- Menopause can be a challenging time for both women and their partners.
- Men in relationships with women can take practical and effective measures to help their partners and strengthen their relationships.
- Communication and empathic support are key elements in men who wish to help their female partners cope with the challenges of menopause.
Singer Rod Stewart has spoken publicly about his wife Penny’s experience of menopause, describing her mood swings as “frightening—it wasn’t the person I married.” He reported that he found out as much as he could about menopause—but also noted how valuable menopause lessons for men would be, particularly those in relationships with women. These tips might help men help their partners during menopause.
1. Do your research.
Rod Stewart was on point when he started reading everything he could about menopause. Finding out why a partner’s behaviour has changed, perhaps even drastically—she may be frequently fatigued, teary, or struggling to keep her temper—makes it easier to help her cope with these symptoms. When a male partner doesn’t understand what his wife or girlfriend is going through, his response might be to feel frightened or back off at a time when she needs support.
2. Be patient.
Menopause itself is defined as the point in time 12 months after a woman’s last menstrual period. The average age for this is fifty-one.
But menopause doesn’t appear or disappear overnight, and the lead-up (known as perimenopause) can last for years, with some women experiencing symptoms for up to fifteen years. During this time, hormonal levels are fluctuating and trend downward, which can trigger a range of symptoms. What we typically think of as “menopause” is usually, in fact, the lead-up and follow-on from the end of a woman’s monthly period, and it can be a very long process.
3. Talk, talk, talk.
Menopause may be a confusing time for a woman, forcing her to deal with a massive shift in her physical and mental self. Male partners should do their best to keep communication channels open and be ready to talk and comfort her whenever they can.
4. Become a team.
If someone’s menopausal symptoms are creating challenges for their partner, it’s important to openly discuss this experience—ideally in a way that signals that they’re a team, in this together. If a man is feeling angry and resentful about the changes in his partner, holding in all those feelings may just make the situation worse.
Finding ways to express the effects of menopause, while making space for the partner’s experience and communicating a desire to work together to improve the situation, can be beneficial for both parties. Men, in particular, may wish to be careful about their wording so as not to convey judgment or blame.
Instead of saying, “I can’t cope with your mood swings anymore!” it may be more productive to say, “I’ve been feeling very helpless during these severe mood swings. I want to be able to support you in the right way so that we’re as strong as ever.”
5. Ask what she needs.
It can help to think of hormones as chemical messengers in the brain and body—and at this point in a woman’s life, there may be some messengers that are completely new to her. What’s always worked in the past isn’t necessarily going to work for her now. It’s important that male partners don’t presume to know the best way to offer support; instead, ask a partner what she needs.
6. Appreciate her confusion
Many men admit that they don’t know much about menopause. But the truth is, many women don’t know much about it either. Reading about hormonal changes is very different than actually experiencing their impact. Many women are muddling through menopause in the same way that their partners are.
7. Remember that menopause is about more than hormones.
During perimenopause, many of the physical and mental issues women face are due to the fluctuations and gradual reduction of the two main female hormones. estrogen and progesterone. However, menopause is not just about hormones.
Along with the physical changes, women may face difficulties in coming to terms with a loss of fertility and aging. Women who have had fertility issues may experience this particularly acutely—and even women who are happily childfree or who don’t wish to have any more children may have to adjust to their changing bodies.
Midlife, in general, can be a tough time for countless other reasons—including increased responsibility at work, “empty nest” syndrome, or the need to balance caring both for children and for elderly parents. Hormones are only part of the story.
Because of this, saying “it’s just your hormones” may be rightfully interpreted as dismissive and hurtful. Understanding the impact of hormones can be useful, but using it as an explanation for everything minimises a woman’s experience.
8. Support a partner’s desire to change.
Many of my clients who are undergoing menopause describe it as a time of potential. There’s often a realisation that even with half one’s life ahead of you, life isn’t infinite. Many women seize on this as a time to implement change in their life, including career changes or exploring their creativity.
It can feel worrying to hear a partner express a need for change, but it’s important to realise the significance of this desire. It’s important for partners to support it—and along the way, they may even recognise their own desire to change as well.
9. Embrace changing sexuality.
Many women experience a loss of libido during menopause and may face additional sexual issues, including vaginal dryness. A female partner may seem less interested in sex than she was in the past, and she may find vaginal sex difficult. She might feel embarrassed about talking to her partner about these issues.
But couples can still have sex—even great sex, if they use this as an opportunity to experiment with different sexual experiences and become open to adapting their sex lives to changing bodies and needs.
10. Reassure your partner that you still love her and find her attractive.
Many of my clients describe self-esteem issues that kick into high gear during menopause. For women who have always struggled with body issues or low self-esteem, this time of change may trigger a sense of feeling unattractive or unlovable.
Many men aren’t aware of how their partners feel and continue doing what they’ve always done. This might be a time when a partner needs extra reassurance that she is loved and that her partner still finds her attractive.
Whether a woman chooses hormone replacement therapy (HRT), complementary therapies, or simply needs more time alone or to pursue her interests, it’s important for both partners to see menopause as an evolution of their relationship—and one that can take it in a positive direction.