The M word is something that many of us don’t even think of. That is, until it comes charging into our lives, bringing hot flushes, mood swings and changes in our body shape, to name but just a few symptoms. I am of course talking about Menopause. It’s something all of us as women will experience at some point in our lives yet we can feel enormous discomfort talking about it. The lack of openness around this phase in our lives means both us and our partner are unlikely to recognise the symptoms or know how to manage them. But it can have a profound effect on our relationship.
We have a vague understanding that this will happen when we’re older, whenever that might be. You may be surprised though to hear that most women experience symptoms between the ages of 45 and 55, probably younger than most of us think. Menopause is also unusual in that it normally lasts for somewhere between four to eight years. The symptoms just go on and on.
What to expect
The list of symptoms we can experience is longer than most women are aware of. About forty in total. They have the potential to impact most areas of our lives, including our behaviours, how we feel and how we relate to others. They can even impact on the most intimate parts of our relationship.
Many women find that they experience sudden extremes in behaviour from tears to anger and back to tears, where before they would have barely registered a frown. It is also extremely common to find that for no apparent reason, your desire for your partner changes. All of this can be tricky for you and your partner to make sense of.
This means that it will be extremely likely that there will be a need to sit down with your partner and have an ‘M word conversation’.
Understanding the complete picture
The first thing to do is to think about your symptoms. Make a list. It will help you to get a complete picture of what’s going on. It’s easy to get lost in one or two symptoms and forget about the rest. Every woman’s experience is unique to them, so don’t worry if it’s not the same as your mum, sister or friend.
Next, think about when and how your symptoms appear. Do certain things trigger them or make them worse? This is a time to be gentle with yourself. It can be hard admitting you behave in a way that you would rather not, or that is different to before.
Lastly, which symptoms have the most impact on your daily life? Some will be worse than others.
Thinking about the M conversation
Whilst you may feel uncomfortable having a conversation like this, it is important that you view it as a positive step, one that shows how much you value your partner and the bond between you. They will probably be relieved that there is an explanation for the changes in you, and that you are not unwell.
Setting the scene
Normally, many couples would visit a restaurant or go for a long walk in the countryside to gain a bit of together time. With Covid-19 restricting our movement, and with home and work obligations all under one roof, there is little opportunity to find alternative locations for anything other than an awkward chat whilst dodging others or queueing at the supermarket. It is time to be more creative in carving out some time for the two of you so that you can talk without interruption. You might even need to ask older children to either stay in their rooms or go to bed early.
It’s up to you whether you let your partner know you want to talk. Some people get stressed or panicked by the idea of a formal talk, where others welcome it. This really is a personal preference.
Asking for help and getting it
When you think about your list of symptoms start with the ones that have the greatest impact – what help might you need and importantly what might make things easier?
Life is busy and with everything that’s going on, your partner only has so much energy and focus in providing additional support. This is not a criticism. Ask for the type of help your partner can readily offer without them having to drop everything and climb a metaphorical mountain. Asking for help that is complicated or hard work will only store up problems and resentment, for both of you. Make it easy. You can then create an environment where you both feel supported and valued. Which is good for any relationship.
Lastly, be clear about why it helps. Doing this confirms that you are asking for the right help. It will also assist your partner to understand the importance and benefit of what you are asking them to do.
Listening and taking turns
Start off by explaining the situation, what the menopause is and how you know it is impacting you and them. Humility gets a bad reputation – in this instance it is very important. You are not defending your position as you wouldn’t choose to behave in this way. Set the scene and then listen to their perspective. This can be difficult, but it is necessary. If they are having a hard time understanding, this is the first step to sorting it out.
An important caveat here is that this is not an opportunity to dredge over old grievances. If this descends into argument, it’s best to call an end to it and reconvene another day.
Successful M conversations are about support and empathy on both your parts. Menopause lasts a long time. You will need to keep checking in with each other to make sure you are both OK. You are a couple, a team of two. This phase of life calls for you to work together – because at the end of it you have the potential to be incredible.
Menopause Coach and author at www.secondphase.com
Kate’s book Your Second Phase is out now