Surviving My Husband’s Mid-Life Crisis
My story is an endless series of clichés. Now the true definition of a cliché is an action or idea which is expected or predictable, based on a prior event. And although my story is a cliché because it happens daily, hourly around the world, it certainly wasn’t predictable to me.
I have been married for over 10 years, have a wonderful family with a husband who is my best friend, my ally throughout every major decision and development in my adult life, who shares my ideals and my world views on nearly everything. Nothing made me or anyone else question the viability and enduring love of our relationship. Is that part a cliché? The seemingly solid marriage? Perhaps. The real cliché part was my husband having an affair with his co-worker.
Such an action is predictable only due to its commonness in our culture. How many times have I heard friends telling me stories of clandestine relationships? How many marriages have we seen fail due to affairs. How many flings have I witnessed at my own workplace which I found distasteful and completely disrespectful? The part that is not a cliché is its predictability in my own life. I never saw it coming and it hit me like a bullet train racing at 300 miles an hour toward a stalled pick-up on the tracks. My world was shattered within seconds of him confessing after his conscience and my probing questions could no longer be tolerated.
I cannot easily describe the physical pain of being hit by that bullet train. One wonders how one would react upon learning this kind of news. I discovered that there is no cliché in terms of reaction. You cannot predict how you will feel. My immediate response was to deal with it head on, to understand the circumstances that led to it, to forgive, to move forward and not judge. I never imagined I would react that way. But anyone who has been with the same partner for many years will either admit to having crushes, fantasies, or even ‘almost liaisons’ with acquaintances over the course of their relationship. We can understand falling prey to temptation, if only once. Those who deny this fact are lying.
Naturally I could not get out of my mind the thought of my husband being intimate with another woman — of them sneaking off together after work (during work?) indulging in the passion that obviously overwhelmed them enough to risk losing a family, loved ones, respect of colleagues, basically everything that shapes their world. What I learned was that I could forgive a short affair that had occurred in the past, one that was regretted and where the partner is begging for mercy. What I couldn’t live with was the fact that my husband was seemingly in love with this woman and wasn’t prepared to give her up.
The physical effect on me was severe. I stopped eating, stopped sleeping, I could not focus, I experienced panic attacks, all symptoms of what my doctor called an acute crisis. Due to the nature of this crisis and my personality, I could not share my devastation with many. Instead of family and a wide circle of supportive friends, I turned to my 3 closest girlfriends. These women walked every step of the wreckage with me and held my hand when I didn’t think I could survive another hour of the day. They were my salvation and I will be forever grateful for that unconditional support and love they showed me. They took my panic laden irrational phone calls, my late night visits when I couldn’t face going home, and supplied me with endless glasses of wine and advice when I could not think straight. Somehow I survived that black period in my life without becoming an alcoholic, murdering my husband, or running away.
I wish I could say that our healing was a result of the passage of time or the work of a great therapist. But ultimately it was taking the advice of my wise girlfriends, the advice I couldn’t take at first, but that was necessary when I recognized our impasse: for him to leave and figure out what he wanted away from my scrutiny and desperation.
Another cliché: you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. From this separation he could finally feel and experience what life would be like without us. He finally felt the impact of the bullet train. It made him suffer, learn fear, and perhaps it made him treasure me more. Whatever it was, we have a more profound mutual respect and devotion that I don’t think was evident before. We went down to the depths of the abyss and emerged fully formed as friends, lovers and partners. I think we’re in good shape now, although I’m much more attune to the fragility of our relationships, and the need to find connections at a deeper more meaningful way than just music, movies and sports.
I also learned that the cliché of the midlife crisis is very real and nearly unavoidable in men aged 40 to 55. (I know, I read a lot about it — but that’s a whole other blog entry). We as women need to be aware of it, learn the signs as we do for breast cancer or melanoma, and work extra hard to nurture our relationships.
A cliché that I find assuring is that in times of crisis you learn who your friends are. Another cliché is that (perhaps in the absence of a sister) there is no better support than your girlfriends. I value mine tremendously and hope everyone has someone they feel they can reach out to when life seems unbearable; someone who is categorically on your side and who can show you a picture of your own and others’ actions in a perspective unforeseeable when your vision is blurred. You never know when that train will hit and the impact it will have. To many of you, this story will sound familiar and if you think you’re that friend, know that you are cherished.