Has your husband suddenly switched careers? Does he come home smelling of another woman’s perfume? Is he depressed? Has he splurged on a car, or drastically changed his wardrobe?

Your husband has gone from responsible to reckless almost overnight, and you can’t figure out why. Welcome to the male midlife crisis. And there’s a perfectly logical explanation for all the mayhem.

Singapore experts explain the male midlife crisis: Why it happens,
the signs to look for, and what wives can do to help. Image: Corbis

According to counsellor Leo Hee Khian, one can look at male midlife crisis as a man taking stock of his life during middle age. In the process, he realises that his life is lacking something. This puts him in a mode of self-doubt and he starts to develop a desire for change in the core aspects of his life, such as his career, looks, relationships, and so on. 

Male midlife crisis is not to be confused with andropause, or the male version of menopause. Endocrinologist Dr Peter Eng says that andropause is “not directly linked with male midlife crisis”. But its physical effects – decreased testosterone and vitality – can encourage men in their 40s and 50s to “look for ways to rejuvenate their lives.”

Leo agrees: “Midlife can be rather stressful and is associated with many concerns, including loss of vigour and libido, fear of ageing and death, boredom with career and life”.

Leo says that “any change in routine, behaviour or mood can be telling signs”. Your husband may engage in escapist behaviour, lose interest in his favourite activities, feel depressed, become more quiet and withdrawn, and/or spend more time outside of the home. He may also feel bored with his usual sex partner.

Leo says it’s only natural for wives to be angry and confused when their husbands are going through such emotional and psychological crises. This is especially the case when your husband is expected to be responsible for the household. As Leo analyses, when your husband “behaves irrationally, he does not seem to be available to the family anymore.”

Lashing out at him or criticising him will not help. Leo says that this will only “push him further away, and even validate his excuse to go ahead and do something damaging, such as having a fling with a colleague, to reaffirm his attractiveness.”

Many men can get out of their crisis with the love, concern, patience and support of their wife and family. But it’s still up to him to want to change. As Leo explains, “it’s your man’s problem after all”.

You can try to empathise with him, encourage him to seek help, and talk to him, but there’s nothing you can do to change a negative outcome or to restore your husband as the loving spouse or father.

The heartening news is that you can both make the effort to prevent this sort of thing from happening to begin with. Leo says that its important to start communicating, instead of waiting “until a crisis occurs”. While work and taking care of the kids can take their toll, do make time to reconnect with each other and maintain your closeness. Resolve conflicts as soon as possible, so that “you keep that intimacy”, says Leo.

Leo Hee Khian is a counsellor and the director of Wonderfully Made, a relationship counselling and sexuality education company. Go to wonderfullymade.com.sg or email roxanne@wonderfullymade.com.sg / leo@wonderfullymade.com.sg to find out more about Wonderfully Made’s counselling services and programmes.

Dr Peter Eng is an endocrinologist at Dr Peter Eng Endocrine Clinic. The clinic is located at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, 3 Mount Elizabeth, #10-07, (S) 228510; Tel: 6735 1007; Opening hours Mondays to Fridays from 9am -5pm and 9am-1pm on Saturdays. Go to www.diabetesthyroid.com for more information.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer May 2011.