Husband's Mid-life Career Exhaustion- Is This Normal?

Updated on April 11, 2016
K.S. asks from Littleton, CO
21 answers

My husband is something of a workaholic, and really he tends to overdo everything he gets involved in. Like a dive head-first kind of guy. He is a hard worker, and has been working full time since he was 17. Since college, he has had a very demanding career in sales- rental car industry for a while and medical sales for the past 15 years. He was laid off of the job he's had for 12 years after a few long years of nervousness and stress in the company as they were sold and made swift changes, with about half the company being laid off little by little. Luckily, he found a new job and will start in a week or so. The problem is this, he is just plain tired. He didn't feel the same excitement looking for a job as he has in the past. He pointed out how hard it was to start over again and be the new guy- he's 45. He loves coaching youth sports and talks a lot about how he wishes he could just do that. I did tell him that if he really wanted to do something different, we could make that switch, which would mean me going back to work (not a problem, happy to do this for him, will be returning to work in a few years anyway so just bumping up that schedule) and downsizing house and lifestyle. He doesn't want to do that, realizes that it's just a dream and he knows he just needs to suck it up.

In a sad but amusing revelation, he pointed out that he works about 55-60 hours a week, so hours wise he has worked as many hours as some people who are ten years older than him, which means he has worked enough hours to retire. Ok, I get the logic there, especially since he is just tired! He really does seem a little depressed to start this new job, and is just not motivated. I do respect how hard he has worked for our family for so long, and I don't know what it's like to have the stressful jobs he has had, including such long hours and lots of travel. I understand why he's exhausted, but the reality is he's 45 and can't possibly retire now! Our daughter will be in college in two years.

I know he needs to suck it up, he knows he needs to suck it up. So it's not that I worry that he's going to give up and leave us broke. I just wonder if this is a normal midlife kind of thing for some people? Not sure how to support him, other than telling him he's awesome for working so hard. Sort of dreading hitting the ask question button- I'm hoping I don't find out he's the only one to ever go through this!! Thanks everyone!

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you all for your responses- gave me a lot to think about! One thing to clarify is that I didn't 'tell' him to suck it up, he said he knows he needs to do that for now. I can't help but agree because, well, we like to pay for our house and food! But it wasn't talked about in any kind of bitter way. But sorry if the way that was written/read implied that I'm sitting here telling him to get to work while I sit here doing nothing. Also, as I mentioned, I did sit down with him to tell him I didn't want him to be so unhappy at work. So I could return to work now and he could enter a coaching job or whatever. That would mean a major change in lifestyle- I'm actually ok with that, he is not. Just wanted to clear up that I'm not a mean harpy of a wife demanding that he make money!

I really appreciate so many of you sharing the struggles that you or your spouse have experienced that is so similar to this. That makes me sad in our rat race society, but glad to know we have some company. I appreciate you guys sharing, it helped to gain perspective.

And I hear you loud and clear he should probably get a physical just to make sure everything is fine. He is due- overdue- for that. So I'm on it!

And mostly I'm hearing that there are little things we can do now to make this easier. It sounds like this new job will require a lot less travel, so that should help a lot- that equals less hours plus less stress and time away. I will make sure we use that time wisely- as a family, a couple, and some time just for him.

If it really is official burnout and he doesn't embrace the new job and see himself working for another 10 or so years, we will talk. We'll talk anyway, but I agree with you all that we need to put a plan together for what stepping back will look like. Having some steps and a timeline for that should help him gauge what he is wanting to and willing to do. If we push back that timeline because he enjoys the job, great. If we need to move it up, fine. As a side note, he grew up very poor- like lived in a truck camper in a relative's back yard poor. He worked so hard to make something of himself. I think he's afraid that if he lets go and slows down, he'll somehow slide back into that. I need to make sure that he sees that isn't the case. Downsizing and simplifying life is the natural next step to getting older and launching children.

Anyway, thanks again everyone. I appreciate the broad range of perspectives!

