy and thinks its all my fault for ruining the marriage. Also, I have heard that the crisis can last for years and that it has certain phases. Which phase is he in and how long can this possibly last? I hope we are at the peak of this crisis, can it get any worse?!!! When I look back I could see tiny shivers of something starting 2 years ago but it has been going on at this intensity for about 5 months. In addition, he says that he did not betray me and will not as long as we are married (he thinks it's just wrong). Would he have already done it if he were going to or is it still likely to happen? Finally, when and if he starts to come out of this crisis what signs should I look for? Please answer my questions as soon as you can, I don't have any family in this country and I feel very alone and scared. I think that some concrete answers might make me feel better. I appreciate your time and support.

Polish

A Dear Polish,
I myself am from a foreign country and have most of my family still overseas (Germany) and can well understand how lonely you must feel. Is your husband also from overseas? As far as your question of whether he is in mid-life, it sounds like he fits into the general descriptions of it. It also sounds like there were marital problems brewing for quite a while before. The intensity of the symptoms (how quickly he changed from his 'old self') does sound like he's questioning everything in his life right now.

You say he's got a new job in Florida; did he just quit his old one? Get laid off? All of these events will make someone question where they have been, etc. There is no specific time that someone stays in mid-life. Not all men go through it to this extent. It sounds to me as if he's detached from the marriage and you, especially since you say that he loves his job and they him.

There are two schools of thought on this. One says that you should just decide how much you will take and then leave and hit him up with the realities of the financial responsibilities that he will face when he has to deal with a new life. He will have to pay child support as well, probably, alimony to you. That will make his present life pretty hard and reality should set in pretty quick. The other school of thought is that you wait it out. My thinking is that YOU decide how much you can tolerate and how much you can't. Then with the help of your therapist find your self-esteem again. Please continue seeing the therapist, if for no other reason than to help you discover why you had such a need to be controlling in this marriage.

Most importantly I want to say to you to not keep blaming yourself. It takes two to make a marriage work....and it takes two to let it fall apart. Your husband must also assume some of the responsibility. I wish I could tell you better news or more specific date, but in these things there are no "Right" or "definite" answers. good luck to you.

susanne

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April 17, 1998

Q Dear Mike,
Thank you for your column -- I haven't been able to get my husband to look at it, but it has been a big help to me. My husband just turned 38, and in the past year has bought a convertible, started worrying about his hair loss, weight, and image, and is now in love with a 20's girl (he is her mentor/boss). He insists he is not going through a midlife crisis. Thankfully, his family persuaded him to see a counselor. We tried going together at first, but he just said he wanted to end our 22 year relationship. Now I hope he can see that there is a bigger picture -- he is overworked, exhausted, and out of touch with me and our three kids.

My question: what can I and the family do to help him through this? I realize that anything I say to him will have a negative response, but he is withdrawing from the kids as well, and seems to be heading into depression. Is there a way to help? Getting him out for long walks, talking to his siblings about their past and their parents divorce, telling him they love him but don't approve of what he's doing? I still love him and hate to see him in pain, but he won't talk, won't let his feelings out. It is hard to watch him self-destruct. I just don't want him to leave, recreate his parent's divorce (which he hated them for), and then look back in 6 months and hate himself for what he's done. I'm trying to give him his "space," not put demands on him, but I feel like I'm being trodden on when he goes out to dinner or whatever with this girl. He's a nice guy -- I don't want to give up on him!

Any advice? Thanks very much.

Hanging in There

A Dear Hanging
What a discerning and compassionate attitude you have! I wish your husband knew how lucky he is to have you, but, of course, presently he is unaware.

Yes, I do think there are things you can do. I'll be brief.

1. Try your best to understand his feelings if not his actions. If you just listen and not criticize, will he share them with you? (You might read "Our Desires Are Too Weak).

2. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Find things to compliment and promote in your husband. At midlife, we often think we're no longer worth much and so we're all that much more vulnerable to an affair.

3. Be positive, but don't enable. Don't make it easy for your husband to have both you and this young lady.

4. Keep up with your own life and with the kids. This is very important. Read, exercise, see your friends, maybe take a college course. You won't help anyone by being preoccupied with your husband.

5. Do impromptu, adventuresome, fun things with your husband if he is willing. If not, do them with the kids or friends.

6. Be patient. Let him know where you stand. Then let it go. Don't nag or prod.

7. Pray. Some of my readers say it is the only thing that helps.

Hope these are useful.

