Menopause can be a trying time, both for women and for their loved ones. With so many changes occurring, it’s no wonder women feel confused, frustrated, and at a loss during this period in their lives. But while plenty is written to guide women through the process, men are often left wondering what is happening to their partner and what they can do to make it better.
With that in mind, this post is for the gentlemen in the audience. (Ladies, feel free to pass it along.) Following are some key things to keep in mind as your partner goes through this transition. From do’s and don’ts to what to do when nothing seems to be helping, it is my hope that this guide will make this time a little easier both for you and for your loved ones.
How to Be Useful:
- Give her lots of space.
- Tell her you love her.
- Ask yourself what you can do to reduce her stress and anxiety. Then do it!
- Help her research healthful alternatives, and offer to accompany her to her gynecologist’s visit.
- Support her.
- Listen to her, and remember that women speak two languages, only one of which is verbal.
- Give her lots of space.
- Encourage her to exercise, but be careful how you do it. Encourage her to join you in a walk, or offer to join her for her morning exercises. By example is always better.
- Tell her often how good she looks.
- Help facilitate her dietary and lifestyle changes. Don’t nag her about her weight, but rather support her by not buying high-calorie foods such as potato chips and rich desserts.
- Be a sounding board to help her diffuse what she’s thinking and feeling. Women often work out what is bothering them just by hearing themselves verbalize and having someone to acknowledge them in their process. Don’t feel that you always need to “fix” everything.
- Agree a lot (except when asked questions like “Do I look fat?”).
- Help her with memory issues. Don’t keep reminding her that her memory is bad. She already knows.
- Take things off of her plate (figuratively, not literally!).
- Don’t opt out of stressful interactions with your teenagers, leaving them to your partner. This can be a major source of stress for your “pausing” partner. Help out. Get between her and your “all-mouth” son or daughter. (There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate.)
- Give her a massage: forehead, temples and base of neck for headaches; base of neck and shoulders for tension, etc.
- Buy her books like Fearless Women: Midlife Portraits or Not Your Mother’s Midlife, by Nancy Alspaugh and Marilyn Kentz; MenOpop by Kathy Kelly, Peter Straus, Kenwyn Dapo and Michelle Cohen; and The Midlife Bible.
- Support her plastic surgery and cosmetic dermatology options, should she desire them, but do not suggest them. Assure her, “I love you just the way you are” while also making it clear that you support any decision she may make.
- Bear in mind that during perimenopause, honest criticism is hard to take, whether from a relative, friend, acquaintance, or stranger.
- Draw her a hot bath. There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.
- Buy a dual-control electric blanket so that you can both be comfortable.
- Make her a cup of herbal tea.
- When she’s lost her cell phone for the fourth time this week, and after she’s made you look high and low for it and then finds it on the dashboard of her car, respond by saying, “Oh, that’s great, honey. I’m glad you found it!” (And nothing more.)
- Just…listen. It takes a great man to be a good listener.
How Not to Be Useful:
- Telling her how good she looks when both of you know she is not really looking good.
- When you think you are right, reminding her how bad her memory is.
- When she feels fat, looks fat, and especially when she says she is fat, reminding her about exercise. The phrases “Aren’t you going to exercise?” or “You should exercise more” will only make her feel worse.
- Getting into an argument at night. She has enough trouble sleeping as it is.
- Any lecturing whatsoever. That’s about as helpful as throwing a drowning woman both ends of the rope.
- Giving up on sex. Gently encourage her. Take the initiative. Have lubrication handy.
- Asking, “Do you want a massage?” (Don’t ask; just do it.)
- Snoring. If you snore, see an ENT specialist to see what can be done. In the meantime, buy her a set of good earplugs. (Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you’ll sleep alone!)
- Using the phrase “Don’t you remember…?”
- Trying too hard to fix things. Remember, a person can only take so much comforting. Sometimes it’s best just to empathize.
When Nothing Seems to Help…
Sometimes it may seem like you can’t seem to do anything helpful. In these times, don’t force it. It’s okay. It happens. The best you can do for your partner is just to be there for her. Listen. You don’t have to help all the time. Let it run its course, and be supportive.
I asked a patient of mine what, above all, she (and her friends “of the same age”) want. “Understanding,” she told me. “I just wish he could understand what I’m going through…”
I’m reminded of some lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (music by Frederick Loew) that you may remember from the musical Camelot, sung by Richard Burton in 1960:
How To Handle A Woman
“How to handle a woman?
There’s a way,” said the wise old man.
“A way known by ev’ry woman
Since the whole rigmarole began.”
“Do I flatter her?” I begged him answer.
“Do I threaten or cajole or plead?”
Do I brood or play the gay romancer?
Said he, smiling: “No indeed.
How to handle a woman?
Mark me well, I will tell you, sir:
The way to handle a woman
Is to love her…simply love her…
Merely love her…love her…love her.”