Historically, menopause has been a clandestine affair. Dealing with unrelenting symptoms along with navigating a bemused or unsuspecting other half can feel like an exhausting operation. Hot flushes, a stalling sex drive and oscillating mood swings can feel bewildering but is not a transition you need to go through alone. There are a few tactics you can try when it comes to working out how to talk to your partner about menopause.
Raising a list of unsexy or embarrassing symptoms with a romantic partner may feel like a conversation better avoided, especially if they already appear apathetic or disgruntled. But, with a bit of planning and brazen wisdom, it could be the first step to more honest communication, deeper understanding and a supportive relationship with each other. Here’s how to get started…
Communicating what menopause means for you
It doesn’t follow that explaining menopause to a man is easier than talking to a same-sex partner. After all, until recently, menopause has been discussed in hushed tones and as a taboo subject. When it comes to husbands and menopause, wives or partners and menopause, everyone has one thing in common – we are all dealing with a lack of proactive education about menopause as a part of a woman’s life.
We are all also countering damaging and out-of-date messaging about menopause signalling the end of youth and fertility, which means we are past it, hysterical and less valuable. This burden, alongside coping with a myriad of symptoms, can lead to feelings of shame and erode your confidence.
Parking the stigma, normalising this natural life transition and forming our own ideas of what this stage could mean can help you open up and make the experience feel less confronting or awkward with your partner. It’s important to question what beliefs you have about being menopausal that could be undermining your value and keeping you in a holding pattern – reluctant to communicate the truth of how you feel.
So, if you woke up tomorrow morning and some of the negative feelings about this life transition were to have fallen away- what would be different? What would you be saying to yourself? What would you feel able to communicate to your partner? How would you be feeling about this life stage? Your answers can be really revealing and help you focus when it comes to how to talk to your partner about menopause.
How to begin the conversation with your partner
In varying ways, the symptoms of menopause can lead to relating differently to your partner. Your emotional bandwidth may feel frazzled by the changes that are occurring and this can leave the other person confused and dejected.
When approaching a conversation with a partner who has little knowledge of the realities of menopause and if communication is already tenuous, it can help to have a gentle start. This is a way of engaging with each other from a place free of blame or accusations and, instead, keeps the conversation focused on expressing how you feel in a clear and amicable way.
Start by making a simple request at a time when you are both free from distraction and the energy between you is neutral. Use a tone that is calm and curious. Try saying something like, “I’d like to share some things about what is going on for me right now that I think could be helpful for both of us. When would be a good time for you?”
Think about where you are going to talk
If just the thought of a face on conversation leaves you wincing or anxious, you could use a sideways approach. This involves using less direct methods of opening the conversation by sending a letter expressing how you feel, chatting via WhatsApp and adding links to useful articles or maybe going for a walk. This can help cushion you against feeling as exposed or vulnerable and can feel less emotionally loaded.
Write a menopause letter to your husband or partner
If you can’t face raising the topic initially face-to-face, consider writing a brief letter where you ask them to let you know when is a good time for them to have a conversation with you about how you’ve been feeling. There’s no formal template or right way to write a menopause letter, but getting your thoughts down on paper might help you decide exactly what you’re going to say before you have a conversation.
Finding common ground
All partners want affirmation, to feel like they matter and are loved. Conveying that the hormonal fluctuations you are experiencing are not a rejection of them and that you are not feeling like yourself can help buffer against any negative backlog of unspoken complaints and soften misunderstandings.
Look for areas of commonality. Maybe your partner is a similar age and could be going through something personal to them with their health or work. Be curious about how they may be feeling too, look for what is going well and get clear on what would be the most helpful outcome for everyone and what needs to happen for you to travel this journey together.
Listening to each other’s experience
It may feel tiring helping your partner to understand what you are experiencing and intense menopausal symptoms may mean talking like this is highly emotional. Go easy on yourself and know that this is a conversation that can progress over time and be done in stages. You don’t need to pressure yourself to solve this in one go and within one day.
Space is important and not everyone can listen and respond immediately without allowing for thinking time. Give yourself and your partner time to absorb and digest what is said.
You may be among the many women still educating themselves about symptoms and it’s not uncommon when it comes to husbands and menopause to need more guidance and be clear on what they can do to help. Or, if you are with a younger woman, they may not be aware of how the symptoms can affect you. If this is the case, you could suggest learning together.
For example, if hormonal changes and complicated feelings have led to disagreements in the relationship, learning together about how and why these changes happen can help you to start communicating more openly about them. Learning more about menopause and mood swings with your husband at the same time might help both of you to start an honest conversation about how they make you both feel.
What to do if you reach a stalemate
A relationship standoff can occur from ongoing disagreements that arise from what becomes a seemingly unresolvable impasse. Resentments can stack up with both of you feeling that if only the other person could see things differently then all would be ok.
When this happens, we can become entrenched in a stalemate and communication becomes less about the issue. A couple can, albeit reluctantly, agree to disagree and the focus becomes more about how each person elicits a reaction in the other person, which reinforces the stance and defensiveness of their own behaviour. This can make each person blind to the needs and vulnerabilities of the other and come from a place of self-protection and emotional fragility.
It is essential to understand that we cannot ultimately change how another person behaves but we can delve into what is beneath our own behaviour and this can help us step out of a style of engagement that has become an echo chamber.
Pause and reflect on the stalemate. What is something you notice yourself doing each time you discuss the issue? Do you shout, shut down, cry, or say nothing? Does the communication escalate rapidly? If so, what are the automatic thoughts that you go to?
Changing your objective
To unblock the conversation, each person needs to shift from unhelpful positions to more reflective, less reactive ones. When things escalate, try saying to your partner, “Let’s not do this again. Instead of feeling closer, we will feel further apart and I don’t think that is what we want.” Or, “How can we do this differently so we both feel heard and cared for? Are you willing to try and approach this differently with me?”
Reflect back on the parts you can understand about what the other person is saying and feeling.
Let them know you have heard them and see them. When we can show something different and not spin the same narrative, this can help to thaw the stalemate, quiet anger and pacify resentments.