Dr. Jim Conway had once written a set of midlife crisis stages, based the stages of grief written by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, with one stage added.
When I wrote out the below set of stages back in 2002, it was always wrongly assumed, that I had taken and directly revised the writings from Dr. Jim Conway’s original version, contained within his book, Men in Midlife Crisis–written in 1978. However, his version and my version do not read anything alike, and they were never meant to.
Within this six stage writing, the titles only, were used.The descriptions, however, were authored by myself-these were drawn from personal experience, as well as the experiences of others.
Mr. Conway’s perception and my perception on the stages, and even the crisis as a whole has differed on many points over the years. He wrote from a combination of direct personal experience and his pastoral counseling experience, whereas I have continued to write from personal experience, insight provided to me by God, and from my observations over the years.
Mr Conway has a very unique perception within his writings, as these were and still are, guided directly by God. It was quite clear this same influence carried him into many new aspects and though, he was not certain at times where it all came from, he wrote it all down anyway, as the information he offered for public consumption was that important.
I have seen so many things he wrote bear out, as he told the truth in everything he wrote. For anyone to assume that he was wrong, simply because his belief system differs from theirs, would do so in error.
Considering there has never been any one “right” or “wrong” way to navigate through the mid-life crisis, Dr. Conway was never wrong, he was simply different in the way he brought his points across. I contain a tremendous amount of respect for him, as his book was a true lifeline during a time when one couldn’t find anything else to hold on to.
Some people will come through this trial faster than others, some will be slower-some might show one stage at a time, some might show MORE than one.
This article simply gives you an idea of what to expect, but don’t take it as the whole truth-each person is different, and these differences will certainly show up.
1st Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
The word Denial should speak for itself, as the person in this stage denies their feelings pretty strongly. In a Mid Life Crisis, however, there are several things that are denied; one is the fact he/she is getting older, two, their body doesn’t work as well and, in their perception, doesn’t look as good as it used to, and three, they feel “used up”, but at the same time, they are trying to fight these feeling that feel so wrong. They don’t want to face the fact they are “wearing out” and they can’t do the things they used to do anymore. They had always, up to this point, felt they were still in their prime or youthful, and had been ignoring the aging that was sneaking up on them.
When reality of their own aging finally hits home, they panic. Some consider using plastic surgery to enhance the illusion, they will go on a buying spree for new clothes that don’t exactly fit someone their age, and usually end up spending a great deal of money on other things. All in an effort to “buy-off” the aging process-it only leads to the next stage-Anger.
They look at their children, and in their mind’s eye, they are still small, never mind they are now teenagers that are on the verge of growing into adulthood. The midlife spouse attempts to treat the young man or young woman as they did when they were three or four years old–only the teen is probably about 13-18, starts to rebel against being treated like a small child, which increases the confusion of the Midlife spouse. They go on to try to make up for lost time, only to find rejection at the hands of their teenagers, and though they are hurt, they react in the only way they know how-Anger
Then there’s the spouse of the Midlife spouse-he/she doesn’t look the same as she did. As the Midlife spouse has aged, so does the spouse. We cannot help what heredity does to our looks; but their spouses are also a reflection of them, how they have treated them, what they have given or with-held. They begin to deny what they are seeing, thinking if they had it to go all over again they might have married someone else and been happier than they are now-never mind it’s not true- and that leads to the next stage–Anger
This stage is mostly quiet storming inside their heads, no one knows what they are thinking, only that they have become withdrawn somewhat because of their minds being so active. They are not talking, so no one has any clue what’s happening until the Anger stage begins. If asked, they will tell you they are fine, and if you listen closely, their answers are a little short-tempered; because they just want to be left alone to think it all out.
I have not included being unhappy within their jobs in the stage of Denial, because I don’t think dissatisfaction with the job begins until the Anger stage-To be totally honest, I didn’t see my husband’s dissatisfaction really come to the surface until the tail-end of Replay, although it showed while he was IN Replay-in small spurts
2nd Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
While the Mid Lifer is in the stage of Denial, it is actually preparing him/her for this next stage, it seems to be a “set up” or the seeds of Anger are actually planted by being in that first stage.
Regardless, the anger begins to set in, reality hits somewhat and the Mid Lifer begins to become really angry at the “lot” he/she has been cast in this life. And they have a tendency to forget that others have the same problems-they begin to be selfish, lashing out at others, not caring how much they hurt the people who are closest to them, even lashing out at their bosses, not caring if they are fired or not-it does NOT matter to them, and they really don’t even know WHY they are angry. The irritability alone wears on them and they react with MORE anger-not really understanding it, but just going on with it, thinking they are saying what they really feel for the first time in their lives; walking all over anyone who stands in their way.
They begin to think “run-away” thoughts, angry at their perception that they are “stuck” in the same dead-end job, year after year, after year; angry their children have grown up without them, angry their spouses aren’t what they think they ought to be, angry that life has dealt them such a cruel blow, angry because they feel “stuck” and “trapped” in the life THEY chose in their youth. Angry because it dawns on them, that they ARE growing older, and there’s not stopping the aging process.