Featured Answers



answers from Dallas on

I struggle with this also I am a recovering work a holic. It's time for him to start planning his encor career. It's also a great time for him to set a different level of expectation his new job (closer to 40) make time for his passion. I think if he cuts back, makes time for something he is passionate about he will be okay until he can transition to his encore career

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Portland on

I think there are other options than the one you describe. How about you taking a part-time job and him working less hours so he *can* pursue those things which he has discovered provides meaning for him? How about your kids helping finance part of their education?

The notion that only one person has to 'suck it up' because they are the usual breadwinner is... well, it's not how I would want to conduct a relationship with my spouse. Something needs to change, even small changes. He's burnt out. You are looking at big measures (you returning to work, downsizing) without seeing that smaller increments of change could be doable and more reasonable for everyone involved. If your have a kid two years away from graduating, then surely they can get dinner started after they get home from their school activities. (They will be cooking when they go to college, right?) This is a time for the family to see how everyone can make a small sacrifice and who can pitch in to help with which tasks. This is where they might gripe, but *everyone* can 'suck it up' a little bit instead of expecting one person to continue in a way they find a total grind.

My own husband is 53 and will eventually be looking for a workplace where the longer hours/on-call duties are not so onerous. The days he has to work long hours (like, not coming home until anywhere between 9 pm or 1 a.m.), we all pitch in. Even Kiddo, who is 9, can handle a few extra chores so Daddy doesn't have to do them the next day. We are a team. EVERYONE helps to the best of their ability.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

I totally get him. I'm 45 and lost my job after 18 years with the same company back in November. I am being very, very selective about my next job (fortunate that with some belt-tightening in our household, I can do this). I've been working for 29 years now and I'm not interested in 60-hour work weeks, especially as a parent. I have done the 60-hour work weeks and they drain the life out of you. Not to mention, there is no payoff for it -- no extra pay, no job security, no awards. Your husband has seen this, too.

Please don't tell him to suck it up. It is tough to deal with a job loss and making a job change late in your career is not exciting. There is rampant age discrimination out there (I've already been rejected as "overqualified") and competing with the 20-somethings who have no family obligations is tough, whether you're job hunting or on the job.

The best thing you can do is be there to listen to him. Don't judge. He has worked very hard and will continue to, no doubt, in his new job. Once he's on the job, his excitement may build, but for now this kind of change is scary.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

My husband just went through this...he is 44 and has always worked his rear off at any job he has held sense 16 years old. After college he has been in the same career for 20 years now and I was very worried because he was looking and acting more and more tired. His current job was dragging him down...50-60 hours a week and no motivation at home to pursue his old hobbies just tired.

He has over the years played with the idea of changing career fields but it is always that he didn't have the time or energy to start all over.

Your husband has had to just start all over at a new firm as the new guy....I am guessing that it wasn't a step up kinda job move but I have to have a job move.

I think the only thing that just saved my husband from midlife crisis was he KNEW he had to do something different... and so we started to really pray about it (we believe in that).

Then he found a graduate program he thought he could handle the hours of classes with his current schedule, It was close enough to his current field but different enough to be exciting. also he loves taking classes. He suddenly had a spring in his step again. Then he went to register for classes and there was a mix up from our college alma mater and no one caught it...he had a college id and email and everything but could not start this past spring semester. It was a blow and left him a bit bewildered. He said I guess God closed that door for a reason. Even with his faith I saw the tired/exhaustion working its way back in.

I went back to work full time to help with some of the pressure and it did but created other ones...less of me at home meant splitting more of the home stuff he wasn't used to having on his plate. He really decided more money wasn't helping and really wants me back at home when the school year ends.

Then suddenly out of the blue he was called and interviewed for a new job. The new company offered him more money, a title with actual power behind it, control of his own clients and doing the exact niche of his field he loves. He started a week ago and the new firm seems really really a great place to be...hasn't improved his hours but that exhaustion/tired look is gone. he has started up with old hobbies and seems do much happier...if he had been in school he wouldn't have taken the new job.

