Signs your partner's reaching the menopause and 11 ways to survive it
By Elly Prior First published: 14 Aug 2017 Updated: 14 Sep 2017
And, yes, this includes advice on your physical relationship too!
Chances are, you're here because your partner is not the same she used to be. And she, or someone else, has mentioned "the change" or said something about her being "menopausal". I suspect you're now trawling the internet, looking for menopause information and how you are expected to deal with it.
Very briefly - the menopause is a normal, natural phase in a woman's life or a consequence of a medical intervention (e.g. chemotherapy or removal of the ovaries). There is a huge shift in hormone levels with a cascade of symptoms. If not caused by medical intervention, it starts with the perimenopause 1 to 2 years before the actual menopause. This heralds the end of her childbearing years and, hooray, the end of the monthly bleeds.
It's usually a midlife process, though for some women it starts early. To learn more about the physical signs and symptoms, do visit Dr Ax's website.
I'm aiming to help you understand what it means for your relationship. And, of course, I'll give you tons of tips and advice to make it a positive experience, full of meaning and purpose.
Let's start with the most common signs and symptoms, but just be aware that the experience of the menopause is a very personal one.
"A lot more men should get to know more about women's problems. It really helps to talk about it."
The menopause is an opportunity to (re)build your relationship or marriage and to deepen your love, admiration and respect for each other.
Especially for men: the signs and symptoms of the menopause
10 Mental symptoms you can expect or have already had to deal with!
So your partner has become a scatterbrain. (If she wasn't already!)
See if you recognise any of the following...
- She's terribly forgetful; she'll have doubled-booked, or not made arrangements for this or that; she’ll be somewhere else when you were expecting her or she’ll turn up when you weren’t
- She can't remember what she was talking about mid-sentence
- She loses her own stuff - and yours and everyone else’s
- Her driving is atrocious at times (maybe similar to when she was pregnant)
- She can't remember what she was doing
- She can't figure out how to get from A to B. Thank goodness for the satnav - at least you won't be quarrelling about that!
- She's lost her sense of humour (assuming she had one in the first place)
- She can't make decisions and changes her mind frequently
- She doesn't appear to know what she wants
- She talks about grand schemes, but you suspect they don't stand a chance of coming to fruition
And if that isn't enough...
10 Physical symptoms
- Her body odour might have changed
- Her belly looks more rounded
- Her breasts are getting smaller (I know - disappointing. But just think - what you can't hold in one or both hands is a waste. ;-))
- She's growing some facial hair, whilst that on her head is thinning
- She's down in the dumps a lot of the time
- Her body's expanding - even if she's trying every diet under the sun, the menopause and weight-gain often go hand-in-hand
- Her genital area may not look quite the same as you're used to and appears less responsive
- She suffers from hot flushes (flashes in US English) - breaks out in hot sweats or wakes up soaking wet. Bedding and bedclothes are frequently thrown off in the middle of the night. Doors and windows are opened even in mid-winter.
- Her periods have become irregular
- She can suffer from extreme fatigue
And we haven't even talked about sex yet.
Pfffffft!!! I wouldn't be surprised if you've thought a few times that she’d "better sort herself out".
Let me reassure you right off, these are temporary problems. They’re caused by normal hormonal changes. Oh, and just in case you need to hear this - she's no more likely headed for dementia than you are.
Whilst all this may be challenging for you, just think for a moment what it can mean to her...
What you'll need to take into account about your partner and yourself
How a woman might feel during the menopause
- A sudden sense of insecurity
- Often on the edge of tears
- Really disoriented
- Fatigued, listless
- Angry with herself
- Generally miserable and at a loss
- Wound up much of the time
- Fearful of things she wouldn't have batted an eyelid about before
- Hateful towards herself if she takes her unhappiness out on you
Perhaps any (or all) of the following have crossed your mind...
- She's rejecting me - I bet she's got someone else
- She's got to be depressed
- Is she ill?
