5 Things Women Wish Their Partners Knew About Menopause

By Claire Gillespie
January 30, 2023
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If you’re going through perimenopause or menopause, it’s probably never far from your mind. Who can forget about night sweats, hot flashes, and overwhelming fatigue? To ease the burden, it would really help if your spouse or partner knew exactly what you needed—space, a cold drink, a break from household chores—but nobody’s a mind reader, and sometimes it’s tough to express our wants and needs.

“Partners should know that talking about menopause and menopause symptoms can be challenging, and it’s important that women feel empowered to open up so they don’t feel alone,” says Rebecca C. Brightman, M.D., a gynecologist in private practice and an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City.

To help make everyone feel a little less alone (and maybe even to strengthen relationships), real women share five pieces of menopause advice for partners to help them better understand what they’re going through.

1. She Is Exhausted

When Zoe C., 47, from Silverstone, England, started the transition to menopause last year, she was falling asleep on the sofa early in the evening. “My partner would comment that I was always tired,” she says. “At the time, we didn’t realize it was due to menopause.”

Fatigue is common during menopause and perimenopause. In one study, 66.5 percent of women calling a menopause hotline reported fatigue as a symptom—the second-highest-reported symptom after memory loss.

Frustratingly, daytime fatigue is often paired with nighttime insomnia during menopause. Sam M., 50, from East Lothian, Scotland, is now five years into perimenopause. “Insomnia meant I spent long periods of the night staring at the ceiling, listening to my partner sleep soundly,” she recalls. “The frustration of not being able to sleep, knowing I would feel exhausted the next day, caused tears to flow.”

“Patience and tolerance from my partner helped me to cope with the fatigue and all the other symptoms I was going through,” Sam says. (And besides, what could be better than a partner who understands and can help by bringing a warm glass of milk or a cooling towel on particularly rough nights?)

2. Even She May Not Know Exactly What Is Happening Internally

Rosie B., 50, from Kent, England, started perimenopause at age 43, but didn’t realize what was going on until she was 45. “I thought I was having some sort of mental breakdown,” she says. “I think the very first priority is to make sure partners know when it can start—much earlier than one would imagine.”

The Office on Women’s Health says the average age for menopause in the United States is 52, but perimenopause usually starts in the mid-to-late 40s.

It doesn’t help that there’s no single test to determine if a woman is perimenopausal. “The diagnosis is based on history and symptoms,” Brightman says. “Women may notice that their symptoms can come and go for a period of up to seven years prior to their final menstrual period.”

If these changes are hard for women to understand themselves, their partners are often even more befuddled, which is why it’s important for people to be educated on these topics in order to best support each other.

Many women can notice that they’re warm at night and have disrupted sleep, menstrual irregularities, mood changes, brain fog, and vaginal changes, but they may not associate these as symptoms of menopause, Brightman adds.

3. Hot Flashes May Mean “Stay Away for a Bit”

“When I was having a hot flash, I didn't want to cuddle or be touched, especially when I was in bed and sweating,” Zoe says. “That was really frustrating—I just wanted to be left alone to cool down.”

Jeanie P., 51, from Ontario, Canada, agrees. “If you try to cuddle [with a woman when she’s experiencing] a hot flash, you may just get more anger coming at you than you’ve ever seen,” she says.

Sam describes the hot flashes and night sweats as “agony.” “The sweat would pour down my back and cleavage, and at night I would wake with the sheets sticking to me as if I had a bucket of water thrown over me,” she says.

4. Her Sense of Self Might Change

Menopause and perimenopause can affect a lot more than your hormone levels, periods, sleep, and mood. It can have a huge impact on relationships and career.

“I had to go part time from my full-time teaching job, to enable me to cope better,” Rosie says. “Even if you’re at the top of your game at work, the exhaustion and mental anguish can cause confidence to crumble.”

Sam relates to the loss of confidence and self-belief—in her case, going to work every day was the hardest thing she had to do. “Most days, I wanted to stay in bed and make the world go away,” she says. “People at work were sympathetic, initially, but eventually lost patience. I lived in fear of being fired.”

If a partner isn’t aware of these normal shifts in mood and energy levels, it can cause a lot more stress. However, if your partner knows that perimenopause isn’t just affecting your relationship with them, but also your self-confidence and capacity at work, they might be more understanding when you need more downtime at home.

5. Her Libido May Shift

With no desire for her husband, Rosie was devastated that she might have fallen out of love with him and that this was her body telling her that. “When I did have sex with him, my mind was in it, but there was no response from my body,” she explains.

Carrie F., 45, from Austin, Texas, can't take any affection from her husband since going through perimenopause. “We’ve slept in separate beds for more than six years,” she says.

Vaginal dryness, a common symptom of menopause, can make sex uncomfortable. This was Sam’s experience. “It felt like I had two pieces of sandpaper between my legs, scraping away whenever I moved,” she says.

Because her desire for sex had gone, Sam lived in fear of her partner looking elsewhere. “A large part of our relationship had disappeared, and how was he supposed to understand? The feisty, sexy, confident woman had gone, and I had no idea where she was or how to get her back.”

Today, five years into perimenopause, Sam is feeling much better, and she puts a lot of this down to having such a patient, understanding, and loving partner. “He told me that as long as there was affection and other forms of intimacy, he would be happy,” she says.

For some people, couples marriage counseling could be beneficial. A small study published in Menopause Review in September 2017 found that counseling often helped stimulate libido in women who were postmenopausal. At the very least, it could help initiate open and honest discourse around declining libidos, compatibility, and feelings of insecurity that would help both parties feel more comfortable and understanding of each other’s needs.

The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) has lots of suggestions for helping women deal with sexual problems, such as sex therapy for low libido/sexual desire, low-dose vaginal estrogen therapy for vaginal dryness, and pelvic floor physical therapy for pain during sex.

Takeaway Menopause Advice for Partners: Better Communication

Perimenopause symptoms don’t last forever, and for the women who spoke to us, keeping open lines of communication and allowing their partners to understand the transition made a big difference, both in terms of their relationship and their own sense of satisfaction.

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