Menopause: How to support your partner

Menopause can be an emotional rollercoaster. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott advises couples on how to support each other during this time.

Menopause can be an emotional rollercoaster for many women, with hormonal changes impacting both mental and physical health. Here, psychotherapist Noel McDermott advises couples on how to support each other during this time.

middle aged couple embracing
Photo by FORMAT arw

In the medical model of menopause, the role and impact on the non-menopausal partner can be lost. Loneliness in menopause can be a significant complicating factor and indeed loneliness in general is psychologically and physiologically distressing. It’s a major mortality issue in later life. Experiencing love and compassion from others is crucial to our health and especially so when we possibly experience major stressors.

It can be difficult though for an intimate partner to watch their loved one suffer and also behave in anti-social ways towards them. Psychological distress is rarely if ever pro-social and pleasant and if your loved one does experience psychological distress during menopause, it’s important to look to your own needs.

The first thing to bear in mind about the menopause process is that the "symptoms" are often referring to the perimenopausal stage. That is the period of time when the womb is turning itself off. And this perimenopausal stage usually lasts about a year, and in fact, menopause is only said to have happened if your partner has not had a period for at least a year. 

What should I expect?

So, what can you expect during your partner's perimenopause? Physical and psychological issues typical for women during this time are:

Physical

  • Hot flushes
  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Dry vagina or pain during penetrative sex
  • Chills
  • Night sweats

Psychological

  • Moods swings
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Possible relapse on previous psychological distress such as food problems etc
  • Possible relapse on more severe mental illness such as bi-polar where there is a history

How can I help?

couple supporting through menopause
Photo by Gus Moretta

The main ways in which as a partner you can help lies within the psychological distress that may emerge for your partner.

Supporting her by showing insight and understanding is usually all you need to do. It’s often difficult for someone who is going through psychological distress to display insight, they usually only display the distress. They may act out or lash out and you may want to push back and look after yourself.

"One of the best ways of helping someone you love is by ensuring you have support yourself"

Whilst this is understandable it’s probably more helpful to guide your partner into seeking support and help if you do think or in fact know she is perimenopausal. 

If your partner shows signs of significant depression, anxiety, or a relapse into previously stable significant mental illness, then it’s obviously crucial to get professional help immediately. Usually by first going to your family doctor. Don’t be afraid to be assertive about wanting this to happen. 

Read more: How to support someone who has depression

Build a support network

middle aged friends
Photo by Egor Myznik

One of the best ways of helping someone you love is by ensuring you have support yourself.

They say on planes, put the oxygen mask on your own face first. So where do you go to destress? Do you know other friends whose partners are going through this or other issues? Can you call them up and offload? What do you do for rest and relaxation outside of the relationship? Getting your needs met will ensure you are able to meet your partner’s needs better.

"Working together to solve the problem is always the best approach"

Try not to personalise this experience, perimenopause isn’t a problem with your relationship, but it may be a problem for your relationship. Like any problem for your relationship (financial difficulties for example), working together to solve the problem is always the best approach. Acting out and blaming the relationship or each other is obviously the least good approach. Also, try to hold the bigger picture in mind, this is time-limited, this time of change will end and a new normal will settle in. During this transition time, it’s usually a good rule to avoid making big decisions about life or the relationship. 

"During this transition time, it’s usually a good rule to avoid making big decisions about life or the relationship"

Ultimately although this period of time might throw up some short-term anxiety and distress, like all life challenges it will usually bring you and your partner closer together. Start to look at how you might celebrate this transition in some way. You are both moving on to the next phase of your life together and its significant milestone. Maybe you can look at a second honeymoon (once the hot flushes etc have gone!) to celebrate your love for each other? 

Look at the bigger picture

a couple in a tent on holiday
Photo by krakenimages

Offering this bigger picture to your partner could in fact be a very positive way of supporting her. Letting her know in real terms that you view this as normal and healthy and a natural life transition.

Your partner may experience sadness at the loss of her fertility, or she may welcome the ending of her periods. It’s probably true to say though that she may need reassurance that you still find her beautiful and sexy and love her. 

Thinking about what you may be gaining in the future and how you will both embrace menopause itself can be very helpful during the transition phase if it brings up difficulties. 

Noel McDermott portrait

Noel McDermott is a psychotherapist with over 25 years of experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offers at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. 

Read more: The complete menopause glossary

Read more: How to enjoy sex during the menopause

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