> Current Issues > Dear Emuna

My Severe Mid-Life Crisis

April 3, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

After 34 years of being happily married, it’s all going to pot. Nothing is making me happy.

Dear Emuna,

I have been married 34 years and most of my years with my husband have been happy. Until three years ago when I lost my mother, my husband lost his job and all my five children left and are very independent.

I have also been going through a severe mid-life crisis that I just can’t seem to get out of. I have evolved to be a completely different woman and have lost love and respect for my husband because of his three-year unemployment. I am not cordial to him and we barely speak to each other. I am not happy. I have started to look outside my marriage for emotional support and that also doesn't make me happy. I tried connecting with friends and family and that doesn't may me happy. My situation at home is getting worse and I don't want to divorce. I don't want to start over, I don't want to disrupt my family, and I don't want to be alone. But I feel very alone every single day. What should I do?


Dear Despairing,

Go immediately to a professional. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Your level of depression and despair and loneliness cry out for therapeutic intervention and, most likely, some type of medication. Once you have stabilized and gotten yourself onto a more even keel emotionally, then and only then, can you begin to evaluate your situation more objectively and plan some behaviors that will ameliorate it.

You have the power to make many changes with your home life.

Assuming you are in that place, you really do have the power to make many changes with your home life. You repeatedly stressed that “you don’t want” things the way they currently are and yet it sounds like you have a share in creating the current unpleasant environment. I feel comfortable assuming that your husband did not choose to lose his job. Try building up his self-respect instead of tearing it down. Encourage him, subtly and strategically, and help him to be motivated to look for a new one and to feel that there is something out there for him.

It sounds like you are doing the opposite. If you don’t treat him cordially and you barely speak then of course your home is an unpleasant place. But, as you point out, connecting with others outside your marriage is not filling the void. We can’t run away from our problems – or from our responsibilities. There is no magic pill and it’s up to you to begin to put in the effort you can to rebuild your marriage. Since you don’t discuss it, I am unable to determine whether your husband is actively looking for new employment or has also fallen into a funk. If he is sitting around doing nothing, I can certainly understand how that would be frustrating but I’m not sure it would alter my response. Since you can’t change his behavior, you still need to work on your own reactions.

You also frequently use the phrase “that doesn’t make me happy”. This reflects the mistaken outlook that there is something outside of us that should make me happy. This is not the Torah perspective. Whatever our life’s circumstances, it is up to us to choose happiness. No one or no thing can “make” us happy. Happiness is a choice – and an obligation (“Serve God with joy”). We can’t control the outcomes of any of our choices but we can control our responses. You need to stop allowing the external circumstances of your life to determine your mood and begin to recognize your own power in that area.

Just one word about mid-life crisis. It really fits into the same category as happiness. The crisis may certainly be real and, if it involves introspection and re-evaluation, even appropriate. It’s good to stop and think, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” It’s healthy to recognize certain changes in circumstances and new opportunities. But again, how you respond to it is in your hands. You can blame the externals of your life for your feelings of disquiet and choose the immature reaction of running away or you can confront your situation head on. You can make some changes and not others. You can accept aging with grace (and some wrinkle cream) and you can take pleasure in your children’s independence. Instead of feeling depressed and powerless, you can feel empowered. Your reaction is totally in your hands. Choose well.

Not Invited to Friend’s Wedding

Dear Emuna,

About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine made a wedding. It was out of town and she isn’t a close enough friend for me to have made the trip but nevertheless I was surprised, even a little hurt, that I wasn’t invited. Two weeks ago, she reached out to me to meet her for coffee. She spent the whole time explaining how badly she felt, how her hands were tied, how the kids controlled who was invited etc. etc. I reassured her that I understood but I actually left feeling more hurt and frustrated. What should I do?

Abandoned Friend

Dear Abandoned,

I’m not sure there is anything for you to do – other than take an honest look at the quality of your friendship. It is definitely true that weddings are complicated. There are financial constraints and a lot of needs to take into account. On the other hand, everyone manages to invite their “closest” friends. If you thought you were in that category, you now know you aren’t (sorry to be blunt) and you can decide for yourself whether that satisfies you or not.

Are you content to be in that second (or third) circle of relationships, to be friendly and even enjoy each other’s company but not really be closest friends? I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with that level – it can possibly be satisfying to both of you because it is less demanding – but you need to decide if that works for you. If so, there’s nothing you need to do. You can enjoy the situation as is.

If not, then you need to make some tough choices – to either ease out of the relationship or to discuss with her how you feel and explain your desire and hope for greater closeness. I’m not sure this is realistic. I assume that you gave her the reassurance and forgiveness she required at your recent coffee but I have to say that her desire to get together seems to reflect her needs not yours. She wanted to assuage her guilt and be forgiven – but it wasn’t an oversight you weren’t invited; it was a conscious choice and she invited others instead.

She’s made it clear where the relationship stands. Accept that and move on.

Of course you shouldn’t bear a grudge but you can look at the relationship more realistically. Forgiving her is helpful to both of you but it doesn’t change the reality. I think she has made it clear where the relationship stands in her mind and the healthiest path for you is probably to just accept that – and move on.

I can’t help but add my own pet peeve when it comes to wedding invitations. Once in a while I get an invitation that just isn’t as thick as my neighbor’s invitation. It contains no rsvp card. That’s because I am being invited to the chuppah and not the dinner. Thank God, I won’t go hungry if I’m not invited to the dinner but I personally feel that if you don’t feel close enough to me to invite me to the whole event, it’s better not to invite me at all. The “I want you there but I don’t want to/can’t afford to pay for you” message rankles – but maybe that’s just me. Those types of invitations are like your coffee date with your friend – a way of assuaging the guilt of the hostess but doing nothing for the guest. Thanks for letting me vent!

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