For women, menopause marks a significant time in their lives when they are no longer able to bear children, characterized by a range of physical and emotional changes. Typically, most women experience menopause between their early forties and late fifties, with the average age being 51 years old. Every year, 2 million women in the U.S. reach menopause, approximately 6,000 per day.
Physiologically, menopause is triggered when a woman’s ovaries run out of eggs. From birth, every woman has a finite number of eggs stored in her ovaries. When she runs out of them and the ovaries stop releasing one every month, menstruation stops, marking the beginning of menopause.
For the physical symptoms – which may include hot flashes, insomnia, headaches, and mood swings – about 80 percent of women take over-the-counter products. However, the combination of these symptoms and the life change that is taking place can bring on many emotional symptoms as well. This is where many women going through menopause can benefit from the support of the people who love them.
Because menopause typically occurs at a more advanced age in a woman’s life, it’s often a time when children are grown, which means couples are spending more time together and are more focused on each other than when they were raising a family. And while most partners genuinely want to be supportive, it’s common for them to feel clueless about how to help.
The key to being supportive… listen
In most relationships, including marriages, it’s fair to say that there’s always room for improvement in how we communicate with each other. Too often, when the other person is talking, we’re not really listening intently to what they are trying to communicate. Instead, many of us are distracted by thinking about what we’re going to say next.
That said, supporting someone through menopause is one of those times when you need to listen with purpose and understand what your partner is feeling. It can be a difficult and scary time for a woman and simply being heard can help her feel that she’s not going through it alone. In fact, she may not really want you to solve a problem or make her feel better, which may come across as telling her what to do. Just listening and showing that you understand is the best gift you can give.
Other ways you can help include:
- Educate yourself. The symptoms that come with menopause can be unpredictable, so learn what to look for. Headaches or hot flashes, like most menopausal symptoms, can appear suddenly so don’t be surprised or worried by them.
- Don’t take things personally. Remember that this is not about you, even though she may direct her frustration or anger in your direction. Diffuse the tension by listening and staying calm.
- Adjust your expectations when it comes to sex. Women going through menopause may not desire sex as much as they used to, for both physical and emotional reasons. Be affectionate without being demanding, and let her know you’re still attracted to her.
- Help her stay healthy. Insomnia is a common problem for women going through menopause, so be supportive in helping her get enough sleep. Light exercise, such as walking or bike riding, is also a positive step. And help her stay on a healthy diet that addresses her needs.
Finally, remember that menopause is a temporary physical condition and for most women, the symptoms go away after a few years. While there may be some difficult times here and there, there should also be plenty of times when she’s feeling fine or the symptoms are mild. Be sure to enjoy these times together because, in the long run, staying happy together is the best support you can give.