Mid-Life Crisis?

March 29 2020 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: I am 52 years old and gainfully employed. Despite the stress, I like my job. I have three healthy children who will soon become adults, and I am myself, including my wife, in reasonably good health. Life is and has been good to me. Despite this I feel increasingly de-motivated in almost everything I do. I feel as though my heart were empty, despite being a strong Christian. I sometimes wonder if I ever really loved my wife spiritually, romantically. It was merely sexual at first, but we got along… and we eventually married. Now the sex is over, and despite feeling affection for her, I want to leave her and perhaps find a woman who can fill that void in my heart that my wife was never able to. I am very intellectual and have a strong will, but have always felt rather empty in my heart, and now this emptiness is becoming unbearable.


To summarize, you are essentially saying, “I love my spouse, but I’m not in love with my spouse.” Likewise, you are suggesting that this is the reason you feel so unmotivated in the rest of your life. The implication is that a marital problem is the heart of the issue. I cannot tell you how often I hear this exact complain from clients and yet, I haven’t seen a single instance where this statement isn’t a flawed attempt to find an external solution to an internal problem.

While I cannot officially diagnose you based on your letter, I can say that in my professional experience, the phrasing of your complaint indicates a very high likelihood that you are dealing with an undiagnosed clinical depression. It is possible that you have been dealing with depression for years, that you have just learned to accept is as “just the way life is” and that only recently has it gotten severe enough that you can no longer deny it. This more acute experience of what I believe is your long term clinical depression is finally making you want to do something to feel better. Unfortunately, the thing you want to do – runaway from your marriage in an attempt to restart your life – will only kick the larger problem down the field and exacerbate your symptoms over the long haul.

Most couples have something in their marriage that they aren’t happy with. Healthy spouses go to their mate and say, “Honey, I love you with all my heart, but this part of our marriage isn’t working for me. Let’s figure out what we can do about it.” Even if they experience some resistance to this suggestion, healthy spouses refuse to take “no” for an answer. They know that their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their relationship requires their needs to be met. So, healthy people insist that the issue be addressed and persist until they have been able to work with their spouse to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem.

Depressed spouses don’t. They say, “(Sigh). This thing in my marriage is making me unhappy. Oh. Well. I guess that’s just the way it is. I suppose I just have to suck it up. (Sigh).” Imagine doing this about 100s of little relational disappointments over years. Even decades. You stuff, and stuff, and stuff your disappointments until you become convinced that your marriage is “the problem,” and that the only answer is for you to, as you say, “leave her and perhaps find a woman who can fill that void in my heart.”

This is an illusion. You have a void in your heart, not because you married the wrong woman, but because you are a relationally ineffectual person who avoids problems rather than dealing with them in a forthright, responsible, grown-up manner. You don’t have mature ways to express your needs and feelings, and you don’t know how to deal with conflict. How do I know this? Because everything about the description of your life and relationship is terminally passive. You slid into marriage. You’ve “wondered” about your relationship. Your sex life is “over” As if you have nothing to do with any of these things. You’ve been choosing to absent yourself from your life and relationship for a very long time. What person who thought and live like you wouldn’t be depressed?

Do yourself a favor. Stop blaming your wife, your marriage, or your life for your misery. As soon as you finish reading this, get in touch with your physician and a good therapist. Get the professional help you need to address your longstanding passivity and depressive tendencies before your destroy everything that is good in your life in your feeble, flawed attempts to self-medicate with an affair that will only cause you to hate yourself for betraying everything you say you stand for and alienating everyone you claim to care about.

Updated on March 29 2020