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By definition, women have reached the menopause when they haven’t had a period for more than 12 months, but hormone changes that cause their symptoms may start a few years before their last period (the perimenopause).

This article was included in issue 89 (summer 2021) of The Menopause Exchange newsletter.

At an average age of 51, women have reached the menopause and no longer have periods. But they may keep having menopause-related symptoms for as short as a few months or as long as fifteen years or more. Their experience may be more challenging if they’re looking after their elderly parents as well as supporting their own children and grandchildren.

Decreased levels of the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone cause physical and psychological changes in women during this stage of their lives. All women experience the menopause differently. While some have few symptoms and are untroubled by any changes, others have bad symptoms that negatively affect their quality of life.

There are more than 30 possible symptoms of menopause. The most common symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, sleep problems, brain fog, mood changes, headaches, joint pains, vaginal dryness, low libido (sex drive), and painful sex.

What can I do to help my partner through the menopause?
You may notice changes in your partner during this phase of life, and she may seem anxious, vulnerable and confused. This is the time to step up and support her while she navigates this challenging journey of menopausal changes. Education is key to dealing with the menopause, and it’s important to learn everything you can about the menopause and which changes and experiences are common.

Many menopause-related changes may affect a woman’s relationships, especially the one with her intimate partner. If your partner is going through menopausal changes, it’s important to have some understanding and appreciate that she could be experiencing significant physical and emotional changes that are out of her control. Your support and understanding can make this difficult time much easier for her to cope with. Understanding key changes will also prevent you from making insensitive remarks such as –‘Why are you putting on weight?’ or ‘Have you become crazy?’ on issues that may be related to hormonal changes and cause unnecessary hurt and distress to your partner.

Some studies have found that when spouses received education about the menopause and how to manage it, their wives reported a significantly higher quality of life, with fewer physical and psychological symptoms. It’s also been noted that when men better understand menopausal changes and provide support to their partners, this enhances the quality of marital relations.

Menopause and sex
An important problem at the menopause is that your partner may no longer be keen to have sex. This could be due to a lack of desire (due to a lack of oestrogen and testosterone) or vaginal dryness, which leads to painful sex. Fear of pain can trigger anxiety and lower sexual desire.

The lack of oestrogen during the menopause makes the vaginal skin thin, less elastic and dry. Lack of sex drive can get better with sex therapy and a combination of oestrogen and testosterone hormones, while vaginal dryness can be treated with either vaginal moisturisers and lubricants or vaginal oestrogen alone. The trick is to find the right balance in getting intimate. Ask what makes your partner feel good and offer to do it.

If your partner’s sexual appetite doesn’t match yours, you may wish to consult a sex therapist or couples counsellor. These professionals can guide you towards improving your relationship or sexual communication skills.

Practical tips to support your partner

  • Show you care by asking how your partner feels. This will make her aware that you’re available to support her if she needs you to.
  • Mood swings and irritability can affect many women at this time of life – if you get into a difficult situation or argument, try to adjust your response, and don’t take any of her comments personally.
  • Simply asking ‘What’s the best thing I can do to make things better?’ can go a long way.
  • If your partner gets upset, don’t turn her upset into your upset. Be patient and allow her to be angry, sad or frustrated, and try to listen without judgment.
  • Make every effort to praise your partner for her good qualities and attributes.
  • Offer to help her with simple things like cleaning or cooking – this can help to ease a hectic schedule.
  • Help her to improve her health and share this journey with her. If she’s trying to lose weight through diet and exercise, go through the experience together. While you’re motivating and encouraging her, you’ll also benefit from improvement to your own health.
  • Encourage your partner to get the care she needs. No woman should wait until her symptoms are unbearable before she seeks help. If she wishes to see healthcare professionals or counsellors, help her in making the right choices and go with her if she wishes.
  • A range of treatments are available to help ease menopausal symptoms and improve a woman’s quality of life.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which replaces oestrogen and progesterone hormones, is the most effective treatment for bad menopausal symptoms. Encourage your partner to seek help from her doctor or specialist healthcare professionals who’ll be able to talk through available treatments to help her make an informed decision, based on her individual circumstances and preferences.

About the author

Dr Vikram Talaulikar is a specialist in reproductive medicine at the University College London Hospital. He’s a BMS accredited menopause specialist and a trainer for menopause skills module by Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Created Summer 2021

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