Menopause is a natural process, but it can affect your relationships in many ways. If you're experiencing symptoms like mood swings, stress, or changes in sexual function, don't hesitate to seek help. Remember that you're not alone, and that there's no shame in seeking support.
What is menopause?
Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. It can cause symptoms like anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, and hot flushes. Menopause can have a big impact on your life, including your relationships.
Most people go through menopause between 45 and 55, but for some it can happen as early as their 30s. Menopause is finally being spoken about publicly but it still remains a ‘taboo’ subject for many people.
Menopause and self-esteem
Many perimenopausal and menopausal women, trans-women and non-binary people experience a loss of sexual desire and this can be the result of multi-hormonal problems related to oestrogen as well as androgens. This combination of oestrogen deficiency leading to vaginal atrophy and reduced clitoral sensitivity, and androgen deficiency leading to loss of libido, can obliterate sexual satisfaction and cause them to feel they are no longer sexually attractive.
Menopause and stress
Navigating midlife and menopause can be challenging due to physical and emotional changes, family demands, work-life balance, and sexual function/relationships. Seeking support can make a big difference in how you cope. You don't have to go through this alone.
Attitudes to menopause
These days, someone who is going through the menopause can expect a third of their life to be post-menopausal.
So it's essential for them to be able to explore attitudes and their own beliefs regarding menopause if they are to enjoy a full, healthy and respectful relationship. The idea that the menopause signals the end of the sexually active years is losing ground.
The notion of sex as a purely procreative activity has all but disappeared from society but many people can still feel that sex is only about procreation and the idea of indulging in a purely recreational sex life is alien to them.
Menopause and relationships
Change in sex drive
For some, menopause brings with it a sense of sexual liberation, not having to concern themselves with unwanted pregnancy, or worries about when they can have sex (due to menstruation).
More than 50% of menopausal people report no decrease in desire at all in sexual desire, and fewer than 20% report a significant decrease.
For others, the declining levels of oestrogen result in less vaginal lubrication which can result in intercourse becoming painful (dyspareunia) and in anticipation of pain may also cause some to develop vaginismus, (a reflex where the muscles of the vagina contract such that penetration isn’t possible).
Dyspareunia is relatively easy to treat but vaginismus is more difficult to correct and often a sex therapist must be consulted. These conditions could cause someone to want sex less, coupled with a low appreciation of their body image, or the perception that her partner is less interested. Partners can feel rejected and this can cause them to give up initiating sex, thus creating a physical distance between them. It’s also possible that situations can be equalised in terms of libido: if one partner has had a higher need for sex than the other, they may also be feeling the effects of age, beginning to suffer performance, age-related problems.
Coping with mood swings
This is a time when real amounts of understanding and patience can be tested. It’s useful for partners to recognise that the mood swings, distress, anxiety etc are not really anything to do with them. Being there emotionally is a skill that requires individuals to suspend their own emotional needs, not to try and ‘fix it’ but to simply be there. It’s more than empathy.
How we can help
If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.
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