Healthy Identity and Intimacy May Prevent Mid-Life Crisis

Is it possible to avoid a mid-life crisis? According to a recent study led by Joel R. Sneed of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, it is possible. Identity formation is an essential part of adolescence. Many studies have examined the impact of healthy identity formation on adulthood. But few studies have examined how identity formation throughout adulthood affected well-being in mid-life. “Identity develops as individuals transition into adult roles, such as gainful employment, committed partnerships, and parenting,” said Sneed. “Identity can be developed either through thoughtful consideration of alternative options, or through internalizing ideals espoused by others. In either case, a strong sense of identity appears to facilitate well-being and satisfying committed relationships in adulthood.”

The second component to well-being is intimacy. Although research has focused on the link between identity and intimacy, few studies have examined how that dynamic influenced well-being in mid-life. For his study, Sneed looked at data from 182 adults ranging in age between 20 and 54. The data was gathered at four different points in time, and revealed two key findings. “First, supporting Erikson’s postulate that identity and intimacy are crucial psychosocial issues in emerging adulthood and foreshadow later development, scores on both scales during the college years predicted midlife satisfaction—intimacy directly and identity through the course of development from age 20 to age 54,” said Sneed.

Sneed also discovered that intimacy and identity in young adulthood did not predict intimacy and identity in mid-life. “However, identity issues in midlife, when individuals reflect back on their lives and revisit their goals and choices, predicted intimacy at age 54,” said Sneed. “To the extent to which individuals in their 40s continue to maintain a positive and coherent sense of who they are and where their lives are going, they are likely to continue to enjoy warm and intimate relationships in their 50s.” Sneed added, “Because the so-called ‘midlife crisis’ is essentially a revisiting of identity issues in the 40s and 50s, resolving these identity issues in a coherent and positive way appears to facilitate satisfaction with work, family, and life in general.”

Sneed, J. R., Whitbourne, S. K., Schwartz, S. J., & Huang, S. (2011, December 26). The Relationship Between Identity, Intimacy, and Midlife Well-Being: Findings From the Rochester Adult Longitudinal Study. Psychology and Aging. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026378

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  • Parsons


    January 6th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Knowing that you have a loving and supportive spouse or partner goes a long way toward keeping you sane even at the times in your life when you feel the most stressed and pulled in crazy directions! This is someone who can keep you centered and normal when everything else in life is pulling you down.

  • Kellen


    January 7th, 2012 at 7:38 AM

    In order to be the healthiest adult imaginable then you have to have a strong sense of who you are and a clear cut set of values and self esteem. If you do not have this then it is going to be very easy to get sucked in to feeling the need to keep up with the Joneses and you will end up at a sporty car lot buying a car you can’t afford and don’t need! That is how I imagine a mid life crisis, but I can see how all of that can be easily avoided if you simply have a good strong sense of self.

  • Danielle


    January 8th, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    If someone is going to go acting all crazy at 40 then they are going to do that no matter whether they are intimate with someone or not!

  • Gavin


    January 8th, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    When you have identity issues sorted out life is a much smoother and better experience.there is a lot of things that happen along the way to middle-age and its a time that a person would reflect back to the past and see, as rightly mentioned here.

  • donna clemente

    donna clemente

    January 9th, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    I believe for me that having a spirituality is crucial in my life. It is where I go when I feel depressed, need strength, and inspiration. If it weren’t for that I would have been a mess. Having a child with autism and all the stress and blessings that come with it, i need a sense of peace that can’t be bought! Life is full of surprises, some good and some bad; this is what keeps me strong and balanced…

  • Helen


    January 9th, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    If I view myself as a loser then I would obviously have problems with my self-image and this would lead to questions like “What have I achieved?” in my middle-age.

    on the other and if I make things happen and achieve something i will be more content with my life and such depressing question will not come to my mind.

    So it is indeed true that having a good image(or identity) of yourself can and will prevent mid-life crises for you.

  • Zoe


    January 9th, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    I thought that my husband and I were close and that he was pretty sure of himself too. I guess he was a little too sure of himself when he thought that he could get away with sharing my bad with a blonde bimbo young enough to be our daughter. D-I-V-O-R-C-E was my soultion to his midlife crisis. What he does now is of little use to me.

  • karen


    January 10th, 2012 at 8:42 AM

    a happy marriage can save you from not only a mid life crisis but also from various other unseen problems in life.there is just some magic in a relationship that can pull up a down in the dumps person and can elevate the mood of a sad person too.its a magic that is fast fading though!

  • Jack F

    Jack F

    January 10th, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    When you know who you are and the things that are important to you, it is at this point that you will be able to avoid those little mid life breakdowns that so many people seem to get themselves into. You have to know the things in life that are impotant to you- and while you may not always know what this is going to be, if you are able to develop and nurture a strong set of core values that you believe in from a very early age then it is more likely that you will be able to avoid this.

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