If you're in committed relationship during your young adult years, you'll likely help your significant other through a quarter-life crisis. The first five to 10 years after college can be fraught with huge life milestones like — in no particular order — scoring your first job, transitioning to a new one, officially moving out from under your parents' roof, meeting a partner, and potentially starting a family. It's no wonder that panic or feelings of instability can start to set in. And sometimes, those quarter-life crisis worries aren't necessarily about the milestones themselves. Those feelings of catastrophic anxiety often come from those milestones signaling of "a point of no-return" when it comes to adulting.
A 2017 study from LinkedIn on quarter-life crises found that 75 percent of 25 - to 33-year-olds suffer from them, with the average age for a quarter-life crisis being 27. Of the more than 6,000 LinkedIn users surveyed, some expressed worry about getting married, having kids, and affording housing. But a lot of the concerns were more existential. About 60 percent were unsure about what to do with their life, 54 percent were frustrated with their career options, 43 percent were worried they hadn't traveled the world enough, and 33 percent were down on themselves for not reaching personal goals, like running marathons. So, the question is: how can you support your partner through these almost larger-than-life concerns?
Therapist Priya Tahim often sees couples in which one partner is struggling to figure out what they want from life. If you're in that situation, Tahim says, "The best way to comfort your partner is listening. Active listening is extremely important." As someone's romantic partner, your ability to use active listening will not only ensure their needs are met but will ensure yours are, too.
In this particular situation, there might be little you can do to comfort your partner. "However, if you are listening to what their struggles are, you are more likely to help assist in coming up with stable solutions," Tahim says. Psychologist Dr. Binita Amin agrees, saying that maintaining an open space to listen — chiefly, a judgment-free environment — is crucial to helping your partner through their quarter-life crisis. "What our partners need from us is to first feel heard and understood," Amin says.
When active listening, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to listen to understand, not respond. Refrain from going on your phone and also, refrain from interrupting. Be honest if your partner approaches you at a bad time or if there are factors other than your phone that might distract you. This way, you can assure them you're giving 100 percent to this crucial conversation.
Amin also says, "Help them to explore what is causing their distress without judgment or personalizing it as a reflection on the relationship." Depending on what your partner cites as the cause of their panic, your gut reaction could be to pass judgment or be dismissive. You have to keep in mind that your partner is experiencing these academic, career, social, or existential concerns very intensely.
"Meet them where they are," Amin urges. "It is easy to feel inclined to 'tell' someone how we see it. Try to put yourself in their shoes and 'walk through it' together." Again, active listening is key. Truly listen and if you don't get it, do so to see if you understand where they're coming from. Whether you reach out to your partner or vice versa, sit down to make a game-plan once you talk about how they're feeling. Once you get to the root of what's going on with them, Tahim says, "You can re-establish goals and measure progress."
For example, if career prospects are stressing your SO out, spend time making a spreadsheet of potential jobs complete with descriptions, location, salary and benefits. Set up a campus tour at the grad school they're most interested in. Come up with a budget and savings plan for their dream vacation. Research a training schedule for that 5K marathon they've always wanted to conquer. "Sometimes, it’s all about getting another perspective on things, which allows for an individual to think more clearly," Tahim explains.
Unfortunately, when faced with a partner in crisis, it's easy for our brain to jump from career or academic conflict to romantic conflict. The thought process is, "Well, if my SO is uncertain about their career path, their calling, or their purpose in life, am I also on the list?" Don't give in to this line of thinking. "It’s important not to get side-tracked by focusing on how your partners’ crisis is affecting you," Tahim says. "This is a great moment to help your partner see that you are supportive, and understanding." Yes, if your partner's quarter-life crisis moods are affecting you, it's key that you practice self-care and protect your energy. But there's no good than can come of dwelling on a hypothetical breakup. It's counter-productive to the goal of supporting your partner. And it's important to remember that a lack of satisfaction in one area of your partner's life doesn't necessarily translate to problems brewing in your relationship.
In the face of a quarter-life crisis, a concrete plan of action will work best. If there are unknown life directions and murky futures at play, working out all the mysterious variables is a solid start. But a small comfort you can offer your partner is this: Nobody has it all figured out. "A partner can remind their partner that experiencing this feeling of 'being stuck' and 'un-satisfaction' is a completely normal," Tahim explains. "Often times, when an individual is experiencing a quarter-life crisis, they feel isolated/alone/'that this would only happen to me.'"
And as Amin brings up, it is not unusual or uncommon for life to take a different course than originally planned. Remind your partner of that, too. You can even get a bit deeper and explore their motivations behind their old plan versus this new one. There could be some wisdom to unlock there. And at the end of day, remind your partner to be wary of what society or their community is telling they "ought" to do, says Amin. "Ultimately, when we look back on our lives in the end, we regret more what we didn't do than what we did do. Life is too short to live for the expectations of others."
Statistically speaking, as a young adult, it's very likely that you will be by a partner's side as they bump up against their quarter-life crisis. And you're going to want to effectively coach them through it. That's not to say that it might not be scary or stressful — change can often be scary and stressful.
Still, you have to keep reminding yourself and your partner that, just like getting your own lease, adopting a dog, or securing the bag in your field, experiencing a quarter-life crisis is a rite of passage. And yes, it can be nerve-wracking. But luckily, you and your partner have each other to help you get through it.