A sports car.  A change in employment.  An affair.  These are all hallmarks of what has been called the mid-life crisis.  This phenomenon usually strikes people in their 40s, although technically speaking, that is a little beyond actual mid-life since most people do not live to 90 and beyond. 

Be that as it may, the 40s is the decade associated with mid-life and it is the decade of discontent for many.  The prevailing assumption has been that mid-life crises and discontent come from people's unease in growing older.  Changes in career, family life and relationships converge to force adjustment to a reality many people do not want to accept.  In refusing to accept their current reality, some react by making out-of-character choices and taking ill-advised actions--leading to the "crisis" part of the title. 

Recently, a new perspective on the old phenomenon has surfaced.  Researchers looked at answers to international surveys regarding life satisfaction and found a recurrent pattern worldwide: happiness declined with age for the first couple of decades of life, bottomed out in the middle decade, then increased in the last decades, often reaching a higher level than in young adulthood.  This pattern is known as the U-curve.

The Evidence for the U-Curve

While it may be tempting to explain the U-curve in social and cultural terms, research has debunked the notion that the curve is affected by any particular socioeconomic or cultural factors.  The pattern emerges even when factors such as income, employment status and children are controlled. 

In fact, in a 2008 study of 80 countries, the U-curve was found in 55 of the countries surveyed.  In a more recent study of 149 countries, the relationship between happiness and age emerged as the U-curve in 80 of the countries.  Adding to this research is the finding that in 27 European countries, the use of antidepressants peaks in a person's mid-to-late 40s, or at the bottom of the U-curve.

The Marriage U-Curve

The happiness U-curve coincides with something called the marriage U-curve.  People report being very happy in their marriage in the beginning when passion is running high.  This usually occurs when both people are in their 20s or 30s, and therefore on the higher side of the left curve.  As time progresses, career and family pressures build and passion gives way to companionship and commitment. 

This typically occurs at mid-life, and is at the bottom of both the happiness and marriage U-curves.  It is at this point that many couples divorce, chasing the passion--and happiness--they felt in younger days before the onset of many responsibilities.  If the couple stays together, the marriage often moves toward renewed passion and happiness.  The upward climb of both curves begins.

Contact Your Attorney

If you are experiencing dissatisfaction in your marriage or relationship, contact the attorneys at Nordhaus Walpole, PLLC, for legal advice on how best to proceed.