Relationship counsellor Sarah Ashworth shares her thoughts on menopause and relationships.
For such a very long time a subject not really discussed, the menopause has become a topic du jour. This year in particular October’s Menopause Month has been widely reported in the National press and most celebrity social media accounts have got behind World Menopause Day on 18th October.
This is partly due to celebrities from Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Gwyneth Paltrow to Gabby Logan, Lorraine Kelly and Davina McCall who have all helped to bring it much more out into the open. And partly because more and more women are speaking up about the impact on their lives.
Whilst for some women the menopause is ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ for others it can have an enormous impact on a woman’s life, affecting self-esteem, energy and, ultimately relationships. It seems likely that the menopause must have a bearing on relationships ending – and the data bears this out, with 2019 stats suggesting that women in opposite-sex marriages are most likely to divorce between the ages of 45 and 49 – the age at which the menopause often starts.
So, what is it about the menopause that can cause cracks in relationships, many of which have already successfully weathered other potentially stressful situations such as bringing up children and moving house?
Menopause and relationships
For women the menopause can come as a total shock, especially for those first amongst their peers to experience it. Every woman has different symptoms or combination of symptoms, from hot flashes, forgetfulness and exhaustion to feelings of insecurity and lack of interest in physical contact.
While for some women this time of life seems to require change, we can’t ignore the fact that some men find the menopause difficult to understand, which ultimately can also cause a relationship to fail. Some men refer to women becoming distant, snappy or even aggressive. Others become tearful. The female body can significantly alter and age with menopause. It’s no secret that men’s heads can be turned by the attraction of a younger, ‘fertile’ woman – the reasoning often given is that men are hardwired to do this from stone age times.
While HRT works wonders for many women, it doesn’t always combat every symptom and not all women are comfortable taking it. And of course it can be hard to get hold of. We’re hearing that what HRT you get can be a ‘postcode lottery’.
Fortunately, there are many men committed to making their long-term relationship last who want to get through what is usually a temporary blip. They may have to work hard to gain an understanding of the many complex changes their partner’s body and mind are going through.
How can a man support a woman struggling with menopause?
The hardest thing for a woman is to feel unseen, unheard, unloved and unsafe. It takes compassion, communication and love to get through. At the same time the woman needs to take stock, too. Menopause is not an excuse for a woman to criticise, control and withdraw from their partner emotionally and physically. There is of course evidence that men have their own version of the menopause, which also alters hormone levels. If both are experiencing this at the same time it doubles the strain on a relationship.
Counselling and self-care
Rather than try to ignore what is happening, it is important for couples to talk to each other about how they feel, whether this is a fear of being sexually unattractive or getting older, or experiencing mood swings, exhaustion, powerlessness, feeling misunderstood or loss of libido. Working with a counsellor will facilitate a safe neutral environment enabling greater openness and therefore understanding from both sides. It is beneficial to help explain these feelings and understand ways of supporting each other. The menopause has historically been associated with aging, blue rinses, slippers, rocking chairs, and a feeling of inevitability that you are ‘past’ it. These days, this programming is completely wrong.
50 is the new 30! There are many self-care options to explore, not just HRT but also natural remedies, a change of diet or exercise and mediation. Choosing a change to lifestyle can also help, trying new activities, travelling, even relocating.
The perfect storm
Unfortunately the menopause can create the perfect storm for any relationship, especially if there have been issues before – the straw that breaks the camels back. Here the relationship could reach the point of no return.
More and more women are being honest about their menopause experiences, maybe it’s time to be honest about your relationship. If your relationship isn’t making your happy and counselling doesn’t help, maybe this is the right time for a fresh start.
Sarah Ashworth, Counsellor
SA:SI Strategic Intervention sasiuk.com
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