Family works: Speaking on well-being at midlife

Rob Coombs, ID.Min. Ph.D.
Posted 5/3/18

The pitfalls of middle adulthood are all too familiar. Marital discord, divorce, career difficulties, unemployment, health problems, financial pressures, legal conflicts, personal tragedies, …

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Family works: Speaking on well-being at midlife

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The pitfalls of middle adulthood are all too familiar. Marital discord, divorce, career difficulties, unemployment, health problems, financial pressures, legal conflicts, personal tragedies, caring for both older children and aging parents, and time management are only a few of the challenges.

Complicating the facing of and dealing with these many issues is the inevitable realization of personal mortality. At least half your life is spent. Are you where you want to be? Are you doing what you want to do? Is your life what you dreamed it would be in your youth?

No wonder the word commonly associated with midlife is “crisis,” not “well-being.”

We are so accustomed to viewing midlife as a time of turmoil when mature adults begin acting like children in a futile attempt to regain their lost youth that we readily accept that midlife is a difficult time for most middle-aged adults. However, research certainly does not reflect this commonly held belief.

A recent study of more than 8000 Americans found that only 23 percent (about one in four) believed they had experienced a midlife crisis. For many, there may have been a mid-course correction where goals, job, family involvement, and such were tweaked, but certainly no real crisis. Contrary to commonly held beliefs, the majority felt middle adulthood was a time of “well-being” and characterized this period of life as a time to thrive with few special problems. 

How do middle-age adults maintain a state of well-being as they run the gauntlet of the many challenges characteristic of this time of life? When studied, those who have a feeling of well-being give the following advice.

1. Achieve self-acceptance: Neither the best nor the worst, hold a realistic view of yourself; a self you can accept as not perfect, but as pretty good, pretty decent. Rather than worry about approval from others, approve of yourself while recognizing some people will really like you while others may not. The important thing is you like yourself.

2. Maintain positive relations with others: Build good friendships with the kind of friends who allow you to be yourself. Sharing life’s joys and sorrows with others may not actually change anything about your circumstances, but can give you a better understanding and a more positive perception while providing the support you need to meet challenges.

3. Demand personal freedom: Free yourself from many of the expectations that shaped your younger years. Develop a clear understanding of how you want to invest your talents, your money, your energies. Because time becomes more and more precious as you age, wasting time doing what you really don’t want to do is foolish.

4. Be confident: Based on successful resolution of past problems, have the confidence to know that whatever life may throw your way, you are up to the challenge.

5. Adjust your purpose in life: Purpose in young adulthood usually is defined by goals such as attaining certain academic degrees, winning promotions that lead to top positions, or making a certain amount of money. Whether or not these goals were reached is not as important to the adults in midlife as finding purpose through meaningful relationships with others.

6. Keep growing: The desire for personal growth should never end. Recognize that you are not finished in your ability to grow emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Continued growth is a blessing that keeps life both enjoyable and stimulating.

Pay attention to this sound advice and you may discover the middle-adult years as a time to thrive.

Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.

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