The term “perimenopause” refers to the time period in a woman’s life before the onset of menopause, which may include typical menopause symptoms like hot flashes or difficulty sleeping, as well as mood changes, differences in sexual desire, and irregular menstrual patterns.
While this is all but inevitable with age, perimenopause can begin over a pretty broad age range, and the full onset of menopause – when menstrual cycles stop altogether and women become permanently infertile – can be gradual.
Perimenopause (also called the menopausal transition) and menopause itself are often considered to be specifically women’s issues, but with the impact they can have on marital strength, they are quite clearly couples’ and family issues as well.
Divorce instigated by women is more common than ever before, and in many of those cases, the women filing are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s – a prime time in their lives for the onset of perimenopause. Because the hormonal changes have an impact on nearly every aspect of a woman’s life, including how she evaluates her marriage, it’s no wonder we see a pattern here.
According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, a women’s health expert and author of The Wisdom of Menopause, the hormonal changes can make women place their marriages under a proverbial microscope, and be more likely to see instances of inequality, problems in the marriage, or ways their own needs aren’t being met.
Some of the chemical changes, Dr. Northrup says, can cause women to go from putting other’s needs before their own, to being more aware of their own needs and wants. This alone is enough to change the status quo of many marriages.
From a husband’s perspective, this can all seem confusing and unexpected – and in all reality, the irritable, hot-flashing, mood-swinging, perimenopausal wife may doing her fair share to cause tension in the relationship – but the bulk of the issue stems from a simple misunderstanding of unavoidable biology, and a lack of honest communication about what’s going from the woman’s perspective.
Men may be aware of menopause, and even have an understanding of the symptoms, but that does not necessarily mean they are prepared to recognize them when they happen. It’s up to the women experiencing the changes to be self-aware and open with their husbands, and let them know that things aren’t feeling the same – that their sex drive might be on the fritz, that their moods seem to changing sporadically, that they are starting to think about the marriage in different ways, and most important of all, if they are feeling dissatisfied with the state of the relationship.
For the husbands in this scenario, even if this kind of discussion is unexpected, it’s important to listen with compassion and open ears, and help your wife acclimate to her changing body chemistry. Because of the way her thinking changes, it may be a wonderful opportunity to address overlooked issues in the marriage, work on repairing them, and make the relationship much better for the both of you.
The real name of the game here, again, is honesty and understanding. Bodies are strange, with all kinds of chemicals that influence the way we think and behave – sometimes outside of our conscious awareness – and when our bodies and minds change over time, we simply have to be there for each other, be clear about what’s happening, and get through it as best we can.
If you suspect menopause or perimenopause may be having an effect on your marriage, stop hiding from it, stop being embarrassed about change or age, stop wondering – and just TALK ABOUT IT.
Once you get things out in the open, you can start to work on solutions together.