They begin to think if they could just CHANGE their life, they would be happy, but even the thought of change, makes them angrier. They look for outside sources to blame for this unhappiness they feel inside, and guess who gets the “brunt” of that anger-their husband/wife-the one who has seen them through many things during the marriage.
Their anger takes the form of small criticisms to begin with and gradually gets bigger and bigger, and the fights escalate into possibly throwing things against the walls, making impossible demands-their spouse begins to walk on “eggshells”–the withdrawal gets worse, they can barely speak to one another without a fight breaking out from the “sane” spouse saying or doing the wrong thing.
It begins to feed their justification and reasoning, and most will find a “friend” and develop that friendship, never dreaming it will escalate into something out of control-the Replay affair. Others will begin to take drugs, drink, continue with their quest for youth, and search of self….etc.
So the next stage-Replay and the Anger Stage OVERLAPS, just as Denial and Anger did-each one has the seeds of the next and the one before.
And all the angry outbursts gradually sets things up for the next stage—Replay
3rd Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
Now, Replay can take many forms, from Affairs, to a search for youth, catching up on “lost” time-although you can never “catch up” what you have lost in that time-but they don’t know that.
They are still searching for outside sources to blame for their misery, and Replay is a perfect time for a totally stable man to go crazy and start an affair-although the SEEDS for this affair were probably planted while in the Anger stage. They will still try to reconnect with children, or if they were close to their children, distance from them-it is also during this time they become the total “opposite” of what they were, before they entered the tunnel, back in Denial. They undergo a gradual change in the first two stages, going from what they were to the direct opposite during this time. They will do things their husbands/wives never thought they would do.
Besides the affair, they will feel “entitled” to what they take, regardless of who they hurt, or how much of a financial bind they put their families in. Their reasoning becomes “Well, I have taken care of people my whole life, now it’s time for ME to have fun.”
The emotions, during this time, are in play, in a way they never have been, and they don’t understand what’s going on, and so they panic and “run”; but the running they do will rock the very foundation of a marriage.
They may drink, take drugs, curse God for what He “has done” to them-have multiple affairs, failing to see what they are doing that’s so wrong-still with the attitude of it being “my” time now.
The “emotional bomb” can and will be dropped during this time, shocking the sane spouse who probably has NO idea that anything was wrong, and the problems begin to escalate, as “crying and begging” ensues, and the Mid Lifer turns away, secure in his “reasoning” for his behavior and /or the affair/drinking/drugs/money spent.
Their behavior can disrupt the most settled of families, most especially the affair-the Mid Lifer’s reasoning is that he/she thinks they have “missed out” when really, they haven’t, and the OW/OM, they can/will get involved with will NOT be what they wanted all along, but they won’t see that until they experience an “awakening” that gives them a direction, and starts them along the path to facing their issues; opening the door for the stage of Depression.
As long as the Mid Lifer continues “replay” behaviors they are nowhere near to being ready to start their way out of the tunnel; the “awakening” they have IF they come to it, is a “turning point” to beginning their journey out of the tunnel.
When the “awakening” occurs, they begin to suffer the next stage-Depression, and it is a low point of the Mid Lifer’s journey.
The Replay stage is the LONGEST of the stages. Its length greatly depends upon the “replay” behaviors used during this time.
4th Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
Now, we have traveled through the first three stages, and during those stages, the issues that are inside the Mid Lifer have STILL not been looked at.
This is the stage where the Mid Lifer is faced with the issues he/she are beginning to face, and quite frankly, they feel like failures.
Nothing has helped the first three stages-everything they have tried has NOT turned to gold, on the contrary everything has turned to stone, for lack of a better word to describe their running-and now comes the time to begin to face their damage, and this is done inside-because that is what Depression is-anger turned inward.
Their hormones are out of whack, due to physical changes, and that makes them feel worse. Their self-esteem is shot all to pieces, and they feel like failures. They wonder if they will ever be worth anything to anyone. Some are in so much pain, they commit suicide, some get smart and get anti-depressants to help them begin to clear their thinking processes, some suffer in silence, thinking nobody understands them or will understand what they are going through-and so it goes on.
They will be on the verge of tears, most of the time, pacing the floor, losing sleep, afraid of the dark-or maybe what’s in it; unable to escape negative thoughts, cutting themselves down in word and action. Extreme guilt may compound this stage, and there is so much pressure, they become forgetful, irritable, want to be left alone, somewhat argumentative, sometimes unresponsive-want to take long drives, sit looking out the window-their silences are long and painful, as they don’t want to talk about it preferring instead to think and brood.
You must understand they will come through this or they won’t-no one can “make” them come out until they are ready-pestering them only makes them draw inside further, and they need the space to work within themselves, trying to understand some of what has happened; the parts they can face, anyway, besides resolving issues that are inside them, from childhood and/or otherwise. Understand, also, this journey must continue to made alone, no one can “fix” it or “do it for them.”
