Menopause, whilst a natural life transition that half the population will go through, has traditionally been a taboo subject particularly between men and women. A UCL-led study carried out in May 2021 found that 9 out 10 women were never educated about the menopause, so it’s no stretch to conclude that men have generally been even less informed on what to expect and how to deal with it.
Menopause symptoms can impact a woman’s sense of self, affecting her day-to-day activities, relationships, and home and working life. It can be a challenging time, both for the woman herself and for those close to her. Better education, much needed research, knowledge and understanding of symptoms, and noise in the press are all helping to normalise the subject and stop the stigma, but it can still be a potentially bewildering and embarrassing minefield for men to address.
Menopause specialists Bodyline Medical Wellness Clinics have pulled together some tips for men to approach the subject of menopause below that might just come in useful.
Know what to expect
The menopause is about more than just a woman’s periods stopping. Usually occurring between the ages of 45 and 55 and lasting around 7 years, the average age for a woman to reach menopause in the UK is 51, although symptoms can start in the mid 30s with perimenopause and continue well into the mid 50s. Menopause is reached when a woman hasn’t had a period for 12 consecutive months and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally.
The menopause experience can differ greatly between women, with symptoms varying in duration and severity. There are 48 associated physical and psychological symptoms with the more widely known including fatigue, hot flushes, night sweats, difficulty getting to sleep and sleep disruption, headaches, weight gain, brain fog, loss of libido, mood swings and anxiety.
Potentially less commonly recognised symptoms can include itchy skin, cold flushes, sore breasts, muscle and joint pain, loss of bladder control, frequent UTIs, thinning hair, acne, dry eyes, heart palpitations, changes in vision, hearing and taste, burning sensations in the mouth, new allergies, dizziness or vertigo and tingling in the hands and feet. Chances are that some of these symptoms will be as surprising and shocking to her as they are to you.
Do your research
Information is key, so the more informed you are the better. Try reading up on the subject on the internet, watching a documentary like Davina McCall’s Sex, Myths and the Menopause story or listening to a podcast to give yourself an idea of what your partner might be going through.
Discussing the menopause might make you feel uncomfortable, especially if fluctuating oestrogen levels are affecting your partner’s mood and making her switch between tearful, angry and confused, but it could be beneficial to tackle any issues as a team. Try to be empathetic – if you’re finding it difficult to deal with the repercussions, imagine what it’s like going through it first-hand. Ask her how she’s feeling and what she needs, and actually listen to what she has to say. If a face-to-face conversation seems too awkward, a relaxing walk on neutral ground or watching a menopause documentary together could be a less difficult way to get the conversation going. Be patient, pick your battles and above all, accept that you’re probably not going to be able to fix it.
Just knowing that you’re there for her can make all the difference to how she’s feeling. Mood swings and grumpiness due to declining levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone are common menopause symptoms, whilst tiredness from dealing with sleep disruption and night sweats can also play a major part. On a practical level, try suggesting some positive lifestyle changes that you can implement together – think eating more healthily, starting a new exercise plan and encouraging better sleep habits.
Let’s talk about sex
Going through the menopause doesn’t have to mean that your sex life is over. Whilst hormonal changes – including decreasing levels of the male hormone testosterone – and menopausal stress may affect her libido and make sex quite literally a sore point, it’s important that she still feels desirable. A well-meant compliment, touch of physical affection or romantic gesture can make an enormous difference to her self-confidence and effectively bring you closer together as a couple.
There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy a healthy sex life – as long as she’s comfortable with intimacy, there’s nothing to stop you both exploring different ways of feeling physically and emotionally connected. Take time to talk about potential worries regarding how her body is changing, what feels good and what doesn’t, and ways to connect physically that might be different to traditional intercourse, which could include cuddles, massage and foreplay.
Encourage her to seek help
If your partner is unsure why she’s feeling the way she is or is suffering from crippling anxiety and loss of confidence, she may find it difficult or embarrassing to ask for help. Even making an initial doctor’s appointment can feel like a major hurdle. A bit of encouragement could make all the difference here – offer her some moral support by suggesting that you go with her.
Sally-Ann Turner, MD and Founder of Bodyline Medical Wellness Clinics, has this to say:
“A lot of women lose their identity at this point and start to feel superfluous to society, it can be a root cause for anxiety and depression. Lack of discussion leaves women ill-prepared for what can be a difficult period in their life. And when things like brain fog and forgetfulness come as a surprise, it can be distressing. Anything that gets people talking about menopause and its associated symptoms can only be a good thing.”