Menopause touches both mates in a midlife marriage. A wife experiences the actual physical and emotional changes, but those changes usually have a dramatic impact on her husband as well.
Some husbands and wives approach the menopausal adjustment years as if they don't know it's coming. Others have a stockpile of old wives' tales and myths that nurture fears and misunderstandings. Some feel that trusting the Lord will ensure smooth sailing, and any bad times are because of a bad attitude. Probably none of us is totally realistic about the changes that both husband and wife will experience during the menopausal years.
Facts About Menopause
Contrary to what we might think, menopause is not just the cessation of the menstrual cycle. All the complicated mechanisms related to a woman's monthly period also affect other body systems, both physical and emotional.
Among the symptoms are hot flashes, vaginal variation (thinning of the lining, reduced lubrication, structural changes), dryness and loss of elasticity of other tissues, and urinary incontinence. In addition, postmenopausal women have increased chances of heart attack and osteoporosis (a serious bone deterioration).
Other changes also may be experienced--a more sensitive nervous system, intense emotions, diminished sexual desire, lowered self-esteem, altered life perception, and severe depression. These happen in spite of a woman's best intentions or her previously healthy adjustment to life.
Buckets of tears may pour out over concerns that earlier would have solicited only a sigh. She may lose all confidence and hate everything about herself, or be depressed for days.
The menopausal woman doesn't intend for her emotions to cause turmoil, but they do. She may cry over the slightest thing which never would have affected her before, or she may just feel "down" for no reason at all. Buckets of tears may pour out over concerns that earlier would have solicited only a sigh.
Previously, she may never have expressed much anger, but now she might easily explode or feel hostile and bristly toward everyone. She may lose all confidence and hate everything about herself, or be depressed for days.
At times she can't stand being in crowds, while at other times she can't stand being alone. She may be forgetful and think early senility has set in. Or she may be edgy and jumpy. Jim grew accustomed to my flinching as we drove in traffic. I was sure those cars were going to sideswipe us!
Attitudes About Menopause
It is best if the husband can be objective and understanding. If he scolds, belittles, or ignores her, tensions will mount within the wife and between the two of them. Telling her she's going crazy doesn't help, but gentle reassurance does.
The severity and form of menopausal symptoms vary from woman to woman. It's cruel to make a woman feel guilty when her menopausal transition is more difficult than we might think it should be.
I had an easy time giving birth to each of our three daughters. Should I chide women who had a harder time in childbirth? Their difficulty wasn't because they didn't have their priorities straight or because of some character flaw. Neither was my easy childbirth because of any special spiritual quality in me. Yet sometimes women with a difficult are made to feel that it's their fault--or they are just wanting attention.
Impact On Marriage
Because menopausal changes touch many aspects for both husband and wife, they need to be aware that their marriage will be affected. Having an open, secure relationship ahead of time will make it easier for the wife to express her feelings of depression, anxiety, or other negative emotions.
The wife's changes require a husband to be sensitive and understanding. He needs to keep the big picture in mind so that he doesn't feel threatened or angry if her statements and actions are over-magnified. He should also encourage her to use estrogen, if advisable. He, of all people, should be on her side, giving her hope.
Her breasts may become limp and small, her skin may look creepy, her other tissues may seem spongy, and she may gain weight easily--all this while society is emphasizing the lean, firm, energetic, "body beautiful."
Some couples discover at this time that their marital bonds are not very strong. The wife's vacillating moods and altered perceptions severely strain their relationship. If the husband is going through a difficult midlife evaluation at the same time, a serious marital crisis may occur. In such cases each mate needs patience and love, but neither one can give to the other. For these couples, it is important to get professional marriage counseling and to draw on a support group of close friends.
Without estrogen replacement, a wife may have trouble with sexual intercourse because of vaginal dryness or thin tender membranes. Her sexual desire may also be affected by her psychological struggles because of her bodily changes. Her breasts may become limp and small, her skin may look creepy, her other tissues may seem spongy, and she may gain weight easily--all this while society is emphasizing the lean, firm, energetic, "body beautiful." If she feels her husband is only attracted to young, curvaceous women, she may feel very threatened and unable to give herself to him sexually.
Enlisting medical help for hormone imbalance is important. She may need to see more than one doctor in order to find one who truly understands menopause. The doctor should be able to discuss the advantages of various forms of treatment, including hormone replacement therapy, and should be empathetic. If a doctor implies that it's "all in your head," go to a different doctor.
Hormone replacement therapy is a wise option for many women, especially if the estrogen is balanced with progesterone. The doctor can determine if it is advisable. We strongly encourage women to use hormone replacement if at all appropriate. A women using estrogen should find that her miserable hot flashes stop, as well as her drastic mood swings. Her tissues will be more elastic, and she will be more protected from heart attack and osteoporosis.
For many husbands, estrogen treatment is cause for celebration as his wife returns to her "normal" self. One woman friend of ours, became a raging dynamo, taking on everyone who crossed her path. Then she began taking estrogen and once again she became a sweet-tempered woman. Her husband was elated and goes around singing "An Ode to Estrogen!"
Instead of menopausal symptoms being wedges that force a marriage apart, they can be used to forge a stronger bond. Together the couple can get appropriate medical help. Together they can laugh at the symptoms, such as the fiery glow the wife radiates when they snuggle in bed, causing them to throw off the covers! Together they can chat about her erratic feelings and assure each other that their relationship is solid.
It transformed their lives, as the wife got medical help. The husband wrote a note to me with these fine words,"Thank you, Thank you, Thank you--we are having sex again."
One big positive is that they will now have sexual freedom without the bother of contraception, the monthly period, or an unwanted pregnancy. They will probably find a renewed romance in lovemaking as they have more spontaneous times together. One couple had not had sex for over five years. Then the wife got my book Menopause. It transformed their lives, as the wife got medical help. The husband wrote a note to me with these fine words,"Thank you, Thank you, Thank you--we are having sex again."
If they use the physical and emotional stresses of the menopausal years to understand and love each other more, they can look forward to many peaceful, productive years to come.
Together they can claim God's promise to be with them in all the stages of life: "Listen to Me, My precious child . . . you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and gray hairs . . . I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you" Isaiah 46:3-4.
by Sally Christon Conway, M.S.
Conway / Farrel Articles ~ Reprint by permission only, ©2011
Midlife Dimensions ~ www.Midlife.com
The Conways and Farrels are international speakers and popular authors.
Midlife Dimensions is a ministry founded by the Conways and continued by the Farrels.