Pieces of the next stage are contained within, and Withdrawal begins to come to the fore as each individual issue is faced-it is a gradual slide from Depression to Withdrawal or both stages can occur together.
5th Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
As the mid-lifer moves slowly out of the Depression stage into Withdrawal, for the first time since the transition has started, he/she now comes face to face with the more personal, self-related types of issues he/she has avoided all this time.
These may come at him/her all at once, or one at a time, but he/she must now begin considering what was within that led him/her to do all the damage he/she has done in the recent, and not so recent, past.
As he/she ponders on these things, he/she also faces major decisions that will either “make” or “break” him/her in the area of his/her job, his life, his/her past relationships, his/her spouse, and his/her marriage.
During this time, he/she will do one of two things, he/she will either continue rebuilding his/her destroyed connections, or he/she will withdraw completely, and rebel heavily against what he/she knows must be done for and within himself/herself.
Each person is different in how they deal with and in this stage.
Just as the first four stages have been overt,this one particular stage is mostly covert, subject to a deep introspection, as they consider the beginning of what is either the end, or a new beginning within their lives at this point.
Shades of Denial, Anger, Replay, and Depression may still be seen within their deep struggles, and it’s found during that time that the spouse the mid-lifer so quickly abandoned at the beginning of Replay, will become a major part of the issues they must figure out for themselves. There is a choice to stay or run away, and so begins for a time, a concentrated effort to influence the spouse, that has stood so patiently for so long, to go on and end the marriage as it stands.
As hard as it is, the spouse is encouraged to continue standing still, and learning to lead the mid-lifer forward at right times gently, but firmly even as they still observe the deep struggle within.
Withdrawal also contains the “seeds” that lead forth into the final stage, and eventually, the mid-lifer will hopefully choose to accept their jobs, their lives, past relationships, their spouse, and finally, recommit to their marriage.
These decisions in turn, will help them cross over into the final stage–Acceptance.
6th Stage of a Mid Life Crisis
The Mid Lifer has navigated through five stages of his/her Mid Life crisis by now, and begins into the final stage–Acceptance.
Now, Acceptance is entered in “Stages” Three, to be exact.
Stage ONE involves the disintegration of his/her personality, the “veil” is lifted showing the Mid Lifer EVERYTHING, no holds barred, and he/she realizes for the first time just how much damage has been done to their marriage, lives and spouse. The spouse will be surprised to see more “children” surface, as well as “flashes” of the “old” personality, “new” personality, good AND bad personalities. I have described it as similar to schizophrenia, Three faces of Eve, etc.
But, I promise they are not crazy, this is what is meant to happen, for the Mid Life Crisis extracts a change, and the disintegration is a part of it, as they are forced to look at every facet of their personalities and make some permanent changes. The key to helping them through is to accept what you see as it comes forth, and don’t ridicule or shame them-you will see little kids picking their nose for example–I saw this happen. They will apologize for everything under the sun, and try really hard to make up for the damage; for a little while.
Now during stage TWO of Acceptance, will come the temptations to want to go back to what they came out of. The silence of the spouse is most important during this time-all you can do is be understanding and patient with them as this must happen and they must come through alone.
They will seem to be going backward, but aren’t, this is necessary for them to move forward.
It is during this time they will “revisit” ALL stages of the Mid Life Crisis except Denial and shuts the “doors” to each stage permanently one by one, never to return.
If they give in to temptation OR get spooked by their final fears, they will run back into the tunnel a little ways. But they can only run back as far as the doors have not been closed permanently; most of the time they just run back as far as the Withdrawal stage, but will continue the process to come out once they feel “safe” to continue. So, they must be allowed to come through without interruption, no matter what happens.
**Author’s added note: This involves only the battle concerning the temptation within the aspect of returning to a perceived easier time within the crisis, nothing further. This is not, and I repeat not, the ending of the Replay stage as some people think to make it out to be. The ending of Replay going into the Depression stage is much different, and that difference becomes obvious once this mini stage is reached.
Stage THREE involves an “archway” that cannot be gone around, nor bypassed. The only way out is through. All this time the Mid Lifer has been coming across this open field toward this Archway, where his “final fears” are located and he finally begins to face these fears in full-he may come out of the tunnel and face them BEFORE he/she shuts the door to Depression/Withdrawal or afterwards. But he will have to face them, nevertheless, before he exits to begin his complete healing process.
It takes awhile for the Mid Lifer to get settled down, even after he/she comes out of stage three of the Acceptance stage-they will experience a final “rebelling” before they settle down for good.
It is much like a teenager who has passed into manhood/womanhood-there are still final changes that must be made, especially for the one who has done so much damage during the crisis itself.
But if he/she can settle everything within themselves, their lives should be marked with a sense of peace, instead of the anguish they have known for as long as they were within the crisis. And they will have learned many things concerning life, and will be changed permanently as they will NEVER be the same, ever again.