Midlife can arrive incrementally, as a growing realisation that you are getting older, or suddenly with the onset of crises in health, retrenchment, finance and relationships (or all the above). In both cases, the pathway to resolution remains the same, requiring honest reflection, letting go and assertive action to attain satisfactory outcomes.
Tendency to blame others for what is happening within us is an immature approach that has long-term destructive social and financial implications.
Interiority of the midlife crisis is a particular challenge to those unused to self-reflection, or who have failed to address adequately the adolescent tasks of intimacy and mutuality. Surviving till midlife without resolving the intimacy and mutuality challenges to become a competent, productive adult does not mean the tasks have gone away. They remain buried alive, only to surface and compound tasks at other vulnerable periods like midlife.
Reconcile the dream
All of us have had dreams about what we would like to achieve in life. Midlife brings forward the dreams. Satisfaction at what we have achieved relative to the dream may be coloured by disappointment at opportunities lost, bad luck, accidents and draining relationships, or disappointment heightened by comparison with attainment by others.
Again blame is not the solution. At midlife we are challenged to reconcile our dreams with present reality. The healing in doing releases us to create dreams for a different future, as we adapt our knowledge, skills and experience to the cause.
Tasks of midlife
The Whiteheads, quoting Levinson, outline the task of midlife to “rebalance the four polarities in the personality which contribute to the adult’s growth into mature generativity”:
- Shifting the balance between young and old – beginning to think in terms of time left to live rather than time since birth;
- Creative and destructive – avoiding self-destructive action and inaction and ensuring patterns of decision-making remain positive, as the foundation for long later years;
- Masculine and feminine – becoming a whole person comfortable with one’s own sexuality able to demonstrate an integrated attitude toward work, play, career and friendship; and
- Attachment and separateness – in midlife transition an adult may feel drawn inward to the pole of separateness – life of imagination, play and reflection that can be unsettling for those who have busied themselves with career and external activities, calling them to question the pace and worth of it all. Retreat into self-absorption is no resolution.
While letting go to resolve these polarities honestly is intensely personal, the outcomes of resolution have broad implications in all areas of life: personal, family, community, economy, politics and spirituality.
Refreshing the tasks of adolescence
The importance of having well developed the enduring resources of adolescence – intimacy and mutuality – can be seen in the knowledge that an affair in midlife is most often a search for intimacy for a woman and an escape from intimacy by a man.
Women at midlife are seeking greater mutuality: they want better, more honest sharing at a personal level. Too often men, who have remained unreflective and unresponsive, fail to read the signs of relationship disintegration. Instead they expect that women will make good the entire shortfall. Greater assertiveness of women these days means such expectations are unrealistic.
Where resources of intimacy and mutuality have failed to develop, laid latent, or been buried alive, they are likely to emerge in times of crisis. It is helpful to the midlife person to refresh their capacity for mutuality and intimacy at the time of midlife crisis, though the person at midlife is beset by a raft of other challenges that must be dealt with concurrently. The task can become overwhelming, resulting in a fanciful flight to the past, or attempts to reaffirm youth now fading.
Many concurrent and compounding challenges face a person at midlife, additional to the tasks of resolving the polarities of young/old; creative/destructive; masculine/feminine; and separateness/attachment. They are:
- Needs of ageing parents, who, in another era, would have passed on
- Young adult offspring, or even young children, given later or second marriages
- Pressures at work to move on, or retrenchment, even after loyal service
- Assertive partners seeking greater mutuality
- Declining health and virility indicators
Resolution of any or all of these challenges cannot occur unless the person at midlife is willing and able to own, honestly, the reality of the situation and is prepared to take assertive action to work through the issues.
Value and virtue in doing so can be demonstrated by using my Maturity Model to assess one’s progress through the crisis to become a generative, non-manipulative mentor – of high value to the community.
You are not alone
Awareness of the challenges of midlife is more common as people live longer. Though crisis can arise overnight, resolution does not. More likely it may be spread over months and sometimes years, as the person in crisis wades through the confusion of the tunnel of the wave to emerge in clear waters.
It would be helpful if business, government and churches acknowledged the right of passage of midlife and provided someone to pace the person through the difficulties. Always the responsibility for resolution remains with the person him/herself.
Satisfaction in resolution
Satisfaction in resolution ripples out from the individual concerned to relevant others in range. Ideally, the person moves on from one-to-one care for others (children, business, product or organisation) to a more philosophical stance as a generative, non-manipulative mentor cultivating coming generations. Some fun can be had along the way, testing new dreams and opportunities, building on skills, knowledge and experience already acquired.
In this way, resolution becomes a value and virtue multiplier and true affirmation of the value of (that) life.
The burden of irresolution
The grave problem of failing to address the challenges and tasks of midlife is the burden of expectation foisted on relevant others, who may be ill equipped, unable or unwilling to carry. As demonstrated in my Maturity Model, such a situation is unsustainable, leading to fragmentation of individuals and groups, with high social and financial costs.
Should the irresolute continue to live for the expected 30-40 years, then an ever increasing downward spiral of immaturity and irresponsibility ensues, costs multiplying all the way to the end.
Accepting the invitation
The challenges in resolving midlife are great and daunting, commensurate with the rewards of picking up the challenges, working and pacing through solutions over time.
All that is needed is the honesty to concede the challenges and the courage to address the tasks to work through to a better life. Denial solves nothing.
Midlife presents as a prime opportunity for letting go of the dross and negatives of life so far, to release the energy to create a brighter, more productive future – a worthy objective for the New Year.
My best wishes to you all for renewed hope and success in 2018.
For more information, read “Becoming: the ordinary person’s road map to life’s big decisions”.
Feel free to leave your comments or to contact me to find out more.
 Whitehead EE and JD, pp129-132
 See my book, Becoming: the ordinary person’s road map to life’s big decisions.