So pray and do some soul searching...maybe you working will help (maybe not)...maybe the new job will help...maybe not...but he isn't alone my husband was in the thick of the midlife exhaustion. Sometimes just a change will help. I can't tell you which one...good luck!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

He's exhausted. He's been working 55 hours a week for years, the last few of which were also mentally draining and stressful, and everyone wonders why he's tired? He's found another job and now he dreads having to do the same thing all over again? Sounds completely normal to me. And a layoff takes the "excitement" out of job hunting because a person is already stressed out and feeling rejected - and yeah, he's been competing with a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings.

He says he doesn't want you to go back to work or make drastic cutbacks at home - because that adds to his fear that he's somehow a failure. I'm not sure that "sucking it up" is going to fix this. I think he's telling you in every way possible that this is not really workable for him, that he wishes he has more time, that he's recognizing what he has missed for all these years.

I think he needs to either work 40 hours at the new job, or find something else, and that it would help if you were working because you wanted to help him and not because he told you that you have to because he can't provide anymore. He'd like to be coaching - doing something FUN for kids and not for some corporate culture that makes him work 50% overtime. Maybe you should both reevaluate the "suck it up" requirement that isn't a requirement at all, but a choice.

What if? What if he had 20 extra hours a week to sleep or do recreation or be at home watching your daughter's activities before she goes away. He's missed so much. What if you took some of the pressure off him? What if your daughter had to learn to be a little more independent without you there every single second, as she's learning the skills she'll need when she leaves home.

Your husband should have a completely physical, yes, but I think the mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion are possibly a heart attack waiting to happen. I'd look at it way more seriously than you both are.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It's totally, totally normal. I know very few people who love their job at every stage of their career. I got my first paycheck job at 14, worked a lot in school as I paid part of my high school and college tuition, and became a single mom shortly after graduating college so I've had a real "career" job and the responsibility of supporting at least myself and one child for 18 years. Even when I was married (currently separated and on my way to divorce) I was the breadwinner and carried all of our benefits while my husband would switch jobs every couple of years, trying new things as he tried to find the best fit. I never had that freedom because my family relied on me to keep a roof over everyone's head and food on the table. I've been with the same company for almost 17 years and I've done very well, like my company and my job, receive good pay and benefits, etc. but still...the thought of 25 more years of this sometimes kills me. There are days when I wake up and think about the day ahead...seeing my kids for a few minutes in the morning and at the end of the day...commuting in via train...dealing with all of the good and bad of corporate blahbedy blah and wonder what it's all for and if there isn't something more fulfilling out there. I think about getting an advanced degree, about changing careers, about finding something "more meaningful" and then I weigh the costs and benefits for about 10 seconds and resign myself to the fact that this is best right now. Just about everyone I work with who is my age (40s) has the same thoughts.

I did change jobs last year - same company, completely different division - and it's been much more positive than I anticipated. I didn't realize until I was in a new office with new people, learning new things, how just burnt out I had been in my old role. Your husband's last job sounds a lot like the division I left...a never-ending trickle of lay-offs, no spending, bad morale, no security, no sense of growth or opportunity - it's depressing! I bet that once he starts the new job and remembers what it's like to learn again, be challenged again, and be the new guy without expectations that he will know all and do all, he'll have renewed energy and focus.

Rest assured that what he's going through is normal. Hopefully the change will do him good but if not, maybe it would be time to try to put a long-term plan into place (like 5 years) where he can move into a career that requires less travel and a manageable schedule. Perhaps this job will require less face time than what he left? I was pleasantly surprised to see my work week go from 55 hours on average down to 40-45 when I changes jobs. Good luck to him!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I'm sorry. I have to say this, okay? HIM suck it up? Why don't you suck it up and get a job? That sounds meaner in type than it should. But I'm serious. Why aren't you out there working? If you had left out the part about him having to suck it up your question would have come off much more caring and not sounding so much like "I wanna stay home and he just has to suck it up and keep working 55-60 hours per week to support my lifestyle". That's how it comes across, I'm sure that's not how you meant it, okay? but it sounds like that.

