How can I talk to my partner about the menopause?
It is essential to discuss menopause with your partner if the symptoms affect your life. Although a difficult conversation, this is worth having and may also make menopause easier for you!
There is no single right way to do this; it depends on your relationship and how you like to share your experiences. Some women prefer to share most of their symptoms and experiences with friends; others turn to their partners first. The important thing is not to feel that you are struggling alone and that you are able to get support.
Although you can get great support from friends or online community groups, it is usually best to share some of your symptoms with your partner and offer them the chance to understand what is affecting you. It can be constructive and reassuring to partners to be given more information about what naturally happens at this time.
An example of a common misunderstanding is that women having hot flushes find it difficult and even unpleasant to be cuddled tightly in bed when having a flush. The truth of the matter is that pushing your partner away and getting up, or throwing away the covers, may result in them feeling rejected. Add in the loss of sex drive that some women experience, and the relationship can deteriorate. So try your best to explain your symptoms, which are hormonal, powerful, and temporary. Then, you can share the problem with them and understand where both of you can be part of the solution.
We know these conversations are important, yet they can also be very tricky - so choose your timing carefully. If possible, have the conversation in a relaxed setting - not when you are flustered and/or stressed. Most partners will try and understand, but you may meet some resistance or embarrassment. Some partners may even think or say 'that is just an excuse!' This is often because they feel rejected or worried and ultimately don't understand natural menopause. Try not to get into an argument about this; leave the subject but come back to it at another time. Instead, consider offering them access to sources of information on menopause they can look at in their own time, such as linking to Bia's website, which has information about all the symptoms of menopause, or other great resources like the NHS website.
Although there is a more open discussion about menopause than in the past, many women have told us that they find it hard to begin conversations with their partners. Below are a few tips that may help:
- Ask if they are comfortable discussing menopause symptoms and how they affect you both?
- Acknowledge that the symptoms exist, and ask if your partner has noticed them.
- Consider asking your partner which symptoms they have noticed, and then build on this to introduce other symptoms you experience but they may not have noticed.
- Ask your partner if they have specific worries. They may not reply at once but can think about this, allowing an opening for further discussions.
- Explain that menopause is a natural biological process, which may last a few years, and that there are things that can be done to help with troublesome symptoms.
- It can be helpful to agree on which symptoms are the most tricky and discuss the options to deal with them.
- If possible, be clear and discuss practical things that your partner can do to help, such as turning down the heating in the bedroom. Remember that it'll be hard for them to help unless you communicate what you need directly. We know that this can be hard as many women have spent years looking after other people and find it hard to ask for actions to help themselves - but this is a time to prioritize yourself and your health.
- Agree on acceptable solutions together: for example, if you are feeling moody and tearful for no reason, you might agree it is helpful to go out for a walk alone. However, if you have not discussed this strategy, it could be seen as 'storming off in a huff', so it's important to ensure there is two-way communication at all times.
- Do not expect your partner to be a mind reader, and know what you need instinctively. Sadly they are not (wouldn't life be much easier if they were). Most partners will have little to no experience in this area and need help - so highlight to them that they are welcome to ask any questions.
There are many ways to navigate this period of transition, and while talking to friends and sharing experiences usually helps, it can be less helpful to compare your partner to other partners, as every couple's relationship is entirely unique to them.
It's good to highlight that our partners may get peer support from talking to their friends about their experiences living with women going through menopause. Conversations can be helpful to them, so try to understand why they are reaching out to their own friends about this. It is easy to misinterpret a comment such as 'X's partner has just started HRT', as an instruction for you to take HRT (whether or not you want it), when in reality they may just genuinely be wanting to help you, or open up the discussion about menopause with you.
However, if you feel that you are not receiving support from your partner, turning to friends or clinics such as Bia's is important. Another excellent support tool is HealthTalk which researchers at Oxford University created to help you find out more about the experience of menopause by listening to people share their personal stories on film - so remember, you are not alone. There is support out there.
Women can have many things going on in their lives during this time, such as work issues, parents getting older and frailer, family problems, and sometimes personal health issues. All of these can increase stress, and menopausal symptoms can be an additional burden. If you can discuss the problems together, you can work out a way to move forward and thrive together.