Relate, the UK's largest provider of relationship support, discuss how relationships may change as you discover you are perimenopausal, and as you experience menopause. They also share lots of practical advice on how you can work together to survive and thrive at this time of change…
It’s not unusual for your relationship to come under strain during the menopause; many women find they are easily irritated by their partner or feel they need to withdraw from the relationship as they try to manage their symptoms.
It can be hard to carry on life as normal as you try to cope with the uncomfortable physical symptoms while also feeling tired or in some cases anxious or depressed.
In many ways you become a different person when you go into the menopause as both your body and mood change; this in turn leads to changes in how you relate to your partner.
In the past you might have found that it helped to talk through your problems with your partner. However, this can be more difficult when you’re going through menopause as you are more focused on surviving some very intense physical and emotional changes and might not feel like talking.
The shifts in your mood can be quite dramatic, similar to those women experience after having a baby, so it can be hard to find the energy and patience to get your partner to understand what you’re going through. It’s important to encourage them to do their own research and find out more about menopause so the burden of educating them doesn’t fall on you. Once your partner is more aware of what you are going through they’ll be in a better position to empathise and offer support. If you’ve always talked things through together your partner may find it quite hard to adjust to this new role; listening to someone else’s problems, without offering solutions, doesn’t come easily to everyone. Sex therapy can be helpful in these situations, a therapist will be able to explain how your symptoms will affect the relationship and help your partner understand how they can be more supportive.
You may also become less interested in sex; this can be a source of tension in the relationship as your partner may not understand why your libido has suddenly decreased. It can be the start of ongoing problems with sex as often you partner will respond by putting more effort into initiating sex which can make you feel pressured and resentful, leading to sex becoming something that you both feel anxious and unhappy about.
Menopause can cause you to confront some uncomfortable truths about your life. Starting menopause is unavoidable evidence that you are getting older; this can be quite a shock as you might not feel as though you are ageing.
It also signals that you can no longer have children. Maybe you didn’t want to have children or perhaps circumstances meant that it couldn’t happen. Either way, as you no longer have this choice, you might find yourself reflecting on this. You might experience old feelings of sadness and loss, or conversely, you may be glad to be finally free from having to worry about getting pregnant.
If you did have children you may feel that being a mother is no longer a large part of your identity. Putting this role behind you is a big change. It can be hard to know what will replace it or you might feel liberated and excited about focusing on yourself more. Both these changes can impact your relationships as everyone has to adjust to you acting differently. This might be surprising to your friends and family who might have got used to you being a very consistent presence.
For some women the emotional changes they are going through are so great that they wonder if they’re going to be the same person after the menopause.
Going through the menopause is not something that happens quickly. This can give you a sense that nothing is the same or will feel the same again. Everyone is used to having a virus for a period of time that leaves you feeling exhausted and unable to think straight. Time stops for a brief period but then when you start feeling better and life returns to how it was before you forget about how you were unable to function when you were ill.
But going through the menopause is very different. You can start feeling like this is never going to change, you’ll always feel exhausted, unable to think as clearly or as though your body never responds in the way you expect. It can feel like you won’t be the same again - that you are in a permanent state of unsettled exhaustion. It's hard to remember what it was like before and this becomes the new normal. It’s important to keep reminding yourself that menopause is a period of time that will come to an end.
Women often don’t discuss the fact they are experiencing menopause but their partners are usually very aware that something isn’t right. They may begin to wonder if their partner is having an affair, thinking of leaving the relationship or has simply lost interest in them. These misunderstandings can lead to ongoing arguments or a growing sense of distance as both of you start to withdraw from the relationship. As we mentioned, you may find that your sex life is almost non-existent – this only adds to a sense that you are becoming less close as a couple.
It’s worth remembering that this is a period of time that will come to an end. You can also do a lot to manage the symptoms of the menopause, this can lift your mood and in turn improve your relationship.
The main thing they need to do is to take care of you and listen. They might also be able to help around the house more or pick up some of the ‘life admin’ you usually look after. It’s important to take your own self-care seriously at this time so accept as much help as you can from your partner. If you had flu you would let them help out more; your body needs to recover in the same way.
Your partner may need to educate themselves about the changes to your body and how it will affect your sex life. This can help them understand that you’re not losing interest in them but your body is responding differently to sex. They can also try initiating sex less to take the pressure off and find out how lubricants can help when you do have sex.
Every year, Relate counsellors work with over 65,200 couples and individuals in relationship counselling to build stronger, healthier relationships. Here are some of the questions that often arise when it comes to relationships and menopause:
You could start coming to counselling on your own — this would give you a chance to make sense of what is happening and consider any changes you might want to make. People often get a lot out of coming to counselling on their own. It gives them a clearer perspective on whether there is really a problem in the relationship and it’s an opportunity to think about how they can communicate more effectively with their partner.
It can be very hard to cope with a partner who refuses to admit they are being challenging. A good place to start is by working out whether they are genuinely trying to avoid helping you. Sometimes talking to friends and family about this can reinforce what you’re already thinking, so we’d recommend going to counselling. Your counsellor can help you test out your logic and see which bits of your partner’s behaviours are upsetting you, you can also think about new ways of explaining your problems to your partner. They might be finding it difficult to adjust to a seemingly huge change in your personality, understanding how they might be feeling too can be a great first step to getting you both talking again.
You might find you appear more distant to friends and family, not because you don’t want to see them but because you are having such a difficult time adjusting emotionally. It can really help to be explicit with them about why you are often too tired to see them or help out; that way they won’t jump to conclusions about you being angry or upset with them. Let them know you might not be as chatty at family events or have the energy to look after the grandchildren as regularly. Your partner can do the same and explain to their family why you might not be as outgoing, this can help to take the pressure off a bit at family events.
How your relationship changes will be unique to you as a couple, if you only experience minimal symptoms and you have navigated big changes before together you might not go through so many adjustments. One thing to think about here is if your relationship was mainly based on sex, if this was the case, starting menopause can cause a lot of resentment and arguments. We’d suggest speaking to counsellor in these instances so you have a calm environment to think through what’s happened.
It’s usually not possible to get a relationship back to how it was before the menopause but often it can be better. Once it’s over you will feel healthier, maybe more confident. With the worry of pregnancy gone you may also find your sex life improves. Any test your relationship goes through can be a positive influence, allowing you to feel stronger and more connected having supported each other through a rough patch.
Relate is the UK’s largest provider of relationship support, and last year they helped over two million people of all ages, backgrounds, sexual orientations and gender identities to strengthen their relationships.