Now, to answer the question.

If my husband HAD to work 55-60 hours per week to support our "lifestyle" there is absolutely no way I'd not be out working my butt off so he could work just 40 hours per week at most.

Many of my friends stopped their careers when they had children so they could stay at home with them. But when they started school so did the mom or she went back to work part time either doing something at home like making items for Etsy or craft shows, but bringing in some money to help. The ones that had kids on their way to college started college themselves or got higher degrees then went to work.

So they could save money for their kids college costs.

In my opinion you are the perfect person to be working in a good paying job and putting your income into savings so that any college costs that scholarships won't cover is paid for.

Why are you staying at home with high school age kids when your husband is out working 55-60 hours per week? He's working way too much and it's your job to lighten that load.


I assume he has a degree, most people that work in good paying jobs have college behind them.

Why can't he take a few core classes in physical education to get a second degree, or go straight for a Master's degree in Physical Education, and go to work in the education arena. With JUST a Master's degree he can work full time and gain tenure at a Jr. College. Good money and good benefits. Relaxed atmosphere, students who really want to be there, and always having time off on breaks so he can be a dad for a change and enjoy his family and his life.

Our local Jr. College has a phenomenal sports department and several of the basketball players have been accepted into 4 year universities on full scholarships and play beyond that level. The baseball kids are also sought after and these coaches/professors are always sought after at the universities that want their kids.

I know several jr. college coaches that have only master's degrees that have gone on to coaching jobs at university levels. They didn't have the full status and pay/benefits until they got their Ph.D but they did make more money and have a good job.

There is nothing wrong with him doing something he enjoys in life but it just might be that you have to go to work too.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.

This has so much less to do with midlife crisis than it does he is tired. Understandably so. A really great book to help out with a shift in life is by T.D. Jakes and it's call "Reposition Yourself".

You husband should take this new job while also preparing for the future he would like to have. If it were possible for him to arrange his schedule so he can do some volunteer working with kids then he should do that. He should also find out what educational requirements exist to work with the kids if any. Then he can plan what he is going to do next instead of letting life happen to him.

If I were you I would get that book for him and also encourage him by getting more income myself right now instead of waiting until years down the road. Marriage is a team effort. Your husband is showing you his stress it may be time for you to help even more than ever before.

Success to you. Keep us posted.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Losing a job is right up there with death and divorce on the stress level scale.
And BELIEVE me, it is HARD to start over again.
It might help if he tries to get closer to a 40 hr work week.
People need time for family life and hobbies - you're husband isn't getting time for fun and recharging - he's on a constant never ending treadmill and sees no end in sight.
Stepping up your timetable for getting a job of your own might help him quite a bit.
You are in this together - find a solution together - before your husband drops dead at his desk.
It wouldn't hurt him any to see a doctor and get a check up either.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

It's normal to be unhappy when you're overworked and you don't like what you're doing, yes. You know, you don't *have* to pay for your kids' college. Seems to me that they have more time to pay off the loans than you do...

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

A few things come to my mind. Telling myself to suck it up doesn’t help. If it works for your husband, great but I suspect it feels a bit too much like sweeping things under the rug. I have to dig deep and examine why I feel the way I do. Then I acknowledge those feelings. Finally I figure out what changes if any I need to make. I get frustrated with my job at times but I know all of us do. Like JB says we don't love our careers at every moment.

I have worked with people at this age or older who have switched careers either by choice or circumstance. It can be really frustrating to not be able to contribute like you are used; there is a learning curve to getting up to speed in a new career. For a hard charging type person it can be difficult to start over again and feel like you are a dead weight rather than a contributor. You find yourself playing catch up to get back to your old level in your other career which takes time and energy. It can also put you in a less desirable position and possibly subordinate to people much younger. Not everyone appreciates reporting to or being schooled by a “young pup.” For instance I have worked with people who transferred from defense weapons or automotive to oil and gas. There just isn’t much to build on from one industry to the next. I saw some of them really struggle with the change. You could sense their frustration and some gave up entirely. It didn’t always end well for them in their new careers.