- It must be work related stress
- She headed for a nervous breakdown
- It's that empty nest syndrome
- She doesn't love me anymore
- She's discovered my misdemeanours (spending, mistress, secret bank account, drinking, gambling)
Any of these may or may not be true! In any case, the menopause is likely to play a significant role.
The physical and emotional side-effects of the menopause (and perimenopause) are all too real. But they can be even harder to cope with if you’ve already been struggling to keep your relationship or marriage afloat.
12 Ways to make your life easier and support your partner or wife during the menopause
- See it as an opportunity to get to know the love of your life all over again
- Keep, or gently and kindly introduce, a sense of humour when appropriate (use your judgement!)
- Deliberately look out for the good times between the upsets, and make the most of them together
- Know that she'll find her balance again
- Bear in mind that you too may have to face something similar (whether you're male or female)
- Be supportive, and don’t give up if your valiant attempts are rejected! (Again, use your judgement, and offer support in a way that you know your partner will appreciate - if and when she can)
- Expect to feel at fault, rejected, angry, frustrated and miffed. Yep, not what you’d choose! But don't take things too personally if you - after some consideration - feel it's unwarranted
- Avoid the temptation to dismiss things as her ‘just being hormonal’ - she still needs your understanding and respect
- Don't say: "There must be a cure for it" if your partner has plucked up the courage to talk to you about what she’s going through. There is no cure. HRT comes with all kinds of disadvantages - even if your partner did want to take it
- Don't suggests she needs antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs - these kinds of medication are proven to jeopardise long-term outcome
- Don't come with a 'fix' - believe me, there really is no easy fix! Listen to her, find out what she needs, and be supportive
- Offer practical help - remember: she can be too tired to bother
What does all this mean for your relationship or marriage?
Perhaps the two of you were already having some problems before your partner even became perimenopausal (see my article on common relationship problems). Her present unpredictability then only adds another complication to what middle age may already present. You might be dealing with elderly parent issues, children leaving - or coming back - home, financial worries, job dissatisfaction, a feeling of being ‘stuck’ etc.
I’m pretty sure you didn't bargain for any of these kinds of mid-life issues when you first got together! So let’s look at covering your basic needs (yours and your partner’s), before we home in on what you can do to help you both survive the menopause...
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman - how might they have coped? ;-)
The Human Givens and your emotional needs
We all have basic emotional needs, and are equipped with the resources to meet them. For a full explanation, take a look at my article on The Human Givens.
To maximise your sense of well being right now, there are a few givens you can concentrate on…
You need a sense of control and volition
There's an awful lot at this stage you have absolutely no control over. With all the demands at home and at work, be sure you're clear about your boundaries. What you can and are willing to do, and what you won't or can't do, regardless of your generosity of spirit. If you feel hesitant when faced with a request, buy time. Say you'll come back with your answer in 5 or 10 minutes, tonight or tomorrow.
When you do have your answer, be honest - "I can do…
- that part of your request
- at that time and for so long
- in that manner”
That demands respect. No boundaries? No respect!
If you don't have boundaries, you'll only become angry, frustrated, resentful and overwhelmed.
Giving and receiving attention
You and your partner will need to carve out time and space for just that. I suggest that you take the diary today and put a big cross on one evening a week when demands from others come second place. Plan a day away together once a month. Take it in turns to decide and organise the day's events.
Take a look too at my article about what to do when you're bored in your relationship.
You need some privacy - for several reasons
You'll each need time on your own. Take care that you help each other get some equal time alone, however short. You'll need it for reflection and simply 'getting away from it all.' You’ll also need privacy together - and we’ll talk about sex further down the page.
Meaning and purpose
Menopause, 'penopause' (the male menopause or andropause) and midlife crises offer a wonderful opportunity to reassess meaning and purpose in your lives.
Whilst there's probably much to be miffed, upset and frustrated about with regards to your sexual relationship, don't let sex be all that binds you together (if that happened to be the case in your relationship). Instead...
