Jean claude Chalmet
At 40, we men realise we’re halfway down the line. It’s normal to struggle with letting go of our dreams, as well as our hairline. But we still have time to learn to help ourselves, recover and flourish.
I work therefore I am
Wondering in mid-life whether you are on the right path may well be a valid question. But men are often more concerned with preserving an image and lifestyle than being honest and authentic. If a man hits 43 and realises he is slaving at a job he loathes, he’s likely to feel trapped because we have bound the male identity to financial worth. As long as men believe that only money equals success, there’s no escape from that vicious circle. The worst that happens? You lose some shallow friends. Talk to your partner about making realistic changes.
My wife doesn’t understand me
No need for Shakespeare. Blurting, “I’m unhappy, can we talk?” is a start. However, both people have to be willing to give. If your partner doesn’t respond positively, you have your answer. But how, over the years, do we reach such a point of unravelling? Try to understand what kind of person you are, how you treat people. Most women respect and respond to a man who is a giver. We choose to be who we are — either unconsciously, or with steely effort. Anyone can learn emotional maturity. Are you a caring husband, or committed to semi-narcissism? If you never emotionally invest in your relationship, the well dries up.
I dream of escape
Escape fantasies are a glass of water to wash down the pill of misery. They tend to negate what you have. The number of people who are not grateful is staggering. Most men find it hard to deal with emotional pain, so they distract themselves: I’m not getting what I need in my marriage, so I’ll dream of running away with the au pair. They focus on a (usually bogus) solution. Instead, honestly identify what needs to be changed and implement it. We fear change, rejection, abandonment — and raising a difficult subject chances all of those horrors — but you’re also chancing happiness.
I have a strained relationship with my kids
Yes, children are exhausting and aggravating, especially teens, but your mid-life ennui is no excuse for parental brattishness. If your relationship is faulty, it’s your responsibility to fix it. Chances are, you’re unable to emotionally support your kids because you can’t even handle your own emotions. Try to be more aware of your motivation and feelings; never take out your frustrations on your children. Consider how you’d like them to describe you, as a father, in 20 years’ time.
I’ve lost all confidence
A confidence crisis is often to do with your perception of your material achievements; what you lack. It affects everything, from decision-making to love-making. It requires an attitude adjustment; learning to cope with disappointments and defeat, finding more authentic values. Mid-life is a time of reckoning — but we are not as rudderless as we think. Measure your success by how many friends you have, what you do for humanity, rather than the price of your property.
I’m grief-stricken about my parents
It’s natural that our parents become ill and die before us and, if we love them, this causes acute pain. Of course we must be allowed to grieve appropriately, to express our feelings. And yet, sometimes a midlife bereavement can be used as an excuse. If you’re frequently violently angry around your family, allegedly because of your sick mother or late father, it could be a mask for other deeper, hidden issues. Be honest about the source of your rage. Your grief is valid but is not a reason to bail out of other responsibilities.
The guitar is my only solace
To alleviate our fear of being halfway through life, we reconnect with interests we loved, or couldn’t pursue, in our youth, partly because now we have the money. This can be hugely positive; so go ahead, perfect your inspired rendition of All Along the Watchtower, or go cycling with the lads — it’s essential to carve out a little me-time, away from domestic responsibilities.
However, if, without fail, you quit the house at 6am every Saturday and Sunday, sausaged in Lycra on your £3,000 racing bike, returning in the dead of night, you’re pedalling nowhere good. Your hobby should enhance, not hijack your life and relationship.
My body depresses me
At any party for the over-forties, it’s a fair bet that most of the women look well turned out. If they’d made the same effort on appearance as the men, not one man would look at them. That said, aesthetic expectations today are higher for men — we can suffer from the pressure. But a serious body image issue in mid-life suggests a longer-term problem; perhaps they’ve not had the means to rectify it. It’s not a crime to disguise a bald spot with hair-thickening spray — but there’s a profound psychological difference between wanting to look the best you can for your age, and trying to claw back your lost youth. It suggests a lack of self-belief that goes deeper than appearance.
My libido is flagging
This could be a medical problem, or connected to feelings of low self-worth. We do need to be more educated about sex. Our expectations are ludicrous — multiple, simultaneous orgasms. The onus is on performance, but the opportunity for intimacy, touching, kissing, is far more pleasurable than eight minutes of porn-inspired humping. What kind of a lover do you want to be? Do you want to give pleasure, feel nurtured, have lots of fun with your other half? We need to relearn what sex is about. The quality of your sex life is connected to far more than your behaviour in the bedroom.
How partners can help
Men would rather choke than ask for help. They feel they should be solution providers. You, his partner, must strike the delicate balance between nurturing him and becoming directive, smothering — and then upset when he doesn’t follow your brilliant advice to the letter. Create an atmosphere of trust so he knows he can talk honestly, that you’ll listen, help him find a way forward, without expecting him to blindly obey. Give him a little extra he-time. Some women try to cajole their man through sex. But if he isn’t feeling up to it, this isn’t helpful. Focus on intimacy, in its broader sense. If he loves cycling, go riding together. Don’t lose heart if your kindness and counselling fail to prompt instant, miraculous change. Find the generosity to prioritise his needs for now. Be gentle, the rest will come.
As told to Anna Maxted