5 things men should know about the menopause
BBC Radio 5 Live Afternoon Edition recently discussed the menopause and how it affects women – and men.
Psychotherapist and menopause expert Diane Danzebrink took part in that programme. Following her own experience of the menopause, which she says had a ‘profound effect’ on her quality of life, Diane decided to help others understand what can be a huge period of change.
These are the top five things she thinks men should know about the menopause:
1. It’s not all about hot flushes
Diane says that for men: "It’s about education and understanding what menopause is. We need to get over the barrier that it’s all about hot flushes and night sweats.
"One of the things I have really picked up on from men is the perception is that [women are] 'all going mad'. That’s not the man’s fault, because sadly, we don't teach anything about menopause earlier in life.
"Menopause simply means the end of monthly periods – once the ovaries stop producing eggs and hormone levels start to drop. Leading up to menopause is perimenopause and that is when hormone levels start to fluctuate. 75% of women will experience symptoms and for some they can be debilitating, affecting all aspects of their lives and those around them."
According to Diane, the most common symptoms are:
- Problems sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling tired, lethargic, lacking in energy
- Feeling unhappy (low mood)
- Crying for no reason
- Increased headaches
- Muscle and joint pains
- Loss of libido
- Vaginal dryness and soreness
- Hot flushes and night sweats
For a full list of symptoms, see the NHS website.
2 It affects you too
Mark called BBC Radio 5 Live to talk about the situation with his wife.
“The loss of libido has been very difficult for me to deal with indeed," he said. "She is just as confused about it as I am."
He explained: "Physically I’m warm, my temperature is quite warm, so when we both get into a cold bed we snuggle up together, me keeping her warm.
"But now, in the last 10 years, it’s ‘no, get away from me, I’m hot’.
"It’s changed us from being a cosy couple together to being apart… It’s definitely changed our relationship a lot."
3 You need to talk about sex
Diane says: "Personal intimacy can completely go out the window. That leaves both partners feeling very isolated.
"Quite often the woman is avoiding any sort of sexual intimacy, because a) if she’s got no libido and is worrying about that then she is going to avoid any kind of physical contact, even just having a hug or cuddle on the sofa; and b) if she’s physically suffering – for example with a urinary tract infection or vaginal soreness or atrophy.
"The emotional and physical gap widens and then that gap gets harder to bridge. Once this communication breaks down, it gets harder and harder to start the conversation.
"Lots of the men that I speak to talk about the emotional isolation and how sad they feel that it’s broken down."
4.You can make a difference (and here’s how)
Diane says: "Recognise the symptoms. Offer support. Sometimes it’s just listening, just being there, sometimes it’s asking: 'What do you need from me?' If your partner can’t see the way forward, you can help with that – but ask, don’t tell.
"It’s also about recognising this is not a change that the woman has control over. Hormones run us all. Once those hormones start fluctuating, they start going off on a path of their own - you don’t have control over it. If you have noticed that your wife or partner is more emotional or quicker to snap, rather than snapping back, stop, maybe walk away, just ask yourself why this is happening.
"I've seen statistics saying that one in ten women quit work during menopause. So, if you’re a man who manages women, it’s about having some kind of supportive pathway in place for a member of staff who’s going through it."
5. There are some things it’s best not to say
Diane says the two phrases she hears all the time are: 'Well, it happens to everyone’ and ‘My mum (or my aunt) got through it all right.’
"I don’t just hear that about men talking to women, I hear it from women who have sailed through it as well. We shouldn’t denigrate each other for our experiences, we should be supportive of those experiences and look to see where we can help. We can’t judge everything by our own experience.
"With the best will in the world, no man will ever know what it’s like to experience it, so it’s about trying to understand. It’s like no woman is ever going to know what it’s like to be the husband or the male partner of a woman going through menopause."
...And one more thing!
Diane says: "This doesn’t have to be terrible. The key is to be prepared. With the right information, education, advice and support before it happens, you can approach this time in your lives with the knowledge that will help to support you both through it and then onward towards the next chapter in your life.
Menopause is as much a part of life as pregnancy. It’s about talking about it. Because we don’t tend to do that."