Menopause isn’t just a challenging time for women. It can also be hard on the men who love them. So, what is a guy to do when his wife or partner is going through such a difficult time of change?
We asked Dr. James Simon, Medical Director and Founder of IntimMedicine Specialists in Washington, D.C., to share his perspective with us on the topic of the challenges men face when their partner is going through menopause. As a husband, father, grandfather, an accomplished OB/GYN, “menopause whisperer” and colleague of mine, I can’t think of anyone more qualified to discuss this topic. We are so lucky he is willing to share his expertise and break it down for men so they can have a better understanding of what their partner is going through.
Expertise From Dr. Simon
The first step in understanding what’s going on with your partner is to know exactly what menopause is. Here is an explanation of this time of “change” to help you understand a bit more of what’s happening before, during, and after menopause:
- Perimenopause—This means “around menopause” and refers to the time when a woman’s body is making the transition to menopause, usually age 45-50. Her periods are becoming more irregular and/or heavier. During this time, her ovaries begin producing less estrogen, and as she gets closer to menopause, the drop in estrogen increases, causing symptoms like hot flashes, night sweats, disturbed sleep, lower sex drive, weight gain, and mood swings. I’m guessing you may be witnessing some of those mood swings! And, it’s important to note that, during perimenopause, women are still able to become pregnant.
- Menopause—This is the time in a woman’s life when her last spontaneous menstrual period occurs. When she has gone one full year without having a period, the date of her last period is when she is in menopause. This usually occurs around the age of 50. Your partner might experience the symptoms listed above, and she might also suffer from vaginal dryness, pain with sex, and decreased sexual desire.
- Postmenopause—This is the time after a woman goes through menopause. In other words, after she has not had a period for an entire year, she has then entered postmenopause. For some women, menopausal symptoms, such as those listed above, may become less frequent and less intense. However, some women continue to experience these symptoms for many years after the menopause transition.
That may be more than you ever wanted to know about menopause! But it’s important for you to understand what your partner is going through in order to help her during this challenging time. You may think she’s always tired and cranky, and you might even think it’s because of you or something you did (or didn’t do). You’re probably feeling rejected in the bedroom as well, and you might even think that’s your fault, too. You’re not alone! That’s why it’s so crucial for you to know why these changes are occurring to her body and realize it isn’t your fault. How can you help if you don’t really understand what’s going on? Is sex painful for her, or is there more to it?
I have done significant research on the impact of painful sex after menopause for both women and couples. I found that about two-thirds of the women experienced painful sex after menopause, causing women to avoid sex and lose interest in sex. You can imagine the impact this had on the couples in the study.
Painful sex is a significant barrier to a strong relationship and their relationship suffered as a result of the pain. The good news is that after women received treatment (vaginal lubricants or moisturizers, vaginal estrogen, vaginal dilators, sex therapy, pelvic floor physical therapy, etc.), about 60% of the couples felt that their sex life (and their relationship) was significantly better than even before menopause!Dr. James Simon
There Is Hope
Of course, there’s more to a relationship than just sex, but it is part of a healthy relationship. As your partner transitions into menopause, her body is going through changes that may cause her to avoid sex. Just because she’s not wanting it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. There are so many reasons why she might have lost interest in sex. Vaginal dryness and pain with sex are fairly obvious reasons why she may be shying away from you in the bedroom, but there are so many other factors that could be in play. One of the biggest reasons could be lack of sleep. One or two sleepless nights might not be a big deal, but months of disturbed sleep can really take a toll on a person. How would you like to be awakened every night dripping in sweat and then try to fall back to sleep? I’m guessing it doesn’t sound appealing to you!
Sleep is so important for all humans, especially for women going through menopause. The constant night sweats cause more than disturbed sleep: Weight gain, mood swings, and decreased sex drive are all results of a change in sleep habits. If you’re in a relationship with someone who is currently experiencing this change in her life, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you think it’s difficult for you, just think about what she’s going through. And, if you’re concerned about your partner, especially if she’s having severe mood swings and it’s affecting your relationship, ask her to seek professional help. If you see that she’s setting up barriers in her relationships (personal or professional), you want her to get help before things get more difficult to fix. Her mood swings may be related to PMS or heavy bleeding, and taking birth control can actually help lessen these symptoms. There are answers, but she may need that extra understanding and a gentle push from you to get the help she needs.
So, what can you do to help your partner during menopause?
- Be informed—There are so many books with good information on the topic of men and menopause. Dr. Diana Bitner’s book, “I Want to Age Like That,” has an entire chapter dedicated to helping men understand menopause, and it includes a long list of suggestions to help you help her. You may also want to share Dr. Bitner’s Seven Essential Elements of Daily Success (SEEDS) article with her.
- Do your research—Websites like menopause.org and isswsh.org have so much FREE information that can help both men and women navigate the struggles of menopause symptoms (including lower sex drive). If you have some information before you talk with your partner, she will see that you are really trying to understand what she is going through.
- Be sensitive—Along with sensitivity comes compassion and understanding. Try not to place blame on anyone and stay nonreactive when having a conversation.
- Use “I” language—Start every sentence with “I”: Saying “I feel hurt when I try to be intimate with you and you turn away” is much better than saying, “You never want to have sex anymore.” It takes the blame away from your partner and makes for a much more productive conversation.
Go Through It Together
Menopause isn’t easy for women, but it’s also not easy for men. As a guy and a physician who specializes in caring for women in this stage of life, this is my best advice: Understand what’s happening with your partner and know why it’s happening. This can help you navigate your way through the challenges of menopause—together. Now that you know more about menopause than you ever thought you would – use that information to work with your partner to bring a healthy relationship back into your bedroom and into your life.