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Denise Knowles, a relationship and psychosexual counsellor with Relate, offers some advice on supporting your partner through the menopause.
What symptoms will she have during the menopause?
We are a society that values supple skin and youth and fitness. As a woman, when your skin becomes a little less elastic and your body shape starts changing, you wonder whether you’re going to be able to carry on doing all the things you want to. There’s a sense of ageing you can't escape from.
If you’re having hot flushes, something that is private to you often becomes very public.
When it comes to sex, a woman may experience dryness and worry that intercourse will become painful. If you’ve not really talked about your sex life, subjects such as lubricant may be awkward for a woman, let alone a man, to discuss.
This can lead to a woman not feeling very good about herself. Then she could worry about how that may affect her partner. She may also think: "I’m struggling to understand myself so how can I expect him to understand me?" Women's insecurities are often about the reaction of their partners.
How can I tactfully broach the subject and get her to tell me how she is feeling?
One of the key things to do is to say what you see, not in a cold and callous way but just to point out the things you've noticed that have changed and genuinely concern you.
Maybe you could say: "I’ve noticed you don’t appear to be your normal, jolly self" or, "You seem to be a bit distracted" or, "You got cross yesterday because you forgot to do something. That’s not like you. Is everything alright?" That way, you’ve opened up a door for conversation to take place.
I became incredibly clumsy and my husband noticed and said: "Are you alright? It’s not like you." Just the relief that he’d noticed was really good.
Let her know you’re not being disparaging or disrespectful. Think of it as something you need to be looking at and working through together.
What can I do to help?
It’s important for men to equip themselves with some knowledge about the menopause and perhaps about HRT. There are some men who think it is women’s business and there’s no need for them to be informed or even involved in it. That is incredibly insensitive.
In terms of sex, it can be a time of change for both of you. A woman may go off sex or she may feel quite liberated having gone through the menopause and want sex more often. Men, too, will be ageing and their sexual desires may have lessened. They may be grateful their partners don’t want sex so often.
Couples may have to find new ways of being intimate without penetrative intercourse. Many couples develop a more sensual and intimate relationship. Some couples kiss a lot, going back to how things were before their sexual relationship and relearning ways of displaying intimacy and affection. Women need to feel they’re still desirable and that their partner still wants to get close to them.
'It helps to think of it as something you need to work through together'
How long will it last and how will it affect our relationship in the long term?
Asking how long the menopause will last is like asking, "How long is a piece of string?" For some women, it can begin in their 40s and continue until a year after the last cycle. There is no definitive time span. It’s a process and that process is unique to individuals.
The best thing is to look at the menopause in a positive way, to think that it is teaching you ways of coping with a situation that you haven't come across before. It’s important to know you can be there for one another and you can get through it and develop ways of coping with it.
When should I urge her to go to her GP?
One reason your wife or partner has not been to the doctor may be because she's terrified and doesn’t want to admit it's happening to her.
Offer to go to the GP with her. Your partner's symptoms may be sorted out by the GP. If not, the GP may refer her to the local hospital's menopause clinic, which generally has doctors, specialist menopause nurses and counsellors on hand to tackle problems.
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