Transitions In A Man’s Life

© 2012 Marvin L. Chapman, PsyD, LMFT, CFC
All Rights Reserved

There are generally four (4) identifiable life stages in a man’s life. Each man has his own unique rhythm and therefore the exact age for entering and exiting life stages vary from man to man. We do not reach a specific age and suddenly change our personalities and the characteristics that make us unique. Transitions between stages are neither simple nor brief and they overlap; therefore, the life stages outlined below are purposefully general and broad.

As one stage ends and another begins, we typically assess value to what we are leaving behind, take an overview of what lies ahead, shed prior characteristics (values, judgments, priorities, concerns, and fears) that no longer serve us, and initiate upgraded characteristics to serve us during our next stage.

Childhood and Youth (0 – 21)
During this stage we usually live with our original family (also known as our “nuclear family”). During this stage we are generally dependent upon and vulnerable to our family for protection, support, and personal interactions (socialization to the world at large); however, this dependency and vulnerability decreases with each passing year. During this growing period, we expand our social world from our nuclear family to a larger audience including school, church, extracurricular activities, and other types of social groups. In the latter part of this stage, from about 17 to roughly 21, we start to form our initial adult characteristics–our initial values, judgments, priorities, concerns, and fears. By observing our elders, we learn about the rites and demands of providing and protecting our “tribe. We are entering a new and exciting stage. We are emerging as a man and beginning to discern our value in society and to society. During this stage, we have no problem grabbing at the future with both hands. We live in anticipation of our future lives. This stage is also noted with stubbornness to assert our personality, a need to explore, a need to discover self. Emerging as a man is both scary and exciting.

Early Adulthood (18 – 45)
It is generally accepted that the peak years of biological functioning for men is from 18 to 45. During this peak period, we are at our full height, our maximum level of strength, sexual capability, and general biological vigor. It has also been shown that we are at our peak in intelligence during this stage (areas such as abstract thought, ability to learn new skills and challenging problems). This is typically when we apply ourselves to higher learning, political or social duty (military), and begin our families and careers. While seeking personal gratification during this stage, we also struggle with establishing our place in society, producing the dichotomy of both satisfaction (at obtaining goals and prominence) and stress (money, family, careers). During this stage, we produce and raise our children–we are expanding on our earlier learning of the rites and demands of providing and protecting our tribe (family) only now we are the providers and protectors, which produces additional stressors (especially if we do not have a father figure to guide and validate our direction and decisions). Initially, we are novices as lovers, partners, and fathers. We learn our roles as providers and protectors gradually, and sometimes painfully. Our stress will increase as our small children quickly grow; creating increased financial demands on us while our earning capacity is still being developed.

It is during this Early Adulthood stage when many marriages will be tested to their limits. As such, it is during this stage when most divorces will occur. To prevent stretching our marriages to their limits, we need to ensure we facilitate balance in our lives–including our home life with our children, our intimate life with our wives, and our work life in our careers.

Somewhere approaching the end of this stage we will begin to notice “cosmetic” changes (baldness, wrinkles, pouching stomach, and other physical characteristics), some of these are simple truths of aging, and some of these are lifestyle choices. Now is the time to make a physical assessment and to make the necessary changes to go smoothly into our next stage. In the later part of this Early Adulthood stage (depending on when we began our families), we may begin to experience a strong sense of emotional loss as our children leave the family home and begin their own cycle of life transitions.

Middle Adulthood (40 – 65)
As with all stages of our lives, there is no single event that announces the ending of Early Adulthood and the beginning of Middle Adulthood. The transition from Early Adulthood to Middle Adulthood is gradual. In Middle Adulthood we may begin to experience the freedom from social expectations and demands. We can become more authentic, and the petty vanities, animosities, envies, as the moralisms of Early Adulthood begin to soften and eventually fade–bringing us inner peace. The quality of our intimate relationships (significant others, children, friends) may well improve due to our development of a greater capacity for intimacy as we begin to integrate more fully the tender and emotional side of our being. We will begin bringing into our relationships more tolerance and understanding due to the experiences and wisdom gained along the way.

Although in Middle Adulthood we may not be literally close to death, there is no denying that we will suffer from normal biological decline, a fact that can add new and different stressors to our lives. It is during this period that we typically review what our life dreams and goals were, how far we have come in achieving those dreams and goals, and what course do we want or need to chart for ourselves for the remainder of this experience we call life. It is honest answers to these types of questions that help us maintain balance in our lives. This period of reassessment has commonly been referred to as a “mid-life crisis.”

It is in Middle Adulthood that we make our most effective contributions to business, politics, diplomacy, and philosophy due to the wisdom, security, and confidence gained through the years. If we have done our work along the way, we will be looking forward to our Late Adulthood with anticipation and excitement.

A Note About Andropause (Male Menopause)
Andropause is sometimes knows as the male menopause. Unlike women, male menopause does not have a clearly defined event to mark this transition (such as the cessation of menstruation). Both male and female menopause involve drops in hormone levels–women drop estrogen levels, men drop testosterone levels. While a woman’s menopause transition may last a few years, the male menopause transition can be extremely gradual and extend over several decades.

The physical changes of male menopause occur gradually and are typically accompanied by changes in attitudes and moods (irritability), fatigue, loss of energy and enthusiasm, reduction in sex drive, and less physical agility. Since all of this is happening at a time in life when most men begin to question their values, accomplishments, and direction in life, it is often difficult for a man to realize that changes are happening or have happened. And, if these changes are noticed, men typically excuse them away with justifications of simply being overworked, stressed, overwhelmed, and other plausible explanations that may excuse away these symptoms. However, it is very important for men to visit their doctor during this stage to have both a “male menopause checkup” along with a normal prostate checkup.

Late Adulthood (60 – ??)
Late Adulthood creeps up on us, a gradual transition marked by many biological, psychological, and social changes. These mental and physical changes remind us that we are moving into “old age.” Some of us will enter Late Adulthood with illnesses or impairments, others active and energetic. However, no matter how we enter, it is inescapable that in Late Adulthood we must deal with a declining mind and body. We will experience the dichotomy of our bodies telling us to make accommodations for these mental and physical changes, while our spirit tells us to keep moving.

We bring into Late Adulthood all of the many talents and gifts that we have acquired over our lifespan. We can use these many talents and gifts to find a renewed balance of involvement with society and with self. Our task is to sustain our vitality in a new form appropriate to Late Adulthood by transforming our earlier life structure and modifying it to fit into the needs and realities of this stage.

We can choose to devote ourselves in a serious-playful way to the interests that flow directly from the depths of our self. Using the skills and experiences obtained over the years, we can enjoy many creative possibilities during this stage. Financial and social security are the external conditions for this freedom of choice. The developmental task at this stage is to evaluate our achievements and put into context the fabric of our life as a whole. As we create a new form of self, Late Adulthood can be a stage as full and rich as the prior stages of our life.