Hormonal changes that accompany menopause affect everyone, not just the woman going through them.
“Estrogen levels can fluctuate unpredictably, which can cause dramatic emotional highs and lows,” says Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB/GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. “Mood swings, depression, anxiety, anger, rage and crying fits are normal and very common.”
This can create a lot of frustration, Ross says. “Those whom you love and who love you the most — your children and husband — are often blindsided by this normal biological event that affects all women.”
Depression and anxiety may cause some women to withdraw or lash out at those around them. Loved ones can become frightened or confused about how to deal with a woman experiencing emotional outbursts. Sexual partners may find that a woman’s sex drive is not as strong, which can affect intimacy.
An awareness of these changes and learning how to cope can go a long way toward preventing relationship issues.
See Your Doctor
If you are struggling with relationship challenges associated with menopause, it’s a good idea to see your doctor. She or he can rule out other possible causes of the mood swings, such as thyroid abnormalities or clinical depression.
“Don’t wait if emotional upheaval is new to you,” Ross says. “If you and those around you understand that there is a medical explanation and treatment options are available, it can be more reassuring.”
Once a woman accepts that aging is a process and its outcomes are part of the journey, a couple can make lifestyle and relational adjustments that suit their circumstances, says Jessica O’Reilly, a sexologist and author.
“A sense of humor and a bit of creativity can go a long way,” she says. “One couple I know started getting frisky more often with the onset of hot flashes. She joked that she was on fire and he’d run her a cool shower (and join her) or meet her in bed with ice cubes.”
Eight other ways to reduce the impact of menopause on a relationship:
1. Talk openly about feelings and vulnerabilities
“For example, if you’re feeling frustrated with the changes in sexual functioning (like vaginal dryness), tell your partner how you feel as opposed to withdrawing or avoiding intimacy altogether,” O’Reilly says.
This helps your lover understand what is going on. It also provides reassurance that your shift in attitude or lack of interest is a symptom of your changing body and not a relationship problem.
2. Stay active together
Some research shows exercise may help ease hot flashes. It also benefits your mind and soul, O’Reilly says. “Just one workout can increase self-esteem, energy and positive body image,” she adds.
3. Be kind to yourself
Studies suggest that overall, positive emotions increase with age. But women can become overly critical of themselves, O’Reilly says.
“Learn about the changes that you can expect during menopause, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you are feeling tired or irritable,” she says.
4. This, too, will pass
Symptoms related to hormonal havoc are not forever, Ross says. They can last one to five years depending on your body’s reaction to lower estrogen levels.
5. Realize you’re not alone
Every woman is different, but they all go through this hormonal transition, Ross says. “It’s normal. Try not to compare yourself to others,” she advises.
(MORE: 6 Menopause Myths Debunked)
6. Fend off irritability
Elizabeth Lombardo, author of the book Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, notes that when you are irritable, everything and everyone around you seems annoying. This can result in your behavior that is aggressive (“Would you stop making so much noise!”) or passive-aggressive (“It must be nice to arrive at your convenience”). Neither strategy is helpful to a relationship.
Distract yourself with something lighthearted, such as watching a funny movie, Lombardo says. “Laughter helps you release some of your distress, which will help reduce the irritability.”
7. Overcome anxiety
When you are anxious, Lombardo says, it can present itself in ways that affect the relationship. You may feel anxious about where your relationship is going, so you begin to interrogate your partner.
So the next time you feel anxious, she recommnds, try taking deep breaths. Put your hand on your belly and practice belly breathing, where your can feel your stomach rise and fall, versus shallow breaths that can make you feel more anxious.
8. Look for the positives
When you feel sad you end up focusing almost exclusively on the negatives without seeing the positives. In a relationship, this can present itself as personalizing your partner’s actions. Lombardo says you might say, “You didn’t call me today. Obviously I am not important to you.” but the real reason may have nothing to do with you.
Her suggestion: Get happy by moving. Dance or exercise — even five minutes — can help you feel better by releasing feel-good biochemicals.
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