Advice to partners about the menopause
Going through the menopause with its many physical and emotional symptoms affects not only women but also their partners. Relationships can suffer, and women offer the following advice to help partners support them through the menopause (see also ‘Relationships, sex and contraception’).
1. Be prepared to learn about the menopause
Most women would like their partners to be prepared to learn more about the menopause. They want them to understand why they are feeling the way they are, to empathise more with their needs and appreciate their difficulties. Knowing what to expect can help partners cope better when menopausal symptoms place a strain on the relationship.
Jackie asked her husband to read an advice for partners section on a website forum
So I wouldn’t blame the menopause but it can certainly make it really difficult when they [partners] can’t empathise properly with what you’re feeling. And I think a lot of women just, their husbands just shut off from them completely. I can see from what I’m reading on there [website forum]. But we’ve always had where [husband] wouldn’t get the chance to switch off from me. And that advice for husbands bit that is set up on the Menopause Matters forum, well on the website, it’s a great long print out of all the symptoms that you’re likely to feel and I print that. I tried to get [husband] to read through it oh a good lot of months ago and he didn’t take enough notice and I was having a really rough few weeks, probably after moving here and after my dad died and stuff and I felt as though he was, he’d lapsed a bit and wasn’t really accepting that I was still going through this sort of thing. And I said, look, I feel as though you’re not trying hard enough to understand why I’m still pretty up and down and find it difficult to be normal really and I made him sit and read it. I said look, I want you to print that off and read it properly and take in what it says. But I had to push him to do it. But he did, he read it and I said, because it’s a good description of how the symptoms can make you feel and how dreadful it can be, I said “it doesn’t sound very nice does it?” And he said “No, it doesn’t” and so I think he’s more aware than a lot of people and he tries, he tries sort of thing.
Rose asked her partner to look on the internet so he could talk through with her how she was feeling
What advice would you give to partners of women going through menopause?
To try and be patient, to talk about it with your wife. The most important thing is with any life changing event, to talk to each other. That was difficult for me, I don’t find it that easy to talk to people in general, I think I’ve got much better at that and I think the experiences I’ve gone through in the last six years have taught me that it’s much healthier to talk through issues, but that wasn’t how I was six, seven years ago. My advice to partners is to listen to your partner, to talk through how they’re feeling, to go and do your own research. My husband actually went off onto the internet and did his own research so that a) he was able to help inform me when I was at my lowest and didn’t feel that I was actually capable of doing my own research, but also it helped him to understand how I was feeling. And also some of the physical effects, the fact that I did lose my libido and it’s still not back now a hundred per cent. At least he could understand why that it wasn’t suddenly that I’d gone off him, that actually it is a very genuine side effect of the menopause.
2. Offer support and understanding
Good communication is especially important during the menopause when some women experience mood swings (see ‘Emotions: mood swings, anxiety and depression’), loss of sex drive (libido) and other symptoms – all of which may undermine relationships. Women sometimes feel they have no control over their behaviour and realise how hard it is for partners to be supportive.
Women stress that partners should not ‘take anything too personally’, and acknowledge that partners may be going through a difficult time in their own right at midlife. It seems like a contradiction to expect partners to be ‘as loving as possible’ when a woman is ‘cross and crotchety’, yet it is precisely this which women want from their partner. They ask partners to be understanding, sympathetic, supportive, attentive, tolerant and patient. Keeping open the channels of communication is essential.
Liz begs men not to say its your hormones love because it doesnt help
Never say “It’s your hormones love” because it may be true but it doesn’t help really. My partner says it a few days later when I’ve calmed down and we can both laugh about it. It is true, it is our hormones, but please don’t say it. Try and be as supportive as possible. Don’t feel, don’t take anything that is said personally, don’t feel that any outburst or any display of emotion is directed, it might be directed at you, but it isn’t normally because of you. So try not to take things personally and just give us a hug basically.
