Supporting Your Partner During Menopause

A Spouse's Guide Through the Menopause Minefield

mature couple walking
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This article is not for menopausal women but for the people who love them. If you are a menopausal woman struggling with mood swings, hot flashes, insomnia, or midlife existential angst and you think this might help your partner, print it off or send them the link.

What’s a Partner to Do?

If your wife or partner is entering menopause and you are clueless about how to help her, join the crowd. Many husbands/spouses/partners want to be supportive but aren’t sure where to start.

A common complaint is, “I just feel wrong no matter what I do.”

When a woman is going through a difficult menopause, the decreasing hormone levels may leave her feeling many ways, including any of the following:

  • Old
  • Unattractive
  • Forgetful
  • Dispensable
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Uncomfortable
  • Weak

Or, she may be looking forward to this transition, and feel like she is:

  • Healthy
  • Free
  • Wise
  • Just getting her second wind
  • Competent
  • Indispensable
  • Strong
  • Happy
  • Hopeful

Or, she may feel any or all of these things in the course of a single day!

What is the best approach for a partner (or family member) who wants to be helpful?

The two of you may have never talked about how to support each other through something like this.

If your children are leaving home for their own lives or if an aging parent dies and no longer needs attention, you may suddenly have more time together than you have had in awhile. For some couples, this is the good news and the bad news.

It is the beginning of your “next phase” as a couple and the great thing is that you can make it a very rich time in your lives. It boils down to some basic relationship skills and a willingness to weather the changes together.

As you look over the suggestions below, ask her which ones she would appreciate.

She may even have her own list of ways you can help.

Here are some things you can try:

  1. Educate yourself. Learn everything you possibly can about what menopause is like and what changes and experiences are common. Once you see that mood swings and hot flashes are common and that it is nothing you are doing, it helps you to relax about all the ups and downs.
  2. Talk. Even if communication has never been your thing. If you say out loud that you want to be helpful, then your menopausal partner will, at least, know you are on her side. If you are already a good communicator, tell her you can see that menopause is not for sissies, and ask her something like, “What’s the best thing I can do to help you get through this?”
  3. Believe her. This can be a really trying time, so if your wife or partner says she is doing the best she can... believe her. Sometimes women feel fragile and hardly know themselves during the menopause years. Even if it looks to you as though she could “help it” if she wanted to, it may not be that simple.
  4. Be patient. Patience is vital in both the short and long term. Cutting her some slack when she seems sad or angry will go a long way toward being able to be close later. The message you send when you are patient is: "You are worth waiting for and this isn’t going to last forever."
  1. Don’t personalize her moods. If your partner gets upset, don’t turn her upset into your upset. She can be angry or sad or frustrated and you can listen to her without making it about you.
  2. Offer to help. Getting help with the dishes or having the living room picked up when she gets home can help ease a hectic schedule. Whatever you can do to keep her from going from busy to overwhelmed is a plus. Especially if she doesn’t have to ask!
  3. Approve of her. This is a perfect time to tell her that you admire her and why. Don’t patronize her, though, because she knows you and she will be able to see through that from a mile away.
  1. Remember why you are together. Take the long view. You have been together this long for a reason and you want to be close for the rest of your lives together. In the heat of the moment, remind yourself why you have chosen to stay with her. In a calm moment, you might even want to share that with her.
  2. Help her get the sleep she needs. Insomnia is very common during the menopause transition and if you are a snorer, find a way to spare her that waking. If you need a sleep study, get one and use a CPAP to decrease your snoring. (It will help your heart too, since sleep apnea can cause cardiac damage.) Offer to sleep in the guest room on weeknights so that she can get some real sleep and turn off the television in the bedroom. Whatever it takes to give her the best night’s sleep will help her mood tremendously.
  3. Support her in pursuing her interests. If she wants to take a night class or join a book group, do what you can to make it easy for her. She will feel more hopeful and eager for life if she can do the things that interest her. Yes, it is okay to ask the same of her.
  4. Support her health by doing things together. Getting started on an ​exercise plan is easier if you have company. Offer to take nightly walks with her or bike around a lake every weekend. It can become a healthy ritual that you both feel good about.

Learning how to weather the menopausal years can set the stage for more fun and closeness as time goes on. It is a chance to learn a few new steps in the relationship dance and sets a tone of caring that can last for years.

Make a Health Plan Together

If she is worried about weight gain or dieting, plan the menu together for meals that are healthy for both of you.

Don’t sabotage the plan! There is nothing harder than trying to lose weight when your other half insists on bringing home donuts every Sunday morning.

Plan Ahead 

Talk about situations that stress your relationship and make a plan for dealing with them.

  • If visiting your mother sends her over the edge, talk about the best way to manage that so she can survive and your mother will still be talking to you.
  • If going over the budget always ends up in an argument, talk about how you can discuss things without setting each other off.

Be Playful

Keep your sense of humor and help her feel that there is still fun in your relationship. A light sense of humor will keep the doors open to closeness.

Plan surprise gifts or secret dinner outings that celebrate your connection.  

Warning: Be careful not to use sarcasm to make a point and don’t use humor as a way to show anger or disapproval. If both people aren’t laughing, then it’s not funny. Period.

Don’t Pressure Her for Sex

This is a common struggle during the menopausal years, where libido may wane for her (or for you) and one partner wants sex more than the other.

The trick is in finding a balance of closeness, touch and sexual activity.

Vaginal changes during menopause may make sex uncomfortable or even painful. Focus for awhile on just staying physically close.

  • Ask her what feels good to her, and offer it. A foot rub or a shoulder massage without any expectation of going further will keep you connected.
  • If your sexual appetites are vastly different and there doesn’t seem to be a way to reconcile them, it might be time to check into a sex therapist who can help you find the middle ground.
  • If she is experiencing pain with intercourse, encourage her to talk to her medical provider about treatments that might relieve the discomfort.

Get Help

If you don’t have the skills or are feeling lost in the forests of menopause, you may want to suggest that the two of you talk to a counselor. If you are not the “counseling-type” it would be even more of a statement that you are committed to figuring this out if you offer to go with her to get some help during this bumpy time.

Not every woman will need heavy-duty support through menopause. Many will, at least, need a little boost from time to time. Your intention is worth a lot, and just knowing that you want to support her (and not blame or punish her) will go a long way.

She needs patience, friendship and lots of laughter. She needs to know that you love her and that once you are through the worst of these changes, you will still be a couple.

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