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:
Or, she may be looking forward to this transition, and feel like she is:
- Just getting her second wind
Or, she may feel any/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?
Maybe the two of you 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’ve 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:
- 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’s nothing you are doing, it helps you to relax about all the ups and downs.
- 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?”
- 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, so even if it looks to you as though she could “help it” if she wanted to, it may not be that simple.
- Be Patient. In the short run and in the long run. 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.
- 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.
- 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 into overwhelmed is a plus. Especially if she doesn’t have to ask!
- 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 can see through that from a mile away.
- Remember why you are together. Take the long view. You’ve 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, and in a calm moment you might even want to share that with her.
- 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.) Or offer to sleep in the guest room on weeknights so that she can get some real sleep. Turn off the television in the bedroom. Whatever it takes to give her the best night’s sleep will help her mood tremendously.
- 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. And yes, it’s OK to ask the same of her.
- Support her health by doing things together. Getting started in 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.