Rhonda highlights the importance of talking through changes with partners to increase understanding
I think patience as well. I think patience is something but try and understand what it is as well. So rather than perhaps the partner just saying, “Oh, I’m having a hot flush, I’m taking my jacket off” knowing what that hot flush actually is and knowing when you do get the clammy skin, recognising that if you have got an arm round them or they’re feeling hot, they’re not shrugging you off because they don’t want you near them, they’re just, it’s basically they just need that space. Let them cool down, because once you’ve cooled down then you’re okay for another ‘x’ amount of hours or a day even. Just understanding that I think. Understanding perhaps sleep patterns will change and if they are getting up in the night more, it’s because they just need that air. A lot of women have to get up and get a shower in the night to just get themselves cooled down. And I think it’s just making sure, talk to your partner, making sure your partner’s living it with you really. So each time you have an experience or something changes let them know what’s changing and just talk them through it. So they just know. Because I think that’s perhaps what we can all be very guilty of, we try and not hide it but just protect them. So they don’t worry and I think the thing is it isn’t anything to worry about, it’s a natural thing. Hope one day there’ll be a cure for it, one day. But don’t protect them, let them in, talk to them so they do really understand because I found that and we laugh and we joke about it. I can be sat eating my dinner some nights, and I’m sat there and I’ll go “Oh, hang on a minute” and I’ll go out and I’ll come back and I’ll get a clip and put all my hair up and I’ll say, “Oh I’m having a hottie” especially when I’m eating a curry which I love. And think well I’m having it because I enjoy it. So they know why I’ve gone out, [partner] knows why I’ve gone out of the room to put my hair up, and I’ll come back in and I’m having a hottie and carry on. Not “Why have you done that?” and shutting them out. Let them know. Let them know.
3. Adapt expectations
During the menopause, women sometimes lose interest in sex and feel less attractive (see ‘Libido, vaginal dryness and urinary problems’). They want to feel reassured their partners still value them and can accept the changes that are happening. They want partners to pay them compliments, to hold their hand, hug them, cuddle them, tell them they are desirable and not take it personally if they ‘don’t want sex every week’. Women talked about needing to be told that they’re still attractive as they move from being ‘young and sexy to being a wise woman’ (see ‘Changes in the body and keeping healthy’). Some wanted partners to ‘look for ways around’ penetrative sex to maintain a good relationship.
Janice wants partners to make women feel valued
What advice would you give partners of women going through the menopause?
To pay them compliments to make women feel women. Not that you have to be constantly saying, “You do look pretty.” It’s not about being pretty. It’s about being valued. You might have a certain outfit on and just being told, “That really goes well with your skin.” Or you have your hair done, “Your hair really looks good today.” It’s just little things like that. Not necessarily buying flowers and chocolates because chocolates when you’ve got your middle-aged spread. Love ‘em but you think, “Oh, chocolates.” So, and flowers well, they shrivel up like your skin shrivels up. You get messages all round you that you’re shrivelling up and your skin’s like a leaf isn’t it.
Carole asks partners to be patient and ride the storm
God bless you all. Because you’re going to need it. You have to be patient. It’s like, if you can think of the woman going through the menopause as a bit like a car, if all the parts don’t work together at the same time it’s not going to go. And when a woman’s going through the menopause not all the parts click at the same time. It’s not personal to you that they’re grumpy, they’re feeling like poo and if they reject you it’s not because they don’t love you. If you can, if you truly love them, support them and just take it. Ride the ride, the storm with them. It’s an awful lot to ask of anybody and it’s a hard thing to do but that’s all you can do. Hold their hand and give them support and just be patient with them.
Janet explains how menopause symptoms can affect relationships
I think men need to be aware that it’s not always easy and that it’s possible it could affect their sex lives. Of course it can because there can be dryness and irritability and tiredness. So they probably won’t respond in the same sort of way and I think that men need to know that. And they need to accept it and try and be tolerant about it. But apart from that I can’t think. I mean if you’ve been married to someone or are in a relationship with somebody there are faults on both sides or things in the other person. Very rarely you’d be with somebody and not find fault. But you live with it don’t you, you have to or you do the other thing. So I think they just have to be aware of it and yes, she may feel a bit different and [have a] different attitude toward certain things but that’s all I can say really.
Partners can be important in supporting women during the menopause. While recognising that this can sometimes be difficult, women ask their partners to try and understand the problems they face with the changes in their lives. Most women say that, as always, good communication is the key.
Last reviewed July 2018.