Ask Amy: My husband’s midlife crisis and affair blew up our carefully-planned retirement

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Dear Readers: As I announced previously, my final “Ask Amy” column in this space will run on June 30. (Readers will be able to find me through my newsletter and at amydickinson.com.)

Until then, I’ll occasionally open my files and rerun some previously published Q&As. The following is from 2021.

Dear Amy: Is the male “midlife crisis” a real thing?

After 20 years of marriage, my “pillar of the community” husband started acting strangely.

He started dressing young, going to bars, and then quit sleeping at night.

When I found out he had an affair, I blew up and he took off with the young barfly. Our grown daughters and I are hurt and sad that our family life seems over. I thought we had a great marriage and family.

Do these men ever come home?

I can easily forgive him and go to counseling to get back on track.

We had made all kinds of retirement plans before this happened.

In addition to being a husband and father, he is my best friend, too.

– Don’t Know What to Do

Dear Don’t Know: Midlife crises are not confined to men. And while these changes can seem very sudden, this is a panicked response to the existential crisis brought on by the realization that one’s life is more than half over.

When the “crisis” moment arrives (sometimes prompted by a death in the family, a landmark birthday, children about to leave the nest, or job frustration), a person at midlife looks around, sings the old Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?,” and decides that a pumped-up body, a younger partner, or a new toy in the garage will fix everything.

To quote a moment from one of my favorite movies, “Moonstruck,” the wise wife looks at her philandering husband and declares: “Cosmo, I just want you to know that – no matter what you do, you’re going to die, just like everybody else.”

Yes, sometimes people who leave in the throes of a midlife crisis do come back. Sometimes, their partner no longer wants them.

But rather than concentrate your energy on your husband’s behavior and choices, I hope you will take a long look at your own life. Deal with your grief and the profound loss and change. Yes, cope with your anger and give yourself the release of forgiving him if you can. Understand that his behavior does not negate the happiness of the 20-year family-building phase of your own life. Quoting Peggy Lee again: “If that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing…” I hope you will choose to “dance” again.

You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)

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