As well it can be disappointing to give up a significant portion of your skills to build a new skill set. I personally have tried a niche market within my own industry and it was disconcerting to find myself at a disadvantage at work. I realized the skill set I had worked so hard to build up was not worth walking away from. I wanted to continue building the skills I had and contributing now. After all I had worked so hard to contribute in the first place and I didn’t want to expend the energy to build a new skill set and start over.

In my opinion any job is just a job. My husband went off to try a passion of his. At the end of the day the stress, the tedium, the routine sets in and you can find yourself missing all you gave up to pursue your passion. He certainly felt like he had drug his whole family down a path he was unhappy with. He wound up working twice as hard and earning half as much. His schedule was unpredictable; he was missing family time left and right. It ultimately was too much sacrifice for pursuing a passion. When he decided to return to his original industry that brought on what can simplistically be called the mommy track phenomenon. He had worked 15+ years in one industry and spent 2-3 years in the new industry. His original industry treated him like a rookie and busted him down the ladder pretty far. He found himself having to reprove himself all over again. He will wryly tell you all the ways he and his family paid for a jaunt off the path. Personally I agree with him; it was a steep price to pay for pursuing a passion which ultimately turned out to be just a job.

Finally calculating how many hours you have worked to date as a gauge to where you on the retirement scale is an exercise in futility. It would presume all medical doctors should retire before launching their practices. I don’t have any good advice but I know he is not alone. He sounds burned out to me but a career change might not fix the burnout. Good luck whatever you guys decide.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I personally think, if you can bring in more money in a way that isn't super disruptive that would be a huge help. I for sure wouldn't expect him to suck it up. Maybe as he gets settled in this new job, you could prepare as a team to get him into a new career. Yes, I think a lot of people go through this, but I also think it isn't substainable to work those hours forever. I know a lot of people have to but it isn't generally healthy.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

would he be willing to do something he likes part time and let you take up the financial slack with that job you planned on getting a few years from now? maybe he needs to keep working to keep bordom away but doesn't want to be working all the time
i think a midlife kind of thing really depends on the person. some will have one kind of problems and others will experience something totally different. if needed seek professional help to get thur this trying time.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think it's common. I was unhappy with my job. I was able to take a leave and travel. I was gone for a year. During that time i realized that I needed this job. I was 13 years fron retirement. If I quit now, I'd have less in my retirement account. That year showed me I didn't want to live on less income. I wanted a good pension. I looked at other jobs. I decided the benefits for this job was worth keeping it. I also found different ways to think about my job. I challenged my negative thinking. I focused on gratitude letting go of complaints.

I rewarded myself often with a special lunch or taking a day off to just be lazy.

Suck it up is a negative way to start work. Positive affirmations help me to feel more positive. I tell myself positive things such as "I will enjoy myself" even tho I feel like I'll hate it. "This job pays the bills. I am glad I have a job."Then I fake the positive attitude until feeling positive feels more natural.

If he can, I suggest he take time to rest up. Perhaps spending a day doing something he enjoys that will feed his soul. Find a way to put the job in the background while focusing on more pleasant thoughts.

All that I've suggested is only a band aid. I also say he needs a complete physical to rule out a medical condition or to find ways to manage a medical condition. Perhaps an antidepresent would help.

Long term sucking it up is not an answer. There need to be changes, an excited or pleasant goal. Once I decided to take a leave and then when I decided to go back to get what I wanted I felt more free. I went back to work because I wanted to, not because I had to. Made all the difference in my attitude.

