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By Bill Farrel, Author and Speaker
A friend of mine said recently, “My body won’t respond like it used to and it really makes me angry.” That sums up as well as I can imagine the agony of the physical changes that contribute to the complication of midlife. Of the three “forces” that put pressure on people to become self-absorbed and discontent during their midlife years – career re-evaluations, physical changes, and developmental mandates – I believe that transformations in our body are the most difficult.
WOMEN have an “advantage” since they deal with physical changes throughout their lives. The monthly menstrual cycle makes change a “normal” part of their experience. Pregnancy brings great changes to a woman’s body (as well as to the marriage and family). Then peri-menopause announces the onslaught of the coming midlife years – which is also the most influential time of life. Finally, menopause is a dramatic time of change where symptoms can range from hot flashes to osteoporosis and cause discomfort, challenges, and a sense of interruption to a woman’s life. I’ve watched Pam wrestle with many of the symptoms for the past couple of years and I can tell it is unnerving. Out of the blue, she blurts out, “It is so hot in here. Are you hot? Is it just me or is it burning up?” It has obviously been very frustrating to her but it hasn’t surprised her. She knew it was coming and she researched it for months before it began. Her midlife friends had talked with her about “the change” that was coming for all of them. Her mom had talked about the way menopause had affected her life. Pam even wrote about it in books and spoke about it in conferences. Although it has not been pleasant, it was not unexpected for her.
MEN have unique emotional struggles at midlife based on their lack of experience with physical change. Puberty is a big time of change, but from ages 18 to 40 things are relatively static since testosterone levels remain fairly steady. The obvious influence of this strength hormone includes bigger muscles, facial hair, a deeper voice, and generally a more aggressive approach to life. Testosterone makes men feel incredibly strong to the point of invincible as we become aware of a forcefulness of life that resides within us. Our legs feel strong, our arms feel strong, even our hair and fingernails feel strong. It seems we can take physical risks without fear because we will either avoid injury with remarkable agility or recover so quickly that any damage will be minor. In every competitive pursuit, physical challenge, problem to be solved, or business deal to be leveraged, men rely on strength.
For good and bad, men have a “strong” orientation in their sexual desires and are proud of the fact that they have a quick and strong response to sexual stimulation. It doesn't take much to raise interest and motivate them to perform with great energy and desire. Their eyesight becomes laser focused to the point they can spot a beautiful woman in the blink of an eye, and can even find beauty in their wives on their most unattractive days. The desire is like a fire sometimes, like a powerful engine at other times, and like a ferocious animal at others. It is seldom tame and gentle on its own. Left unchecked, it has the potential to consume a man’s decisions, get out of control and create damage. In fact, men must learn to be romantic and relational in order to direct their passionate power in a productive way, but they welcome the challenge. It is one of the greatest gifts and harshest companions in a man’s life.
Then it happens. We wake up one day without the same intensity – mysteriously it diminishes. Although we may have heard that our testosterone levels would change, we weren't really listening and certainly didn’t believe it would actually happen, and so we were ill prepared. I remember when it started in my network of friends, especially in “Fred’s” case. Fred had a heart attack the only way a forty-year-old can. He was driving home from work when a sharp pain started in his chest and radiated down his left arm. He thought to himself, I think I am having a heart attack. This is probably the last time I will be able to eat a meatball sandwich and the sub shop has a special – two for the price of one! Fred stopped to buy two sandwiches, he polished one off on the way home to pick up his wife, and the other on the way to the hospital. Sure enough, he had a heart attack and those were the last two meatball sandwiches he enjoyed!
Without warning the illusion of invincibility was shattered! We all wondered could that have been me? It wasn’t long before I started to notice changes in my own body. I was gaining weight even though I was eating and exercising the same as I had been, my reflexes slowed down, my stomach was getting rounder, my hair was subtly getting thinner, and my joints began to ache. For me, one of the most disconcerting changes was the loss of endurance. Up until 45 years of age, I went to bed at night because I knew it was important, but if needed, I could stay up all night to focus on tasks that had to be completed. Now, I found my body started demanding that I stop working every night – I was out of steam! Intellectually, I knew this was normal – but it didn't feel right! I became angry with myself and wanted things to return to “normal” so I started running more, but when the results failed to surface I started thinking, I wonder if something is wrong with me? I have always been able to keep my weight under control. I need to go see my doctor. When the doc told me this was normal for a man my age, I was crushed! I never thought anyone would refer to me as “a man my age.”
I then had to admit that my sex drive was going through its own transformation. The midlife sex drive is not what it used to be (evidenced by the deluge of erectile dysfunction commercials). I was still passionate about my wife but the sense of urgency was gone. Suddenly it was okay if we waited, frequency was no longer top priority. The pressing drive to have sex was replaced with a more contented desire to have satisfying encounters with Pam. I found sexual calmness to be a refreshing midlife gift. The odd thing was that the quick, strong sexual response from my twenties was gone – now I needed time to prepare. Women are supposed to need time and attention to get ready, not men. In my more mature moments it was easy to accept, but most of the time it felt strange.
