I remember the first time I sat down to read about the symptoms and effects of menopause. By the time I got done reading about the hot flashes, loss of energy, heart palpitations, mood swings, depression, anxiety, loss of memory, vaginal dryness, loss of libido, bladder problems and constipation – I just had to laugh. This is what I had to look forward to?
Despite the laundry list of the negative, there are positive compensations that occur with this mid-life crisis. As our bodies and minds transform in relation to our hormonal changes, we can become the person we were and, more importantly, the true person we are meant to be, along with our male partners.
Positive Hormonal Shifts
The hormones that affect our emotions and tenderize us to become wives, mothers and caretakers, diminish as we go through menopause. We now have an opportunity to gradually transition into a more individuated adult. In a way, women become more of who they were meant to be, by losing estrogen, yet maintaining androgen. While men soften with the loss of testosterone, we women become more powerful: as the softening veil of estrogen lifts, our stronger self emerges and formerly suppressed, creative, feelings resurface.
Of course, this transformation -- in both men and women -- can deeply affect relationships. However, the pain of these changes and fear of the unknown does not have to translate into suffering. Attitude is everything. If you don’t contract against the pain, but surrender to it, you will transition into a renewed and deeper relationship. By communicating honestly about these changes, you and your partner can meet them together. The two of you become a home team by confronting the past, present, and future, bravely.
Deeper, More Honest Communication
Your maturity can work for you now, by allowing you to risk communicating your deepest and most intimate feelings. Honest communication is essential to your relationship at this time. Silent suffering only uses up libido and women who deny their repressed feelings and undiscovered parts of themselves often get sick from the stress of that repression.
What happens to a woman in menopause is that a certain wisdom comes forward: you say goodbye and grieve the young woman you were, then step into the role of wise woman. As a menopausal woman, you have the opportunity to find your passion, to be freed up, to explore your sexuality, and to leave your mark on the future.
A Time to Reflect on Your Relationship
When I was first married, my husband gave me a poster that read:
Don’t walk behind me.
Don’t walk in front of me,
but hold my hand, and walk by my side.
That’s the mutuality that can be born in menopause; a time when we know who we are and are mature enough to surrender to what we are going to be. Audacious relationships can grow together, but it requires honesty and updating. Only then, can couples know what it means to be validated and valued in relationship; to be validated and valued are the qualities necessary for renewal.
What You Can Do to Help
Therapies can help to alleviate the tensions of hormonal changes in both you and your mate. Discuss with your partner what each of you needs as you enter this transition period. Review your options, openly and honestly, together.
Some important options to keep in mind:
- Women often need lubrication to deal with dryness and the thinning of the vaginal membrane.
- Prescription estrogen creams, pills, patches and vaginal cream are also possibilities to increase levels of estrogen and help with dryness as well as hot flashes.
- Males may need Viagra to help with potency.
- Vitamins and dietary changes can also help remedy some of these symptoms.
- Counseling, group therapy, medication (if recommended by your doctor) can address problems with depression, anxiety, and confusion.
- Lifestyle changes -- such as diet, Vitamin D for bone mass loss, giving up smoking, and engaging in more exercise -- are all things you can do for yourself to take care of yourself during this transitional period.
- Stress can be a huge factor at this time of your life. Stress can cause you to over-produce cortisol. That one thing alone can affect your memory, immune system, your emotions, and your life span. Find ways to reduce stress, such as exercising, finding time to meditate, journal, sing, dance, paint, and get in touch with the inner you.
Finally, remember to laugh, to grieve for your lost youth, and to be open to new horizons. This can be such an exciting time, as you no longer are needed to suppress your needs for others, but rather, to explore who you are – as an individual and as a couple.
The Dalai Lama told me in the year 2000, "only be with people who see who you are and value you." By valuing yourself, you will value your partner, your family, and the outer world. By focusing on the positive internal shifts that result from menopause and by communicating honestly about your challenges with the physical changes, you and your partner will be able to come out of this experience together with a renewed relationship well-suited for the mature adults you have now become.