- Set new relationship goals
- Consider finding a shared interest in voluntary work
- Expect to have some really challenging conversations about what you each want to do with the rest of your life
- Allow each other space to make some major changes with regards to the above. Remember though, that you're responsible for your own anxieties!
6 Steps towards a better relationship
- Consider your own role in the relationship. Be sure to read my articles on how to make your partner love you again. You may well discover that there's much you can do yourself to turn the relationship around, or at least keep it on an even keel until your partner’s weathered the menopause storm.
- Aim for open and honest discussions. Be curious, show you're interested and ask questions. Let your partner express how she's feeling. Let her talk - and don’t ruin your chats with communication spoilers!
- Make a distinction between menopausal symptoms and existing relationship problems.
- Keep offering that listening ear, but avoid saying you understand at all costs! Be patient, hold your tongue and offer practical support.
- Be sure to balance time together as well as time with the family, and time for your own interests and hobbies.
- Expect the unexpected. Your partner may well be revisiting all that's happened over the years - both personally and as a couple. This can have consequences for you both. It could potentially spell the end of your relationship or marriage - or mark the beginning of a new, stronger chapter together.
Last, but not least - I suspect you were hoping I'd come to this - let's talk sex...
Your sex life during your partner's or wife's menopause
Her problems may be...
- She's sore; vaginal dryness can cause pain during intercourse
- She just doesn't feel happy in her own skin
- She's lost confidence in herself and her body - she has to become reaquainted with what can feel like a very different body
- Her changing body shape and the confrontation with the ageing process often result in loss of self-esteem
- She'll want and need physical closeness, but may reject you the moment you're clearly turned on, or she may have trouble letting you even see her
- She doesn't much feel like making love. 'Things down under' are less responsive on account of a lower blood flow.
Your problems may be...
- You've been wondering why she hasn't been responding to your advances before and during sex. You've noticed perhaps that she's not become naturally lubricated - even if you were getting to the love-making stage
- You feel too young to shelve your sexual desires
- You may even have considered having an affair, or you are already being unfaithful
- You've become (even?) more aware of beautiful - and possibly available - women around you
- You may even feel guilty that your thoughts are like a betrayal, even if you've never been unfaithful
- You're increasingly reluctant to even mention that you'd like to make love for fear of being rejected yet again. How much rejection can you take?
Just in case - you may also be interested in my article on the sexless marriage or relationship.
3 Steps to a better sexual relationship
See this as an opportunity to rediscover each other's body, and to (re)build your intimacy..
- THE most important step is to really invest in having a good and enjoyable physical relationship, even if it doesn't lead to intercourse. If you can give generously of yourself - without expectation - you may find that your partner is happy to satisfy you even if she isn't up to having intercourse. This can help to satisfy both your needs for giving and receiving attention.
- Use a water-based cream - she might find it embarrassing to bring this up in conversation, so why not surprise her? Rather than 'slapping it on’, and depending on what your wife generally likes, make it part of a ritual, or bring it in unobtrusively.
- Simply acknowledge that you know/can see she's struggling with things. Communicate that you're going to be very gentle, and be very gentle. Your partner's vagina has become thin under the shift in hormonal balance.
If you happen to be the menopausal partner...
... this is what your partner needs:
- Good information
- Explanations - about what it means to you
- Preparation - when you know you're particularly moody
- Apologies - when you know you've lashed out for no good reason at all
I suspect you wouldn't be here if your wife or partner was sailing through the menopause without any problems. I hope, though, that this article has given you not only food for thought, but practical ways that you, as a man, can survive the potential upheaval.
I hope too that you can see the menopause as an opportunity to say goodbye to a beautiful phase in your lives together (I hope it was so for you - even if there were troubling times). Moreover, I trust that you can now look forward to some beautifully different years ahead together.
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How to Make Your Partner Love You Again
The Secrets of a Happy Relationship
Stress and Your Relationship
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