Mike

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Q Dear Mike:
The idea of whether I am in midlife crisis has never occurred to me until I met with a counselor earlier this week. I am not convinced that I am in this crisis although I have many of the symptoms. Bumping into this web site has given me additional pause to wonder. I would like your opinion.

I am 39, married for 19 years with no children. Yes I love my wife. Anyone who says they don't love their spouse after many years of a caring relationship is likely lying, at least to themselves. By love I mean I care about her and what happens to her. I cannot say that I am "in love". A told the counselor that I loved her like a sister. I don't really know whether this is correct description or not but it seems to me to be close.

I am having an affair for the first time in my married life with a beautiful 24 year old woman. Yes, she does let me be in charge, and the passion I have experienced with her is nothing like anything I have ever experienced. My wife and I have not had a meaningful sex life in many years. The main reason at least from my end is that I do not see her as attractive and she does not interest me sexually.

My career is going great, and we as a couple have a great life in many ways. All the trappings of success. I do now and have for years longed for something more. An emotional-physical attraction and relationship that would make me want to go home and be with her. My wife has put on much weight and although she does walk for exercise, she is still heavy. My looks, if anything, have improved since I was younger. This could be part of the problem. If I was overweight and unattractive, maybe I would be grateful for what I have. But I do get expressions of interest from women. It really does make me think that I could find someone who I could really be in love with.

I feel guilty that I feel the way I do, and have convinced myself that I have sacrificed my feelings for years to save my wife from being hurt. I know all this spells midlife crisis, but can a person in his life grow into someone else that wants something more or different than what he has, even though he still cares for his wife? I have put a halt on my affair until I figure out what it is I really want to do. All I know is that I am torn up about my situation and want to resolve it. I really do not want to hurt my wife, but I really want more. So I have started counseling. I sure would hate to bail on our relationship then realize it was a mistake. Your thoughts?

Rail Sitter in West Virginia

A Dear Rail Sitter,
Your final paragraph tells me that you already know deep down what you must do, so let me encourage you with a couple of thoughts.

One, if you continue the affair, even if you leave your wife to do so, people will be hurt--your wife, your family, probably even this young lady when she realizes what she has cost you (and maybe what you have cost her).

Two, your choice does not have to be between a romantic relationship with the 24-year-old and a stable, yet physically boring, one with your wife. Give her a chance (Have you told her of the affair or, at least, of your changing desires?). She can be sexy and interesting again (maybe you are partly to blame?) and the two of you can have a very satisfying physical relationship in midlife.

Good luck.

Mike

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April 8, 1998

Q Hi,
My husband and I are in our early 40's, no kids. We met at age 28, married at age 31. He was living a "freewheeling" lifestyle when we met -- no college degree, just a job, no career, some drug use, etc. We are both very independent people, and I think we have always got along because we both wanted companionship but needed a lot of space.

I make more money than he does by about $10K. I never "pushed" him to pursue a career, but on his own, he decided to pursue an information systems career (I'm in a related field). He has worked very hard playing "catch-up" for the last 8 years, and does not have the prestige or money that he feels he should have, given the amount of work he's put in. In the past, he had quit jobs when he was stressed, and once quit without notifying me in advance, to go to school. I have always been very supportive of his decisions, even when they made me furious.

His mom died when he was a child, and he does not get along with his father or siblings, even though they are still in touch. He is now older than his mom was when she died, and this fact has affected him deeply. I believe he has never successfully gotten over his mother's death.

Last year we bought our first home (which I wanted; he didn't). I do all of the house maintenance except mowing the lawn, per our agreement. After chugging merrily along, he is suddenly in the throes of the kind of depression that I believe is a mid-life crisis. He says he feels old, regrets not pursuing his musical dreams; you know, the standard stuff. Overnight, he has become distant, cold, and uncommunicative. I go home every night now wondering if tonight is the night he blames me for his lost youth and decides to take off.

I am not afraid of him leaving. I have friends and outside interests, which he doesn't. I am his only social contact outside of work. My house is very important to me, and as long as I can keep my house, I can be fine without him. What I fear is living in a limbo or cold war zone, where I do the laundry and cleaning, see that the bills get paid, but other than that live with a stranger. I am quite sure that this ending is inevitable, but I hate to be a sitting duck waiting for it. I am not interested in pursuing other relationships; I could be quite content alone with pets, friends, and other interests. Counseling for him is out of the question...he will not go. I feel myself pulling away from him, trying to steel myself for what I feel is the inevitable outcome. Yet I don't know if this is the right thing to do. I know that I have been a great wife, and that his life has been much better because of me. I know that what's going on is his problem in his head, not mine. If he walks, I know that it is not my fault. But I don't want to contribute to it by being cold and distant myself to try to protect myself.

How do I do the right thing without being a doormat or contributing to the breakdown of the marriage?

Thanks,

J.C.

A Dear J.C.
It sounds very much like you became your husband's "mother" or caretaker. This is something that he has allowed to happen because, as you said, he never really resolved the loss of his own mother at such an early age. The lifestyle that you describe that he was living when you met, "freewheeling", probably has to do with his fear of abandonment. That is, the one person that he loved unconditionally, mom, left him. Thus, it's safer to keep emotions "hidden" even from himself. This way he never has to experience that pain again. Of course this is not healthy and the person can end up living an unfulfilled life.

Now that you both have reached middle age, the normal process of reviewing life's decisions is even more intensified for you two. Added to that the fact that he is now older than his mom at the time of her death is making him more aware of his own mortality. It sounds as if you are more attached to the "house," and I guess what it represents, than him. You say you have outside friends and that you can be "fine without him." Have you perhaps been communicating this message to him, overtly and/or covertly? Does he feel like he was just the "walking mortgage payment"? Meaning he was there to help pay for the mortgage?

He most definitely sounds like he's going into a midlife crisis and should see a counselor to help him deal with the losses that he's had in his life. By his, and your, not dealing with this situation openly, you are both dooming this marriage. The question that I have is, do YOU want to save it? If so, then you should see a counselor to help you understand how it ended up like this to begin with. What was your contributing role? What was his? The short term answer of walking away often seems the most attractive, but seldom is. Working for a marriage, or should I say, fighting for a marriage is in the long term much more rewarding. Give it a try.

susanne

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Q Hi.
I still can't believe I came across this page. Every week I read letters that I myself could have written. It's encouraging to know that there are other people going through the same thing I am.

My husband of 15 years has recently told me that he is not in love with me anymore and wants to leave me. He says the only reason he isn't gone already is because of the kids (daughter 11 and son 8). About 5 years ago I went through what I now believe was a bout with clinical depression. It lasted for about 3 years and during that time I felt that I wasn't in love with him anymore. I also felt terrible about myself, I had gained weight, and had very low self esteem. Through a series of life experiences (my father's bout with cancer, tragic and sudden death of a co-worker, losing the weight I had gained) I came out of my funk and realized what a wonderful life I really have (or had)and how much I do love him.

But, during my funk, I neglected him emotionally and physically (we did have sex, but it lacked passion - I just had no interest) and he says now that during that time I let his love for me die out. He says that he likes me as a person (we are truly best friends) and that he loves me because I am a good person and the mother of his children (he tells me I'm a wonderful mother) , but he is just not IN love with me anymore. Although we sleep together (very close - spooning) we haven't been intimate in about 3 months He says if we have sex then I will think that everything is OK, and it's not. There is no one else (I'm quite certain of that), he says that there has never been anyone else and that he can't even think of dating another woman as long as he is still with me, but that he hopes to fall in love again.

He tells me all the time he is sorry and that he hates how he is torturing me, but he just can't help the way he feels - hollow inside - dead. I know that there is still a lot of love between us, and he says that he knows for the first time in a long time that I DO love him - but that it is just too late. He says he doesn't have any happy memories of our marriage. I know that he harbors a lot of angry feelings toward me, and I think they are clouding his memory. We have always been a very close family. My husband's job is such that he spends a lot of time at home with the kids. My kids have no idea that any of this is going on and this separation is truly going to break their hearts. He says he is going to see the kids as much as he does now and that they will adjust.

I can't help but feel that this marriage can be saved. I read in your Q&A every week of people who have come through much worse together, but I talk until I'm blue in the face and it always ends with us crying and hugging, and him saying "it's too little too late" He's home every night with me, and calls me almost every day to meet him for lunch. I just don't understand his motivation. I think I would understand better if he could tell me he was in love with someone else. We are both seeing counselors - separately - he says there's no point in seeing anyone together because the marriage is over. Is there anything I can do that I am not already doing? I have asked him to think long and hard about what he is doing and I am trying very hard to give him his space, but it is so difficult. I feel like I am in limbo and my life is on hold.

