At times it can seem like the deck is heavily stacked against pairs as they head towards midlife and beyond.
ith the rise of ‘grey divorce’ – commonly defined as those over 50 – there are many factors contributing to more older couples separating. But a key factor often cited as a reason relationships fail is menopause, says Sallyanne Brady, co-founder of the 42,000+ strong community – The Irish Menopause Facebook group.
“The problem is that relationships are riddled with midlife issues and couples often don’t realize it because nobody understands what has changed. Thankfully, the outdated stereotype that men should just put their heads down and wait for the storm to pass has passed, as has the mention of menopause: it’s no longer a taboo subject,” says the leading advocate.
This is driven in part by the menopause mentor herself, who made a mammoth walk live line Speaking to Joe Duffy in 2021 after she wrote a letter opening up about her years of “living hell” before starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
“Since the program ended, we have received numerous emails from men every day. One of the most common questions we get is: “How do I help my other half? I know something is going on, but I don’t know what to do.” Some emails just to thank us for talking about it, while the others are unfortunately from men whose relationship has already broken down, usually in the vein of: “I now know why my marriage fell apart – my partner was going through menopause and I didn’t know how to help.”
“This show was like an aha moment, not only for the Irish women but also for the men. What I see now is a need for understanding in men, which is wonderful. Because let’s face it, sometimes they have no idea what’s going on with us, and we might not be the most approachable when our hormones are out of whack.
“On the one hand, there are women who often don’t talk about the fact that they are experiencing changes, but their partners are usually very aware that something is wrong. Then you have others wondering if their other half is having an affair because they seem to have closed themselves off emotionally and physically from their partner, leading to ongoing arguments, which leads to distance, which in turn causes you to separate as a partner feel less connected couple. It can be a confusing and lonely time, not just for women but for their partners as well,” says Sallyanne.
While figuring out how to talk about menopause with your partner may be difficult, some top tips for maintaining healthy relationships with the women in your life will go a long way.
1. Knowledge is power
Rock star Rod Stewart said menopause education needs to be improved for men and he’s not wrong – knowledge is key to support.
Sallyanne says: “It is crucial to be aware of what your wives, partners, employees and colleagues are going through. Because when a partner is going through menopause and experiencing symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, low libido and more, many men walk on eggshells and don’t know what to do or what not to do.
“However, education could potentially save a relationship. He would know that his wife or partner is not going “crazy” and that menopause is not just a few hot flashes, it can be debilitating and significantly disrupt daily life.
“Understand what is happening to your partner and know why it is happening. This can help you navigate through the challenges together.
“Many women feel lost and lonely, so your love and care are more important than ever. And remember, this stormy time of transition is calming down.”
2. Encourage your partner to see a doctor about their symptoms
Just making an appointment can be difficult for some, as anxiety can be crippling during this time and confidence can simply ebb. As such, having a supportive partner with you when you sit in front of your doctor can be helpful, as it’s easy to forget things, especially when you’re feeling tired or anxious.
Sallyanne says: “Check first and ask what she needs from you. She may want you to go to the doctor with her, or she may prefer to go in alone and let you wait in the car. Download a free symptom checker online and before your appointment with your partner, take some time to create a list of questions and then be sure to take them with you to the appointment. Also bring a pen and notebook to take notes.”
3. Try not to apply pressure
It’s important to have someone in your corner who will just give you a hug or make you a cup of tea when you need a shoulder to cry on. Or buy something like the Chillmax pillow (€14.99) to help her sleep when she suffers from night sweats.
Sallyanne says: “Simple things can make a dramatic difference when your partner is feeling overwhelmed. Don’t try to ask things like: ,How long will it take?’ First, it’s not helpful, and second, she doesn’t know any more than you do. When you talk about it, make sure to communicate with compassion.”
Check out change.org/p/the-department-of-health-theirishmenopausemission
4. Ask what is needed
Remember, going through menopause, your other half doesn’t hate you — not really. It’s your hormone fluctuations.
Sallyanne says: “Talk to your partner about any symptoms, not just problems having sex. Ask her (gently) what she needs to feel better from time to time, as a supportive partner can help a woman through this transition. Listen to her: don’t criticize her and don’t try to fix her.”
Check out the Femplus Menopause Podcast: Vaginal Atrophy
5. Remember that sex, midlife and menopause are complicated for everyone
Vaginal dryness, low self-confidence, and a decreased sex drive can all accompany menopause, so it’s common for both sides to wonder if their partner just doesn’t love them anymore.
Sallyanne says: “The physical effects of falling estrogen levels on the vulva (the parts you can see) and vagina (the parts you can’t see) can be such that if left untreated, they become extremely dry, sore and, for some women, excruciatingly painful.
“Sometimes neither partner wants to start the conversation, which often leads to a widening physical and emotional chasm. But let them know you’re there for them and happy to talk about these changes.
“Women are not alone in being affected by change. Men also have midlife challenges, both physical and emotional. Declining testosterone levels can affect libido, mood, and sexual performance. However, a man’s hormones change gradually compared to a woman’s experience, so it may not be obvious to the man that he’s changing too. Life is always changing, and our bodies are no different. Have real expectations and acknowledge your changes as well.”
Check out the book Me & My Menopausal Vagina by Jane Lewis
6. Life change for everyone
Like most things dealing with menopause, tweaking here and there in the way you manage your life can be so effective.
Sallyanne says: “Couples may want to adopt some healthy habits together. Be it diet, lifestyle or relationship, it can make you feel like you have more control and with any luck you will end up with a stronger relationship.”
Check out balance-menopause.com/menopause-library/106-seeing-the-bigger-picture-with-mens-health-specialist-dr-jeff-foster
7. Resist the urge to snap back
It’s important to understand that fluctuating estrogen levels affect the neuroreceptors in the brain and this can sometimes lead to tongue irritation.
Sallyanne says: “Try not to blame anyone and don’t respond when you’re having a conversation. Sometimes you just have to stop, breathe, and walk away if you have to. Remember, it will pass.”
Check out the dr. Louise Newson Podcast on: Divorce, Perimenopause and Menopause with Farhana Shahzady
8. Don’t forget to show love
From weight gain to thinning hair, physical changes are another part of menopause that can be challenging for some women to accept, leading to a loss of confidence and becoming very body conscious.
Sallyanne says: A woman also wants to feel desired and valued during this time. A romantic dinner or holding hands on a walk is all she needs.”
Sallyanne Brady is an Associate Member of the British Menopause Society and a Member of the International Menopause Society with IMPART Level 1 training.
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/a-mans-guide-to-supporting-their-partner-through-menopause-41998451.html A men’s guide to supporting their partner through menopause