Menopause - it's like trying to dance with tripping feet. It's hard to keep your show on the road. But should it be? Menopause is a journey that comes with a lot of changes. Biologically, it means the end of monthly periods. Once the ovaries stop producing eggs, hormone levels start to fluctuate through the perimenopause stage leading up to menopause. 75% of women will experience symptoms and for some they can be debilitating, affecting all aspects of their lives and those around them. More specifically, your relationship with your significant other is bound to change, especially in heteronormative relationships. It shouldn't have to be for the worst though!
Let's be honest here, society hasn't been very supportive of menopausal matters; a large percentage of women don’t even fully understand menopause, so it comes as no surprise at all that most men have no idea about what menopause is all about. It's important to properly break the news and make your partner understand what menopause truly is so he can understand and support you better through it.
- First and foremost, start from a neutral state. The symptoms of menopause can lead to unsteady emotions that can have you communicating differently with your partner. And these changes can leave the other person confused and uncooperative right after a fight. When having a conversation with a partner who has little understanding of the facts about menopause, start it up at a relaxed timing and if communication is already strained, it's best to have a gentle start. This way, you can engage with each other from a place free of blame or accusations and, instead, keep the conversation focused on expressing your need in a clear and accessible manner.
- Make him know that it’s not just a phase. This isn’t the typical “period” mood swings or cravings that he’s used to, and unlike said periods, these symptoms might take longer to go away. Your partner has to understand and accept the fact that menopause is a completely natural and expected new transition of life for you as a woman as you’re growing older. Diane Danzebrink, founder of Menopause support stresses that every woman's experience is singular and valid and it's disempowering when words like 'Well, it happens to everyone’ and ‘My mum (or my aunt) got through it all right.’ are said. "I don’t just hear that about men talking to women, I hear it from women who have sailed through it as well. We shouldn’t denigrate each other for our experiences, we should be supportive of those experiences and look to see where we can help. We can’t judge everything by our own experience," she says.
- Dryness (eyes, skin, vaginal atrophy)
- Scatter-brain and brain fog
- Auto-immune allergic reactions
Unfortunately, medical assistance isn't always helpful. "I've had a female gyno tell me there's nothing I can do, I just have to suffer through it." Sheila, 55, says. "It's times like these that you really need your partner on your side". It’s about education and understanding what menopause is and the need to get over the preconception that it’s all about hot flashes and night sweats. "One of the things I have really picked up on from men is the perception that women are 'all going mad'. That’s not the man’s fault, because sadly, we don't teach anything about menopause earlier in life". Diane explains. The more educated your spouse is on this subject and what you're going through, the better the support he can offer you.
- Talk regularly with your partner about your journey. Your partner could be going through something personal to them with their health, work or lifestyle. Be curious about how they may be feeling too and find areas you can relate to with your significant other. Be specific on what would be the most helpful outcome for you and what needs to change to be able to travel this journey together. Through it all, he needs to be able to listen empathetically.
- Menopause can be especially debilitating on the psych and self-esteem. Menopause was once seen as the beginning of the end and often times drives women to have a reflection about their mortality. With support and empathy, it's actually the beginning of an exciting new stage; a time of acquired wisdom and being comfortable in one's skin. But to experience this confidence, you need to know you're not alone. Remind him to be there to listen when you want to talk and not try to come up with solutions, unless specifically sought for; "The first talk i had with my husband about my menopause symptoms, he immediately blurted " but it's a good thing, right?" says Anna, 46, married for 14 years. She had struggled with painful endometriosis related symptoms throughout her cycles. "But it was complicated… I hadn't expected that I would go into menopause so early, so while I was glad, it also put me in a kind of mourning state. It was especially frustrating to explain to a man who only saw a problem that had been fixed." Though "fixing" the issue can be a compulsion for men (and it's because of how their brains are built, says psychologist Les Parrott, coauthor of Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts), it's not impossible to show support by listening from a place of empathy. Try starting the discussion with, 'I want to talk to you about something that's really important to me and I want you to refrain from trying to fix it with solutions. We can talk about that later, but at this moment, I really just want to be understood'. Sometimes it’s just listening, just being there, that counts.
- Your libido may begin to dwindle. Now this is a fact that may terrify your partner, but it has to be told nonetheless. During menopause, your body becomes subject to a dozen changes of physical and physiological nature. The anxiety of having no libido or if you're physically suffering – for example with a urinary tract infection or vaginal soreness or atrophy, can block any kind of physical contact. Without preemptive conversations, this emotional and physical gap widens and then that gap gets harder to bridge. Once this communication breaks down, it gets harder and harder to start the conversation. 57% of marriages don't make it past this stage, with the men citing emotional isolation and plunging self-esteem from repeated rejections. However, timely interventions present it as an opportunity for both of you to explore other forms of intimacy like spending more quality time together and exploring new hobbies.
Menopause is a change that a woman has no control over. Once those hormones start dropping, they start going off on a path of their own. But the truth is, it actually does get better. Done the right way, acceptance leads to an opportunity to rediscover yourself after years of focusing on the needs of everyone else. It's a call to pursue what matters to you even more intensely and find fulfillment in your efforts over the years. Your relationship with your partner can become even stronger and equally more fulfilling. The key is to be prepared. With the right information, education, and advice, you can approach this time in your life with the knowledge that will help you and it’s a whole lot better to see that through with a patient, understanding partner at your side.