Not surprisingly, men are nearly as reluctant as women are to talk openly about menopause – at least in my very unscientific survey. The most frequent response to my queries: “I’m not a good person to ask,” even from those who have weathered the formidable storm. Turns out, their hesitancy is well founded: they lack reliable information and are worn out from dodging menopausal women’s nearly lethal mood swings.
Here’s what I learned:
Many men want more information about menopause and want to know how to support the significant women in their lives. While there are some men who, as quoted by the United Kingdom’s National Health System, “still think it’s women’s business and there’s no need for them to be informed or even involved in it,” many, when given the chance to openly discuss their experiences, realized they need to be much more sensitive and supportive.
• Symptoms are the same for all women and they all experience them during the transition
• HRT cures the symptoms
• Hot flashes are the most common symptom
• Menstruation ends as does ability to conceive
These and other beliefs are supported by psychotherapist Sue Brayne’s interviews with a group of men married to menopausal women published in Sex, Meaning and the Menopause. Most of the men knew menopause meant the end of menstruation and fertility for women, but in hindsight realized they were not prepared for the emotional and psychological toll of “the change” for women. One 67-year-old husband recalled,
Only now can I see what a monumental change she went through. She moved from the role of wife, mother and lover to this matriarchal authority figure. That was a real challenge for me. Being married to a post-menopausal woman makes you face your own ageing process.
Men’s Biggest Challenges:
• Physical symptoms are the most “baffling”; men feel isolated and at times fearful, due to the lack of reliable information and the inability of sometimes both men and women to understand and express what is happening.
• Mood swings and feeling “attacked” by their spouse/partner.
Chuck McDonnell captured the male dilemma in an article published at more.com:
That “time of the month” seems like a cake walk compared to these new mood swings, hot flashes, cold chills, and the I-will-bite-your-head-off episodes that have now entered my life. Here is a survival tip for all men entering the minefield of the female menopausal twilight zone. When her ears begin to turn a bright crimson red and her breathing becomes louder you have about thirty seconds to evacuate the area before you become a male target for all wrongs to women, real or imagined.
Despite all this, the diminishing interest in sex (or a fear thereof) among many menopausal women is a recurring theme among their male partners.
Men’s Concerns & Fears:
• Less sex, less sex, less sex
• No sex, no sex, no sex
• Alienation. One husband told his wife, “I no longer know who you are.”
Another recalled, “I was completely dense about it. I wanted to be comforting and supportive, but if you feel driven off it’s very hard to do this.”
Advice to Fellow Travelers:
• ALL of your preconceived notions are FALSE.
• Every woman experiences menopause differently and at different times.
• Keep the “Friendship” in the “Relationship,” whether you are going through this with your wife, friend, co-worker, or sister.
• Best weapons: patience, humor, empathy and knowing when to use them. Sorry guys, this may take a lot of trial and error, but keep trying – she will notice.
• Offer honesty, encouragement, support.
• DON’T say, “I know how you feel,” or even, “My wife felt the same way.” Everyone’s experience is different.
Well, what do you make of this? Myself, I think it’s time I stopped focusing so much on my symptoms and turn my gaze toward my long suffering spouse and his male counterparts. If we want their compassion and understanding, we have to step back and realize some men are suffering right alongside us. In addition to dodging our hormonal flares, they are experiencing some of their own. Psychologist Brayne’s advice: initiate the communication. “It could be the difference between losing a husband [or other important relationship] and saving a marriage.”
I know that’s really difficult when you are in the midst of your worst symptoms and trying to juggle your many responsibilities. My hope is that your long-term relationship is worth it to you.
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