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Understanding Menopause: A Guide for Men to Support the Women in Their Lives

Updated: Nov 8, 2023

When I asked a male friend about menopause, his understanding was distinctly limited. Many men want to support the women in their lives during this phase but are unsure how. Not only do relationships flounder, but often workplace interactions are affected too.


infographic about menopause

(Diagram reproduced from https://www.womens-health-concern.org/)


Menopause isn't just a biological change. It's an emotional, psychological, and sometimes even a societal shift for women. Though it directly affects around 50% of the population, its ripple effect is far-reaching. Men, be they partners, friends, or colleagues, are often impacted since no one lives in a vacuum.


Why Men Should be Informed?


Given that this period can be exceptionally perplexing for women, it's understandable that many men might feel at a loss about it. When men gain a deeper understanding of menopause, they can offer empathy and support, fostering improved relationships enabling them to be supportive allies.


Understanding menopause provides men the tools needed to effectively journey through this stage with their female counterparts, be it personally or professionally.


Their ability to empathise during this time can significantly impact the quality of relationships and the well-being of the women.

 

Menopause - Decoding the Mystery

scrabble cubes spelling menopause

Menopause denotes the cessation of monthly periods. It's a phase where the ovaries stop producing eggs, hormone levels decline, and the end of the menstrual cycle.


While some women celebrate this phase, others mourn the loss of fertility and face identity challenges.



Even the basic terms can be confusing;

  • menopause

  • perimenopause

  • early menopause

  • premature menopause

Fundamentally, it doesn't matter between perimenopause and menopause – they are and can be used interchangeably.

Technically – perimenopause is the lead-up to menopause, the day a woman hasn't bled for 12 months.

 

The average age at which menopause happens is 51. But this is all that it is – the AVERAGE age. With that in mind, you can probably work out that some women can experience this in their teens, 20s, or 30s, and others after 51. The preceding phase, perimenopause, can last 7-10 years– causing years of confusion, desperation, and a dramatic reduction in the quality of life for all involved. Symptoms can occur during any stage.


Apart from natural processes, some women get 'pushed' into menopause due to surgery (such as a total hysterectomy) or from treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy - often as a result of breast cancer.


'Natural' menopause at the average age can be hell – experiencing it at other times can be truly devastating.


It is worth noting that it is not hell for all – 25% sail through without issues.

 

Biology

The star players that are best known are oestrogen and progesterone.


Annoyingly, this isn't a linear decline but a series of complicated fluctuations. It's not just the individual reductions that matter, but the intricate balance between them.


diagram explaining hormonal changes during menopause

Generally, progesterone declines first.


Not only is it integral in regulating monthly periods, but it also serves as a key calming agent for the body. As its levels decline, many women begin to experience feelings of tension, nervousness, and anxiety. Some might even describe feeling depressed, panicked, or irritable.


As the progesterone continues its decline, oestrogen levels begin to swing, often in frequent and erratic patterns. If you've observed mood swings in your partner, from joy to sorrow or serenity to frustration in quick succession, it's a strong indication that her hormones are playing a significant role.

symptoms of menopaiuse

The hormonal fluctuations can manifest in various symptoms (over 30).


These include disturbances like disrupted sleep, mental fog, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, hot flashes, night sweats, dwindling libido, vaginal discomfort, and increased urinary issues.


Testosterone is also important, although its decline tends to be more gradual. This can affect not only libido but also energy levels.


Further complicating matters, oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone interact with other hormones. The once delicate balance among these hormones becomes disrupted. This period is biologically extremely demanding.


 

But- it does eventually settle down and find a new level of balance.

 

One of the most significant issues is that oestrogen and progesterone aren't limited to influencing the reproductive system.

symptoms of menopause

Their effects are widespread, with oestrogen being particularly pervasive. This diagram highlights some of the numerous areas where oestrogen has a pivotal role.


This extensive influence is why there's such a diverse range of symptoms.






As alluded to before, the transitions can manifest physically, emotionally, and cognitively. While many are familiar with hot flashes and night sweats, the impacts of depression, anxiety, and brain fog can't be downplayed. Some may jest about these experiences, but the underlying distress is palpable.

Women often express struggling with situations that previously seemed trivial. This can severely dent their self-confidence, especially in professional settings. Moreover, weight gain during this phase can further challenge one's self-perception. This isn't just about looking photo-ready; it runs much deeper.


Intimate issues are unfortunately all too common, though frequently left undiscussed. Symptoms like dryness, pain during intimacy, and an overactive bladder can profoundly disrupt daily life. Many men remain oblivious to these symptoms, misinterpreting diminished intimacy as a personal rejection.


infographic about sex and menopause

In a survey for the British Menopause Society;

51% of women said that menopause had affected their sex lives.

42% didn't feel as sexy.



(Diagram reproduced from https://www.womens-health-concern.org/)




Phrases that women have used to describe how they feel during menopause include:

  • Struggling

  • Frustration

  • Uncertainty (?Is this menopause)

  • Fed up

  • Loss of sense of self

  • Falling apart

  • Overwhelmed

  • Disappointing loved ones

  • Loss of spark/ confidence

 

The Transition and Its Unpredictability


Each woman's passage through this phase is distinct, with the onset, duration, and response to these shifts differing widely. It's not just shaped by our intrinsic biology but also by external determinants such as diet, lifestyle, and, notably, stress.