A man who views the opportunity to learn new skills and enter a new season of love with his wife will discover a new depth in his marriage. He’ll find relational treasures and physical comfort with the one he’s traveled the entire intimate journey with. However, a man that cannot accept this time of change will panic over the diminishing sexual longing. He is afraid of feeling weak, feminine, or unable to perform; and may go looking for a new adventure to reignite his passion. He convinces himself it must be the familiarity of his long-term relationship rather than an actual change in his own body’s physical chemistry. If he acts on it, he finds a short renewal of passion – but it isn't long before it catches up with him. He cannot keep the same pace he did when he was young. The new round of sexual exploits includes failed attempts at intimacy which reminds him of his age. Eventually, he realizes it would be easier physically if he returned home. Sadly, it’s not always possible because of the damage he’s created during his fruitless pursuit of youth.
To keep from feeling frustrated about physical changes, you can work to:
- be content with doing less.
- practice marital relationship skills that include interaction, patience, and being with your spouse without the need to engage sexually.
- place more value on influencing other people’s lives and less value on what you can accomplish with your own strength.
It takes focus, but gets more comfortable every year. I spent the 25 most productive years of my life relying on the strength God put in me. I now have to allow the skills of wisdom and insight to mature, rely on them, and share them freely with others over the next 25 years.
My daily prayer is, “Lord, help me make the transition from physical strength to wise influence with grace, dignity, and integrity.”
Pam often prays, “Father, please help me to be patient and loving as I ride the emotional menopause roller-coaster. Lead me in being a good example for those watching me grow up physically, and spiritually. Continue to remind me to choose joy in all situations.”
"He's Home - He's Gone - He's Home - He's Gone"
My husband’s midlife crisis started the year my son left for college. I knew something was wrong, and I thought it was because of our son’s transition. Wrong! Never in my wildest dreams did I think he had another woman! At first he told the children and me he was leaving for about 8 weeks to “find himself”. He left in November and returned in February for just two weeks (during which the other woman contacted him on his cell phone). He came home again in May for two months, then returned two years later for one year. I knew in his heart he wasn't ready to come home and he left again after our son was married. This time he moved out of state, and the other woman followed him 6 months later.
Focus on the Family’s website led me to Midlife Dimension’s website, where I learned about Dr. Jim Conway's books, midlife crisis, and the rest is history. The minute I went into the Chat Room at www.Midlife.com - I knew it was the place for me; it’s where I found understanding, empathy, friendship, support, love, and prayers.
The following year, I attended my first Midlife Chat Room Retreat and I've been to almost every one since. Once you’ve been to a Chat Room Retreat, the Chat Rooms will never seem the same as you become like family, feeling close bonds to these “siblings in Christ”.
Most people ask me, “What has given you strength through these years?” First, God gives me strength! I have grown much closer to our Lord and love Him so much that I want to please Him and live my life the best I can in His Word. Second, Jim's books helped tremendously. Third, the Midlife Chat Room Ministry and the friendships I have made there will be lifelong.
I am quite content with my life right now. God is my husband and I enjoy making fun memories with my beautiful grandchildren.
My favorite books include all of Jim and Sally Conway's, as well as “Holding onto Heaven While Your Husband Goes Through Hell” by Connie Neal, “The Power of a Praying Wife” by Stormie Omartian, “Shattering your Strongholds” by Liberty Savard, “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer, and many of her other books. I also enjoy books and Bible studies by Beth Moore.
The midlife journey is a weary one and we cannot, even for one moment, let negative emotional, spiritual or relational influences get the better of us. At this season of your life, it is important to concentrate on your relationship with the Lord, and let the Lord deal with your spouse. Remember, “He can move mountains” (1 Corinthians 13:2).
I hope you will give the Midlife Chat Room a chance to help you through this most difficult, but growing, time in your life. I, personally, wouldn't change these years because I have become a new person in Christ. Amen!
Hannah recommends these resources:
Welcome to 2012; a year that’s sure to be filled with great memories, new blessings, and agonizing disappointments. My family is looking forward to the birth of a new baby as my oldest son and his wife welcome a son to their clan. We are also excited about the addition of a daughter-in-law as my middle son has a wedding date planned for the summer. As I focus on these enhancements, I am also reminded of the surprise passing of a friend this past December. He was far too young, and far too healthy, at the beginning of 2011 to ever predict the severe outcome. In the same way, many people are going to face severe surprises despite their best efforts to love and grow their families. When their lives are interrupted, they will turn to Midlife.com in search of help.
I want to thank you in advance for your prayers, encouragement, and financial support to keep the midlife ministry open with online resources and interactive chat rooms to help people manage this vital transitional time of life.
