I’ve finally finished it!
A few months ago I posted a few comments over at ChumpLady’s blog when she posted about midlife crisis. She referenced some basic articles that themselves reference research on midlife. The articles she references are those I see commonly referenced when people want to show evidence that research has shown that MLC is not real, it’s a myth…and so we should just get over it.

The thing is, the articles that are citing the actual research are often misleading–and sadly the researchers they interview from the actual studies contribute to the misleading information. So I have gone back to the original research to find the primary data. One of the frustrating things about the articles is that they often do not cite sources and when they do they are still not specific–they may reference the study, but not the paper and peer-reviewed journal where we can find the study results, or they reference a 500-page book with study results, but fail to direct us to a page or even get us remotely close by citing the chapter.

So what I wanted to do was write an academic style paper with citations–I strayed slightly from the rules by including page numbers for you. Basically when I talk about MLC with someone who is claiming it is a fiction, we both cite the same sources–almost. Typically the primary sources are not cited and so people are only re-reporting secondary or tertiary sources. An academic paper may or may not be your style, but I had a lot of fun writing it. Below is the abstract and you can download the entire paper as a pdf for free.

Empirical Midlife Studies and the Backlash Against Midlife Crisis

By K-R Stumpf (Rollercoasterider)
The Hero’s Spouse


Research has shown that there is no empirical evidence to support a universal midlife crisis (MLC). But the lack of evidence for a universal MLC is not a lack of evidence for a midlife crisis being possible. Disproving the universality of MLC was important, but now it is time to accept the conclusions and study MLC itself. Unfortunately it seems that researchers have stretched their interpretation to conclude that since it’s not universal, MLC does not exist. They do this even while citing circumstances of acknowledged MLC!
There is not a universally accepted definition or idea of MLC—is it a developmental issue, or an adaptive issue? What is the age range for midlife? Why is there an acknowledgement of MLC amidst claims it is fiction and how is such a conflict accepted? What sort of prevalence is necessary for a MLC to be considered real?

Why does it matter?
The family members suffering peripherally from a parent or spouse’s MLC get ignored and dismissed when MLC is considered fiction with references to ideas such as nothing is forever or the incorrect belief that 50% of marriages end in divorce. Changing the attitude changes the resources available which changes marital and familial recovery.


MLC Beliefs and Definitions
Daniel Levinson: Adaptive or Developmental?
The MIDUS Theories or Hypotheses
The Ages
Concerns and Study Limitations
The Men at Midlife Study
The Acceptance Tactic
Biased Reporting

The full paper is available for download as a pdf.


Empirical Midlife Studies and the Backlash Against Midlife Crisis7 Comments

  1. Althought the MIDUS study indicates there are nearly as many women as men declaring they've gone through MLC there seems to be less publications, less talk about women going through it; any ideas why this is? Maybe because it doesn't fit the stereotype of the 50-going on 20 year old husband wrecking havoc with his wife and kids? Or maybe because the idea of a woman leaving her husband and maybe her kids, too, doesn't fit the – almost Victorian – image women, wives and mothers still seem to enjoy?

    • I think you've got it: It doesn't fit the stereotype.
      But the idea of a woman leaving her husband is more common than a man leaving. Even looking at the statistics from 100 years ago, it was woman initiating divorce more often than woman. The current statistics is that ~70% of divorces are filed by women. Now sure, some of those could be women who file but who did not instigate the separation and divorce, but the same could be true of men who file.
      It think people realize women initiate divorces more often, but those cases are often about not being fulfilled or happy. So if a divorce is because of an affair it could be a woman leaving because her husband cheated.
      When a divorce is because the cheater initiates, that's when we seem to have an expectation that it's a man and MLC goes along with that.
      We associate bad behavior with men. Think of all the bungling dad sit-coms and how we portray men as incompetent or as jerks.
      At the forum we have 1 man (female MLCer) to 3.7 women (male MLCer) and yet we know that more men are being left more than women! Of course that style of support group may just be more something women seek out and are comfortable with than men, but there's a huge number of potential men that are not being reached.

  2. "…but those cases are often about not being fulfilled or happy" – sounds very much like the standard explanation of any MLCer, regardless of male or female! These feelings projected at one's spouse will almost inevitably lead to separation and divorce without an intact and well founded valuation system – which most MLCers lack I believe

    • Is it the MLC person who lacks the valuation system, or the core person–that person stuck inside the MLC Monster? Sweetheart has a well-founded valuation that was overridden by Monster and Emotional Blackmail.

  3. How can a valuation system be well-founded if the Child Ego State can "override" the Adult and Parental Ego States? I believe that going through a MLC as in CRISIS vs. transition by definition defies anything being well founded, least of all a valuation system as this usually is the first thing to go overboard during MLC

    • If that is the case, then there is not a single person who has a well-founded valuation system. We are all vulnerable–some more than others.

  4. Thank you for this paper. I just want to say that my husband is going through an MLC and I too have done a lot of research. The similarities between different spouses in the way the MLC progresses and manifests itself all seem too much the same to be coincidence. Not only do I think MLC is not a myth, but also I am convinced there may actually be a physiological component to it. The fact is that there is NO research on this that has been done one way or the other to prove or disprove it. There could very well be things going on with hormones or brain chemistry that provokes certain behaviors. The way certain parts of the spouses' personality seem to just shut down completely. If you tell someone don't think of a pink elephant, they will think of a pink elephant. You can't just shut off habits and feelings like that like a light switch. There has to be something chemical going on that causes them to focus their mental energy on different things and feelings than before. I wish some medical researchers would actually do full physical workups of men/women in midlife and at the same time do interviews of those people and their spouses to see what is going on to see if there is a difference between different people. And it would be helpful if they studied these people before midlife too to see if there are any changes that can be detected. Depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimers, all of them affect mental functioning and behavior and while scientists don't fully understand the mechanisms behind them, they still know there is something physical going on. I believe the same is happening with MLC. It's NOT a cultural construct. My husband is from a very different culture yet he behaves just like any typical American male would during MLC. So they don't learn this. It's coming from inside them.

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