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The conversations needed for intimacy during menopause

by JP

There is so much about perimenopause that feels helpless. I would have handled it differently if I’d known that I’d end up being in the best shape of my life, physically and mentally on the other side.

Society tells us that perimenopause signals the loss of things – you lose your beauty, the body you used to have, your fertility, attractiveness and vitality. You fear being invisible and unappreciated, but I’ve come to learn that there are so many gains instead. If I’d had even an inkling that it might be the opposite, I would have had more patience with myself and optimism.

My perimenopause symptoms were non-linear and different things kept popping up seemingly out of the blue, one after another. I had a lack of energy, lethargy and weight gain but, for me, the most profound were the emotional symptoms.

The confusion was the hardest part of perimenopause and not being able to get my arms around everything.

“I’m a scientist so if I can identify the problem then I can find a solution but this felt like whack-a-mole with extraordinary emotional turmoil. I needed so much mental energy just to stay on top of normal life”

Emotional disconnection

I was so exhausted dealing with all the emerging symptoms that it had a really big impact on my relationship. I didn’t know what was happening to my body and mind and, certainly, my husband didn’t have a clue. It led to a dislocation in our 13-year marriage and a pretty strong lack of connection. I felt so cut off and I was just trying to make it through the day.

My husband was travelling a great deal and he was not there literally and emotionally. Intimacy continued mainly through habit but it was not satisfying for me and I imagine it wasn’t for him, as I wasn’t into it. It became about meeting his needs and it’s a really disempowering feeling. I felt unsupported and I am sure there was some resentment there. 

Our disconnection built up over time. I was asking for more of an emotional connection and he seemed unwilling to give it. He wanted to double down on the physical connection and I couldn’t go there in a strong way. That was the impasse and we’d come to our own conclusions about what this meant for our relationship. We simply weren’t talking about it.

Transformation through crisis

I emerged from my five-year perimenopause in April 2020, age 51. The pandemic meant my husband travelled less, was around more and we forged an incredible, accelerated emotional bond together. Then in August, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and died November 1 – it was very quick and a whirlwind.

We did a lot of growing as a couple during this short time and it was a tremendous gift. I’d come out of perimenopause transformed with so much energy and vitality and he was transforming himself too.

He was waking up to a different body and symptoms every day during his illness just as I felt I had been during my perimenopausal years, although obviously on a different scale. When faced with his own mortality after being the kind of man who felt invincible for at least another 30+ years, he gained an understanding of the confusion and bewilderment. It bridged the disconnection between us – sometimes endings can be beginnings.

He said in the last week of his life, although we didn’t know it was going to be the end, “I feel really bad as this is not what you signed up for.” I said, “Are you kidding me? This is absolutely what I signed up for. I am your life partner.” To me it was as clear as a bell and I hadn’t felt that kind of clarity about what it means to be a life partner until I was in that crisis with him.

It’s like learning a new language when you really start opening your heart. Fear holds us back from pretty much everything but what if you went there and questioned and asked yourself why you are afraid, what’s the worst that could happen? What if you examined it all? You could be a different person. To be able to open your heart to a partner is one of the deepest experiences you can have.

Trauma as a superpower

I’ve learned I love myself and everything about myself. I love my body and mind, my connection to others. I love to dance and laugh. The catalyst for this self-awareness has been my pain. I held his hand as he died in the hospital and I had to go home and tell the kids. There’s a lot of pain there.

Now I am unafraid, super brave and courageous, more so than I’ve even been in my entire life. I used to think people who had experienced trauma were somehow damaged but now I feel it holds the potential to gain a superpower. I am more empathetic and attuned to other people and myself. I am at the peak of my prime and it feels amazing.

“These are my crown years, not my crone years”

Getting ready for intimacy again

You need self-awareness and self-love to be open to exploring the pleasure landscape, and to feel like you deserve to have pleasure and that your intimacy needs matter. There’s the internal recognition, and then there is the external communication of that to your partner but you need a willing and engaged partner.

If you mis-step along the way, or your partner turns away from you for various reasons or you have fear – there are unfortunately all these opportunities to not connect. These then build up over time. If you feel you are not able to show up for your partner intimately, it creates barriers with yourself. If you see it as a service you provide to your partner and not nurturing yourself, then you end up feeling disconnected from your own body.

Having lost my husband, grief and loss is a really interesting experience. For me, it comes in waves of different things you don’t understand and you become overtaken by them. For the first couple of months of my grieving, it was hard to get out of bed due to mental overwhelm, fatigue and lack of motivation.

There are a lot of parallels between grief and perimenopause, including loss of your identity.

“As women, we go through so many identity changes but this creates so many opportunities. It’s a big adventure and you get to choose the opportunities, just make it up as you go!”

I am seeing an amazing guy, he is fantastic and I am enjoying myself. When you are ready, people show up. It took a lot for me to be ready for a really authentic emotionally, physically and intellectually connected relationship. Now everything is integrating and coming together so I can be my best self.

Read more about sex during menopause or about menopausal symptoms on our blog.

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