Crushed in Connecticut

A Dear Crushed
First of all stop punishing yourself for the depression, and resulting lack of communicating in your marriage, that you went through five years ago. Was your husband supportive of you then? The more you hold on to your feelings of guilt, the longer you will perpetuate this situation. So, stop it.

Now let me ask you some questions. Did you ever find out what caused the depression? Did you see a Dr.? Were you on medication? How was your husband during this time? As far as the present situation is concerned, did you ask your husband if he WANTS to save this marriage? If so, tell him that you'd like him to go to counseling to help YOU deal with this. Often, spouses will go to counseling if they don't think it's to "fix" them.

Some painful questions for you. Are you sure that there is not some flirtation going on at work for your husband? His behavior sounds too much like someone who's at the beginning stage of infatuation with someone. Could be very innocent at this time, but can progress. It sounds like he's distancing himself from you. I wonder why? The old story of " I love you but I'm not IN love with you" is baloney! It has been said for centuries when one spouse feels guilty about something.

Is he also acting differently as far as his dress code is concerned? Is he working out all of a sudden? Putting in more overtime? These are all signs. Please understand that I am NOT saying that your husband is having an affair; I am saying that he is showing signs of the beginning of an infatuation or detaching from you and the family. Did you ask him already? If so, did he become extremely defensive? That's one of the signs. I strongly suggest that you both go to counseling to help identify what happened and hopefully to save this relationship. It is not yet too late. good luck.

susanne

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Q Hi.
My husband and I (mid 40's) decided to explore other sexual partners, ideally with a view to form a polamory type friendship with 1 or more each. I was the instigator, and being a fairly attractive female it has been much easier for me to have this experience than he has. Although our marriage is basically happy and our sex life is good, I longed for some intangible excitement. It was suddenly as if I was thrown back to being a teenager again with raging hormones. So far this has not backfired in the way the readers might suspect - I/we have not met up with another partner we have unwittingly fallen in love with.

I just wanted to say how it has left me quite flat and extremely confused. I've had sex with a few partners and now it is suddenly as if the lights have come on or I've woken up from a dream. Also complicating things, all the old issues have come up re men and women from when I was single - the so-called double standard etc. ie: Instead of feeling liberated I feel like I've been used in some cases. I should have known that my intense kind of nature wouldn't permit me to become footloose and fancy free. So far none of the new men have evolved into the sort of friendship angle I was really hoping for.

It is all the more ridiculous since my husband is my best friend and it would be very difficult to also find this degree of comfort with another person - and I'm not sure why I was looking for this in the first place. A definite case of mid-40's crisis here! My present problem is that I have grown accustomed to meeting new men - the thrill of the initial sexual encounters. I'm reluctant to pack it in just yet but I believe it will come to that in short order because this whole thing is making me feel very empty despite the initial enjoyment. It is quite a peculiar feeling as if I'm splitting into two pieces. I did want to share this experience in your column, as it is a different kind of story than the usual affairs that many people experience.

I can only be grateful that my marriage has not been jeopardized. (He actually likes me having sex with other men which complicates the issue.) Perhaps what I've said here might be useful to some readers who may be considering something similar. I have a sense that I'm in for a really bad depression - I can feel it coming on - and the usual aftermath episode of clinging to what is safe in life like a lifeboat. It is as if I was in a manic episode, although I'm not a manic depressive. It saddens me that I've complicated my life in this way, and it is bound to take several months for me to begin to feel genuinely spiritually happy again, once I've rediscovered how to make my life exciting again.

I'm sure it would not be surprising for me to also say that this took on addiction properties - I've found it increasingly difficult to do my normal hobbies and interests in the way I did before - every time I'd try to get into my interests I'd have a very empty lonely feeling about it, but obviously, I will have to force myself past the emptiness. I will end this now and look forward to your comments and hope I may have been helpful to anyone else going through something similar.

Confused and Depressed from BC

A Dear Confused
You are trying to re-capture your youth, which of course is impossible as you know. It's almost as if you are in a blind panic to experience things (like new sex partners and the resulting initial high) because you are afraid at some level to "settle" down. Are your parents very "settled" down in their life and do you, have you felt, that they never really "lived" a life? Or was it the opposite? No security for you? Either way, you are trying to correct or capture something in your family history, so to speak...not make the same mistakes "they did."