How long will it persist?

Well, it's as variable as the length of an undefined string…

Is there a test for menopause?

Generally, no. However, if early menopause is suspected before age 45, blood tests should be conducted. A diagnosis can usually be based on symptoms alone; the blood tests available at a GP's office are unreliable.

I have heard about HRT – is it a so-called 'magic pill'?

While HRT can be highly beneficial, it isn't a miracle cure. There are women who, due to medical constraints, cannot opt for HRT, while others may choose not to. For those who embark on this treatment, the journey is seldom simple. It often demands months of patience and consistent effort to pinpoint the right medical approach.


How Men Can Offer Support?

Menopause is a multifaceted transition, and understanding its intricacies can be daunting. However, equipped with empathy, patience, and open dialogue, men can offer invaluable support during this phase. Here are some guidelines on how to assist women during this journey:


1. Equip yourself with knowledge

You don't necessarily need to do more than simply read this blog. Understanding can help foster empathy and patience.

Your willingness to learn can bridge the gap even if you can't fully grasp the experience. Many women feel isolated during menopause, so your unwavering support is vital. Acknowledging the authenticity of her feelings and not belittling her experiences is critical.


Furthermore, men should encourage each other to discuss this. I get that this is not a topic that is on the top of your chat list with mates, but sharing can relieve mutual frustrations and promote understanding. This is particularly important for partners and families of women experiencing early menopause (premature ovarian insufficiency/ POI) or surgical menopause.


2. Foster Open Communication

Initiate conversations about feelings and provide a judgment-free space where she can express herself. Rather than making assumptions, ask her what she needs or wants.

Prioritise listening over solving. Many men want to 'fix' problems – this is not always possible. Just being there and providing a listening ear is often all that is needed.


Remember, communication goes both ways. Expressing your feelings is essential, but always approach it with kindness and patience.


3. Be Adaptable and Supportive

Refrain from pressuring her with major decisions or daft queries like, "When will this phase end?".

Such inquiries are not helpful and provide unnecessary pressure, especially when she might be as uncertain as you are.

Simple acts of kindness can make a huge difference. Offer to make a cup of tea, run her a bath, or give her a comforting cuddle (unless she's experiencing a hot flush). But be prepared to have her say no – and don't sulk if she does!


4. Promote wellness together

Diet, exercise, and managing stress can be transformative. Assist her in making lifestyle changes – this might also include cutting back on alcohol since that can seriously affect many symptoms. Consider engaging in joint activities like walking or support her to find this space alone.


5. Stay Calm

Understand that hormonal changes can affect her mood and response, so try to avoid retaliation where possible. Stay calm, breathe, and, if necessary, give both of you space.


6. Encourage Medical Consultation

Encourage her to seek medical advice regarding her symptoms. If the initial visit is unproductive and it may not be, support her in trying again. Being present during such visits can also provide immense emotional support. Medical support for this seems to be a bit of a lottery, even more so with early and surgical menopause. It shouldn't be like this, but that is what it is for now.


7. Adapt to New Norms

Be understanding if she prefers staying in over going out due to fatigue or anxiety. Showing flexibility and patience during these moments can make her feel more at ease.


8. Offer Reassurance

Menopausal changes can affect her body image and self-confidence. Simple gestures and words of affirmation can make a world of difference.


9. Address Intimacy Concerns

Hormonal changes can impact physical intimacy. Engage in transparent conversations and collectively find solutions. This may require patience and take time, but solutions can be found. Some women feel embarrassed, and men can feel rejected and unloved. It's complex.


10. Strengthen the Bond

Communication is the bedrock of understanding. By discussing feelings and concerns, you can work together to navigate menopause and maintain a loving relationship.



Addressing the Workplace for Men Working with Menopausal Women


In today's professional landscape, understanding menopause isn't just about personal awareness but creating a conducive work environment. It is helpful if men recognise the challenges women face during menopause, such as mood variations, memory blips, and heightened sensitivity to temperatures. I promise you - it is most certainly is not fun. Many women stop work for just this reason.

Simple adjustments, like offering flexible work schedules, ensuring good ventilation, or granting regular breaks, can mitigate these challenges. By cultivating an environment where menopause discussions are met with empathy rather than stigmatisation, we can foster a more inclusive and productive workplace.

 

Menopause, often described as a "life change," is a mutual journey. With the pillars of support, understanding, and patience from partners, this transition becomes more manageable, fostering collective growth and adaptation.


Communication remains a cornerstone during these times, ensuring empathy and understanding amidst the challenges.


While menopause may be demanding on relationships, proper preparation can ease its impact. Knowledge is the key, equipping both partners to tackle this phase with shared insight and compassion. Let's not forget that menopause is not just a chapter in a woman's life; if you have a bond with or cherish a woman, comprehending menopause benefits both individuals.

 

seven dwarfs of menopause


Having said that….


Engaging with a menopausal woman can demand sensitivity and understanding. Just as a tip – here are some remarks that are best refrained from:


1. "It's all in your mind."

2. "Why not just take some hormones?"

3. "You were more enjoyable before."

4. "It's just a phase, right?"

5. "Is it that time of the month?"

6. "Feeling hormonal today, are we?"

7. "I miss the old you."


While this blog is aimed at men -I'm here to support you throughout your journey. Feel free to reach out if you need guidance, help staying consistent, or are concerned about other issues you might be facing.


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