By Jyothi Rangadhama, MD
Menopause is much more than just the cessation of periods. Much like the changes men experience during the aging process when testosterone levels dip, fluctuating hormones bring challenging physical and emotional changes for women. Men can help their partners get through this time of transition by asking questions, being supportive, and most importantly, being patient.
Technically, menopause occurs once a woman goes 12 months without a menstrual period, so it’s actually diagnosed once it’s over. The time of transition before menopause is called perimenopause, and that can be an emotional roller-coaster for women. She may say that she feels like she’s “going crazy,” but she’s not imagining these changes.
Know the Symptoms – The transition to menopause may sometimes take two years. Not every woman will experience every symptom, and intensity will vary. The symptoms of menopause, which typically occurs around age 51, include:
- Hot flashes
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Memory lapses
- Decreased concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Vaginal dryness
- Decreased sex drive
Ask Questions – Your partner will welcome your interest in what she’s going through, so I encourage you to ask questions to show your support and that you’re going through this together.
Tread Lightly – Due to hormonal fluctuations, your partner may experience mood swings, depression, and increased irritability. Be patient; it’s only temporary. Give her space when she asks for it.
Sleep May Be Elusive – Hot flashes and night sweats may make sleeping difficult. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep only compounds the emotional symptoms that she may be experiencing. Making the bedroom a bit cooler and using a thinner comforter will help, as will offering her a cold drink that doesn’t include caffeine.
Avoid Weighty Issues – Your partner may gain weight, particularly around the middle, as her metabolism slows. Be sup- portive and encouraging if she takes steps to cut calories or fit exercise into her busy day.
Plan a Date Night – I encourage you to spend time together as a couple. You both can and will survive this transition if you know what to expect and focus on what’s positive in your relationship. Go out for a nice dinner or a Broadway show. Remind her how beautiful she is and why you love her.
Don’t Take it Personally – Sex can be sore spot, literally. Estrogen makes a woman’s vaginal tissues soft, so when estrogen levels drop, tissues can become thin and dry, and the vaginal canal may narrow. Lubricant can help. Additionally, a lack of testosterone may affect her sex drive. As difficult as it may be, it’s important not to take your partner’s reluctance to join you in the bedroom personally. Be patient; these changes are temporary.
Medications Can Help – Menopause is not the beginning of the end of your sexual relationship. Your partner’s doctor can prescribe medication to help alleviate symptoms if necessary. Encourage her to speak with her doctor if the symptoms are unbearable.
Your partner is going through an emotional time. The most important advice that I can give is that these symptoms are temporary. Ask ques- tions and listen to her answers. And, be sure to share your feelings about how the aging process is affecting you as well. With some lifestyle modifi- cations and patience, you’ll get through this time stronger together.
Jyothi Rangadhama, MD, is a board-certified ob- stetrician-gynecologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.