I found it interesting that your husband did not initially want to go along with this, but did. Does he want to continue? Now down to brass tax.....how about your marriage vows? No matter how pretty you dress it up, the two of you are cheating on each other. The amount of emotional energy that is being invested in these new "adventures" could and should be spent on building or rebuilding your marriage. I guess I should ask, do you two really want to be married?

I probably sound like an old "fuddy duddy," but I believe that you are looking for something that you will never find this way. You need to find within you what is missing in your life that is making you feel so desperate for "new thrills". Are you afraid it is all going to end soon? That you have to "get it in before it's gone"? That type of thinking is a sign of depression. It's almost as if you have this inner rage at men. I'm wondering why? You mention the "double standard", why? Because you feel it is so unfair that you are now trying to overcompensate? In a way to, "screw" all the men before they "screw" you? Who are you so angry at?

I strongly suggest that both of you go to a counselor to see what chances are left to salvage this marriage. Of course that is if you want that. You may instead want to explore with them that you in fact want to be free to do what you want. Either way, I believe, you need to have a third party there to help you swim your way through these shark infested waters that you are finding yourself in at this time. I wish you the best.

susanne

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April 6, 1998

Q Dear Mike,
The day before thanksgiving, 1997 my husband called me at work and told me he wanted to split, he did not love me anymore. I was so shocked, I hung up. He waited until the Sunday after thanksgiving and then called me and talked for over an hour. In this time he told me he had no feelings for me anymore. He had met a woman a month before and moved in with her. (He is a long distance trucker) He said they had a lot in common and got along real well. He talked to me like I was a friend he had known for years and was telling me about a new love. A week later he came to get his things. He could barely look at me. He never really faced me or sat down face to face to talk to me. When he came to get his things he acted very angry. You would have thought I dumped him.

The month of Dec. went by he never called at xmas to talk to our 20yr old daughter. A week later he sent her a card with money signed by the woman he is living with instead of signing it himself. He refused to tell us anything about his whereabouts except that he was in Georgia. The first night he called us he told us he would not pull the carpet out from under us, he would send us money every week. He never has. He stuck us with the bills. He also told me he was contacting a lawyer and wanted this marriage over with quickly. He never did. I filed for divorce 2 days before xmas. He was served papers on 1/16/98. My daughter happened to put a call in for him that day. That's how we found out he was served. He targeted me during that phone call. Told my daughter he wanted nothing to do with me, there were no feelings for me and never would be again. I don't understand his anger. I did nothing to him.

It is now April and this divorce is being dragged by him or his lawyer. I found out he lost his job 1/20/98 and has been unemployed ever since. He now has a DWI on his motor vehicle record. I don't know for sure if he quit his job or was forced to resign.

The bottom line here is that I still love this man very much and probably always will in spite of what he has done to me. I am so confused as to what happened and if he is really happy with this woman. He has not contacted his parents, brother, my daughter or any former friends. Its as though he wants no contact with anyone from his past life.

Prior to his leaving me, he had been home 3 weeks before, made love to me and told me he loved me. Then, 3 weeks later dropped this little bomb. He told me in the beginning He had gone to far now and he could not back out, but he never clarified what he meant.

I don't know if I should hold out any hope of ever reconciling with him, or just try to forget and go on with my life.

Lonely and confused in Florida

A Dear Lonely and Confused,
On the day I received your e-mail I received similar ones from AB and BC, both who have been married to their spouses for 20 years (one husband is 40; the other, 50) both who have been left for another woman, and both who have the same questions as you: "Is there hope for the relationship? Should I just go on with life?"

My advice to all three of you is that, regardless of what you do physically (move out, divorce, stay put), you each need to turn loose emotionally of your spouse. I'm convinced that holding on to something you have already lost will not restore the loss, but will only prolong your hurt (and, face it, when your husband has moved in with the other woman, you have lost him).

Please read my article, "Letting Go," which explains what I mean in more detail, and then do get on with your life. I know things look dismal now, but, as I explain in the column, some of life's best gifts may lie just ahead.

Good luck, and keep us informed.

Mike

April 9, '98--P.S. One of the nice things about the web is that, if you mess up, you can change things, and I've decided I messed up on this answer. It is too simplistic. There does come a time when we must let go and move on from a failed relationship, but I don't think there are any one-size-fits-all criteria to determine when that time has come. What do the rest of you think? Write a note to the Forum Page and I'll post your response.

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