Yes, he has to take this job. He may find that some of his worries don't happen. I suggest both of you also find a way to look at his employment in a different way.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I don't exactly understand why you wouldn't go back to work now anyway. A 16 year old hardly needs mommy at home anyway. When I got divorced I went back to college, started working and then 6 months before I graduated I met my husband. We could easily live on his salary but by my continuing to work we can both retire earlier or if something happens to either of our jobs we are just fine.

I just can't imagine telling my husband to suck it up if he was miserable.

Oh, my office mate's husband lost his job last year. He is in finance and had built up quite a bit with the firm. Because she worked he had the buffer to find a job he would enjoy. If you worked he could find a job he likes instead of sucking it up.

I just want to add you seem to be missing what is obvious to most of us as we get old. You don't always have a choice when you can no longer hold a job. My husband has a bad back. He is like a ticking time bomb and one of the reason I work so hard is so he knows I can take care of the family if something happens to him.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

I can feel his pain of exhaustion...I am 41. I was working at a facility and the facility closed so I was forced back into the job market after being there for many years. I just landed a new job and will be starting back work next week. I am so excited about the possibilities...this will be a great fit and challenge for me. However, I am also worried to start over at a new place. I have to learn all of the unwritten rules and all the office politics. I have to meet lots of new people and understand their personalities. I have to learn who to go to for what in a new place. I have to be the newbie again. It's a different kind of stress than being out of work.

I would suggest that you should go back to work anyway. If nothing else to help with your retirement planning. It sounds like he feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders and he doesn't have many choices but to "suck it up". It sounds like he will feel like a failure if you act like you are forced to go back to work. I think that going back to work should be your choice to help him get happier and feel less stress.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

He really should have a thorough physical, including checking his testosterone level. That can cause tiredness. Of course, it's not like he doesn't have a reason to be tired, working those kinds of hours, mind you.

I do hope that in his new job, he can work a regular week. You know, working smart is better than working hard. Sometimes it's hard to give up the "face time" because you don't know how. But if he can make that transition, maybe he'll find a new lease in life in the new job and start to enjoy it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Binghamton on

If you have one daughter who is on HS, you should get a job. My mother is old generation, cooked from scratch every night, did all her own cleaning and had two kids. Even she went and got a part time job once I was in about 9th grade. You need to get a job and tell your husband to stick with this new job for a while but you guys will work something out that you will begin contributing financially and he can scale back. Not yet but he needs to have an end in sight. I think that makes all the difference. Not feeling so trapped. Then he can start this job without the weight of the world on it and it may turn out better than he expects. And any chance he can take some time off before starting? What he's feeling is normal though his hours aren't unusual these days. But a short break may help and then getting to a point that he's not looking at 20 more years. Work with him to develop a plan. Often not feeling like you HAVE to keep doing the same thing makes it ok to actually keep doing the same thing.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I sometimes feel this way myself. I see people every day who work fewer hours and make more than I do. Then I really open my eyes and look around and realize there are also many people working harder for less, and I count my blessings. Having a positive outlook is harder to do some days than others though.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Teenage kids need a parent home when they are home from school. I can be dad or mom, but someone needs to be there. You could get a part time job that might help ease your husband's work schedule....but 16 year olds need parents at home more than any other time. Yes I speak from experience.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Sales is hard. My DH says that when he had a really good sales day, he was mentally exhausted when he came home. It burned him out in just a few years, nevermind the kind of time your DH has put in. I would talk to him about his long-term goals and career. My DH recently asked for and received a change to another department because he's done nothing but put out fires for the last 8 years or so. It wears. I'm hoping that my DH's new job will be better for him. I think he's just lamenting. I would let him lament and ask if he really wanted to consider a different career track, and if so, how does he see that working? Try to support him through this. He's had most of his adult career doing one thing and has worked hard since his teens. I'm not surprised he's taking stock. Instead of looking at it as "suck it up", remind him why you are his partner, that you are a team, and how is this TEAM going to get through this transition? Sometimes my DH also needs time to chew on an idea before he embraces it. I would give him time to think this over. He just sounds like he's had a lot thrown at him and is coming to some harsh truths.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions