You, Me and the Menopause (What we all need to know about relationships in menopause)
Psychotherapist & relationship counsellor, Pam Custers, on how to strengthen your relationship in menopause
pam custers, psychotherapist from the relationship practice talks relationships and menopause.
The menopause happens to relationships, not just to an individual! I know that sounds pretty radical but whilst the menopause affects our bodies and emotions, it affects our relationships in equal measure. Menopause often happens at a time when there are loads of changes taking place in a couple’s life. Children may well be leaving home, careers are starting to peak or wane, thoughts about retirement and what that will mean and then throw in the inevitable process of the menopause into the mix!
Society puts huge pressure on women to not age but its inevitable that our body will experience change. Suddenly, skin may become thinner and our body shape will change. Weight won’t shift as easily and with this our self-image can take a dip. Many women feel like they have lost their youth. Couple this with the hormonal impact on libido and not only do we feel like we are not looking desirable, we may not feel desirable. Now the words 'looking hot' takes on a whole new meaning!
Heightened emotions and mood swings don't help to ease the process. When we find ourselves weeping one minute and furious the next, it can be difficult for us to manage our day to day life, let alone engage with our partner. It can be a challenge for our partner to feel emotionally close when we are feeling all at sea with the world. Our partners can’t win, on the one hand they may not be tuned in to the emotional roller coaster called 'hormones', but on the other hand, woe betide a man who dismisses any issue by saying “you’re hormonal”
Menopause can either arrive with a bang or else it can be years of waning and fluctuating hormones and if desire is closely tied to this process then it is very possible that our partners may feel equally undesired.
Often we're not sure if we have indeed stopped fancying our partner, or if we have just gone off sex. This subtle loss can have a huge impact on relationships.
When sexual intimacy wanes or becomes impossible because it has become painful, intimacy can become a place of tension. Some people require sex to feel loved whilst others require love/emotional intimacy in order to have sex. The menopause may be the perfect storm. It can be a time when we feel like we don't know ourselves any longer. Our partners are often even more at a loss. The woman that they've been having a relationship with has changed. Their usual romancing techniques are no longer working and their partner no longer desires them. 'Help do they still love me?'.
Partners may often feel neglected at this time. Whilst they're trying hard to understand why their beloved has become remote, they may also fear their relationship is drifting apart. This comes at a time when men too are feeling the impact of middle age. Careers may be at a crossroads, they too may fear the ageing process and question their own virility, all adding even more pressure on a long-term relationship.
The menopause does not have to derail our relationship.
It is however a time when we need to be able to create a path going forward. When a couple embraces the process together and doesn't shun, run or hide from it, it becomes a time when new horizons are formed. This becomes a time when two people who are both facing a shift become a partnership and don't become polarised. When they understand that by supporting each other they are in turn supporting their relationship. When we look after our relationship we're not just looking after our partner, we're looking after ourselves.
Every woman will experience menopause differently, but the reality is that in general the menopause is a time when women need to recalibrate how they operate in the world and indeed in their relationships. Making sense of the process of physical change that impacts both our bodies and our minds really needs to be done in collaboration with our partners.
So, what practical steps can you take to ease the process and to strengthen your relationship?
Help your partner to understand what is happening physiologically and psychologically. Historically the menopause was spoken about in hushed tones. Letting your partner in, on what is going on, will give you an ally.
Develop your sensual relationship. When we stop being performance orientated it takes the pressure away.
Exercise and diet are all helpful. Both can involve your partner.
Take a more philosophical approach to life and treat each other with kindness, if neither of you have done this before.
Both of you are changing. The changes in your partner may not be as obvious but your partner may need support too.
Become consciously grateful for the good in your life. We can all get caught up purely in the negatives. Gratitude changes the way we value our lives.
Seek out support from colleagues, friends or professionals.
This is the most potent. Feeling connected to our partners, when they 'get' us and we 'get' them, is the glue that hold a couple together. Making time to engage with our partner in a meaningful way by being available and responsive, is at the very core of our relationships.
The Relationship Practice supports people to thrive. They offer both on line and face to face sessions.
Pam Custers runs The Relationship Practice. She is an experienced therapist working with individuals, couples and families. MA. BA (Psych) Hons and is a RELATE trained MBACP (accredited).
22nd July 2018