I think my partner may be going through Menopause. How can I support them?
So, you have noticed a change in your partner and have no idea what to do about it. There’s been a lot of publicity about menopause recently. Maybe you’ve heard people talking about a recent programme, hosted by Davina McCall.
Could this be what your partner is going through?
Here are a few quick tips on how to navigate your relationship and support your partner during this time:
This is a time of lots of change
Menopause is not limited to biological change. There are many physical changes including a decrease in hormone levels, weight gain, hair thinning, brain fog, hot flashes, and changes to libido and night sweats.
There are also psychological changes. Changes in mood, anxiety, panic attacks, low mood, depression, lack of motivation, loss self-esteem, are just a few.
Some women say they don’t recognise themselves anymore, what used to work, how they used to find pleasure no longer works for them. This can lead to problems with identity, social anxiety and relationship problems.
Educating yourself is key. Read, listen, watch whatever you can to familiarise yourself with common symptoms that your partner may be experiencing. Knowledge can help create empathy; can you imagine what it would be like for you? Are you able to put yourself in her shoes? At the end of this article, there are some links you may find useful.
Pick your battles
As a partner, understanding menopausal symptoms can prevent you from asking questions such as, “Are you gaining weight?” or “The shower is full of your hair, what’s going on?” Saying things like this can make your loved one feel embarrassed and self-conscious. Questions like these can quickly reinforce feelings of low self-esteem, avoidance of situations or social anxiety.
Comfort or solutions
How many times have you been told by your partner ‘that’s NOT what I need right now’ yet what your partner does need is a mystery to you, everything you try seems wrong?
Let’s have a look at an example:
- Your partner comes home from work, you ask about their day. By their response, you can hear they have had a pretty bad day, so you suggest how it could have gone better or how they could have a better day tomorrow. Your suggestions only seem to make the situation worse, and before you know it, you are in a full-blown argument.
- What would happen if, when you ask about their day, and tells you it was bad, you ask the question, ‘what do you need?’ this puts the responsibility back onto your partner to let you know what would be helpful for them.
- You could be explicit and ask: ‘comfort or solutions?’ this way, you are letting your partner tell you what they want / need, and you can then provide it. Sometimes when we are angry or upset, all we want is a hug, and yet we don’t ask for one!
Accept you can’t fix this
When our partners are experiencing distress, we obviously want to make things better if we can. If your partner gets upset, don’t suggest they are making you upset. We are all responsible for our own feelings. Allow your partner to be angry, sad, or scared, and listen without judgment. If an argument starts to feel personal, walk away, it’s unlikely you can fix this right now.
The drama triangle is a great tool for analysing difficult interactions with people. The triangle has three corners, or ‘roles’ the Victim, the Persecutor and the Rescuer. The key message is that you can change your interactions with others by recognising your place on the triangle and moving out of the role. I have added a link at the end of this article to a short video explaining the process.
When things are calm between you, make a plan for what to do when things get heated. If walking away works for both of you, a bit of time out, make sure each of you is aware of this, otherwise walking away can feel rejecting.
Compliment your partner. If she looks nice, tell her! She may not believe you, but hopefully, at some level, your comment may get through. Menopause can bring with it anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. The ageing process for women is sometimes difficult and at this time of life there are often other things going on at the same time.
Remember, it won’t last for ever
Perimenopausal symptoms can last, on average, around four years, although every woman’s experience is unique. Women who’ve gone an entire year without a period are considered postmenopausal.
Four years plus sounds a long time, and all of the symptoms may not be present for all of this time. The average age for women to start menopause is around 45 to 51. Before 40 years old is considered premature menopause and can happen for reasons including a hysterectomy or if ovaries have been damaged by chemotherapy.
The Drama Triangle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_XSeUYa0-8
Channel 4: Davina McCall’s Sex, Myths and the Menopause https://www.channel4.com/programmes/davina-mccall-sex-myths-and-the-menopause
BBC iPlayer: The Truth about the Menopause with Mariella Frostrup https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bt4c3m/the-truth-about-the-menopause
Menopause support for men: https://menopausesupport.co.uk/?p=1700
Sexual issues: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-relationships/feeling-unsatisfied-your-relationship/menopause-affecting-our-relationship-how-do-i-talk-my-partner