Living with menopause can be a challenge for men too. Here’s what you need to know, and how you can help your partner - and yourself - to live better...
1) Menopause is a process
Menopause officially refers to the point at which a woman hasn’t had a period for a year. However, the transition to menopause is a gradual one, which normally takes several years.
While the average age for menopause is 51, in the years leading up to menopause - known as ‘perimenopause’ - a woman’s hormone levels begin to fluctuate. As hormone levels start to change, it can trigger a range of different symptoms.
Changes in the balance of key hormones, including oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, can cause a number of side effects. Many women start to experience some menopause symptoms in their 40s (and sometimes earlier), and they can also continue for a while beyond the point of menopause.
2) It’s different for every woman
The side effects of menopause can be very uncomfortable, and at times difficult to deal with. The experience of going through menopause is different for every woman, but most women will have at least some of these common symptoms:
- hot flushes (hot flashes) and night sweats
- erratic periods
- problems sleeping
- vaginal dryness
- lower sex drive (libido)
- mood swings
- anxiety and depression
While the severity of menopause symptoms can vary, hot flushes and night sweats are among the most complained about menopause symptoms. A hot flush is a sudden, intense sensation of heat which creeps across the body and is followed by excessive sweating and flushing of the skin. This symptom in particular can be very disruptive and embarrassing.
3) It can be an emotional rollercoaster
For many people, dealing with emotional changes can be one of the more challenging sides of menopause. In fact, for a significant number of women menopause can be a real emotional rollercoaster.
It’s common for a woman to feel a range of different emotions as she goes through menopause and her hormones fluctuate - for example she may seem sad or tearful, irritable or angry, easily overwhelmed or unusually anxious.
As well as dealing with the physical symptoms of menopause, this is often a time when other major mid-life changes are also coming into play, such as caring for ageing parents, or the children leaving home, leaving to ‘empty nest’ syndrome. These factors can all add to the pressure and may cause a woman to question her future or her changing role in life.
4) Menopause can affect your sex life
Menopause can also have a significant effect on sexual relationships. Falling levels of testosterone can lower a woman’s sex drive and affect her ability to reach orgasm, while declining levels of oestrogen can cause problems such as vaginal dryness, which can make having sex painful or uncomfortable.
Problems with a changing body image may also affect a woman’s confidence in the bedroom. She may feel less attractive or have feelings of low self-esteem as a result of the physical changes that are happening to her body.
It’s important to be patient with your partner, and to keep the lines of communication open. Listen to any concerns she may be feeling, and try to address any issues together as a couple. If she doesn’t feel like having sex, try to focus on other ways of being close for the time being.
5) There is help at hand
The good news is, there are lots of things that can help to make life easier for your partner as she goes through menopause.
This includes a wide range of products which are specially designed to help with the different symptoms of menopause - from cooling gel pillows, body spritzes and bamboo clothing to help with hot flushes and night sweats, to moisturisers and lubricants to help with vaginal dryness and low libido, and calming products to help with stress relief and mental well-being.
There’s also a great selection of books and guides available, which are designed to help you and your partner with understanding and planning for menopause.
6) Your support can make all the difference
Finally, offering your support and just being there for your partner can make a huge difference. It’s important to take her feelings seriously, and encourage her to talk to you when she wants to.
Menopause can be a difficult time, but by listening to your partner and spending some quality time together, you can help to lessen the impact and make her feel more positive and supported.
If you want to know more about supporting your partner through menopause, or if you have any tips or experience to share, why not join the Live Better With Menopause community forum.
Do read the Live Better With Guide to Perimenopause and our article on Getting through the menopause: top tips for couples.
You can find a wealth of information and tips on all aspects of living better with menopause here.
By Dr Marian Trudgill