This month’s resources come straight from the heart of our ministry and are available to you for a modest donation.Jesus cared deeply about people. It is why He came to Earth, lived as a humble human and eventually gave His life on the cross. At the very beginning of His earthly ministry, He was baptized by John the Baptist to identify with the need of people to practice personal growth disciplines. Then He was led to the desert to face the same kinds of temptations that all of us face. Jesus did that so He would know exactly what it is like for us. In the midst of midlife, it is a source of extreme comfort to know that Jesus is aware of what we are going through.
This is a book Pam and I wrote to help people understand the line of trust that exists in every relationship. When you are above that line of trust, it is pretty easy to have healthy relationships. When you are below the line of trust, just about anything can be a problem. Much of the turmoil during midlife happens because people are unaware of this line of trust and how to consistently stay above that line. The Marriage Code introduces the reader to the primary needs in both men and women and how the Holy Spirit can be an active partner in developing trusting, growing relationships.
We all experience changes in midlife, no one should go through it alone, and no one has to with Midlife.com being there to help.
May 2012 be filled with God’s favor toward you and your loved ones.
Why does self-image take such a beating at midlife?
Here's encouragement from our founder, Dr. Jim Conway, and our editor, Lisa Kahan.
Midlife is a dangerous time for the self-image as it can be smashed by many different negative events. Midlife can also be a positive time for the self-image as it gives a person an opportunity to grow. Midlife is something like the time when the lobster must shed its shell in order to grow larger. For a time after it has shed its shell, it is naked and vulnerable, it is in danger from a number of predators of the sea. But without the shedding the shell, it cannot grow any larger.
So it is at midlife. You are shedding the old shell, the old constraints, and the old limited self-image. You are now becoming a different person. Yes, you are vulnerable now. You may experience damage to your self-image. But God is there and says, "I will not abandon you or fail to help you" (Joshua 1:5b).
"For because of our faith, He has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be."
From Lisa: In talking with many women after their husbands left them, I’ve noticed how their self-image is very wrapped up and intertwined with their husband’s. They don’t know how to live life as themselves. They can’t fathom going to church or a family event without their husband next to them, as though they have become a half of a person. It’s important to know that although a couple is married, they are still two individual people, and are still important to people in their circles, with or without their spouse present.
When my husband left me and the kids, I made a conscious decision to hold my head up and get out and continue participating in life. In doing so, my children followed my lead and felt confident about continuing with their various activities knowing they are each important individuals and can still be someone special without dad present.
I was still a mom, aunt, sister, daughter, cousin, and friend to many – desiring to get out and be myself with them. I was still a member of my church and small group Bible studies. I was still a volunteer in the booster club and class room. There was no reason to stay home and hide, which I hear so many women do.
We are not who we are because of a spouse, a parent, a boy/girl friend. We are who we are because of God. He created us and knows every detail about us inside and out. He is with us everywhere all the time. Take His hand and walk into the world with Him. Let Him be your strength and your confidence. Identify with Him, after all – you were created in His image.
Every once in a while I hear a statement that captures my attention and gets my mind racing. It happened recently with my son. He has taken up mountain biking as a hobby and decided to explore a new trail. It had snowed a couple of weeks before and temperatures had been fluctuating from mid-twenties at night to high forties during the day. He researched the trail on the internet and carefully planned his route. He didn’t take into account, however, the fact that the slowing melting snow would impact the trail. I asked him how his ride went.
His reply was, “I didn’t get very far. So much mud accumulated in my tires that they stopped moving. It was so thick I had to pick mud and rocks out of the tread. I finally had to just turn around, find a hose and ride home on the streets.”We laughed about it as he told the story in great detail but the idea that accumulated mud stopped his progress wouldn’t go away. I started thinking about the ways this statement applies to my life.
Life is intricate so it is hard to predict every obstacle. I may set goals, plan out a course of action, anticipate the challenges and still miss an important fact (like melting snow creating mud). Remaining flexible enough to make mid-course corrections is as important as being firmly committed.
- In this world, mud accumulates. When it is a little, it is not too difficult to deal with. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) We can “hose off” and get back on the trail without too much effort or agony.
- When a lot of mud gums up the works of my life, I must make significant decisions and put in concerted effort. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) If my son had stubbornly kept going, he would have had a very long day. He could have dug the mud out of his tires, rode a few feet then repeated the process but it would have needlessly exhausted him. He could have gotten off and pushed his bike along the trail but it would have defeated the purpose of trail riding. He could have gotten angry and put more effort into his peddling to overcome the buildup of the muddy obstacle. I am pretty confident that would have only worn him out without producing any better results. The best thing for my son to do was to turn around, learn from the misadventure and be wiser next time.
I think the reason this statement stood out to me is that I see so many people stubbornly refuse to make changes when change is obvious. We all battle with desires in our hearts that lead us to unproductive and unhealthy paths. We all hit obstacles despite our best intentions. We all face decisions that could needlessly complicate our lives and halt our progress. So often, we just keep moving in the same direction rather than admitting the mistake and turning around. It has now become one of my goals this year to admit to muddy trails as soon as I am aware of them.
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