Saturday 3 December 2016

Menopause: What your husband's really thinking

One man's perspective on living with a woman going through 'the change', or, as he puts it, 'The Monster'...

Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30

It is important for a man of a certain age to be aware of menopause and be aware of what is going on.
It is important for a man of a certain age to be aware of menopause and be aware of what is going on.

My partner is 51 and about a year ago she started going through the menopause. The changes happened almost overnight and have been startling for me. Sometimes it is like being with an entirely different person.

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Her periods have been becoming more and more irregular, much harsher and heavier and the angry/emotional monthly symptoms which used to last a few days once-a-month are now easily twice as bad. They usually last a week-and-a-half or even two weeks. She is also suffering from extremely debilitating period pains which have led her to taking strong codeine-based painkillers over sustained lengths of time - something I'm also worried about.

My partner has developed a sudden propensity to explode in a fury - something I have never seen before in a woman who has always been easy going and loving. I call it "the monster". Luckily I have managed to avoid the wrath of "the monster" most of the time simply because I know what's going on and won't be drawn into a row. Logic simply doesn't apply. Agreeing with her makes it worse. The best thing to do is say nothing. Or distract with another topic. The very best solution is to keep the mouth shut and give her a great big hug - to suffocate the monster - if she'll let you!

One day she was texting me, and without my replying, she started a row with me which raged all afternoon. I never sent one text from start to finish. The next day when I asked her about it she didn't know what had got her so annoyed. Neither did I. That's the monster.

The explosions mostly tend to take place on garage forecourts when pumps don't work properly, on the phone to hapless call centre personnel working for the utility companies and sometimes with the children over leaving clothes lying around and stuff. It's only a matter of time before someone gets a whack of a handbag, an object thrown at them, or worse. She was never, ever like this and always patient, kind and considerate to all.

There are times, particularly when we are out for a night and alcohol is involved, when there is absolutely nothing I can do to head things off or cool things down. At these times I have sat back, said nothing, and watched her having an argument - with herself - before an inevitable walkout. The alcohol makes things much worse. Usually she's read something into nothing - accusing me of "looking at" a waitress I never looked at, or of "keeping tabs on her" by asking her how her golf went. The sad truth is I often enjoy it now when she's not around because I've been walking on eggshells all the time. For the children (mostly in college or working) it's the same.

Aside from "the monster" there's the "niggler" - she has also developed a prickly and constant sniping form which has been levelled at me and her children. Often this is quite uncharacteristically visceral and personal - never like her before. There's "the hermit" - she sometimes gets depressed and withdrawn and spurns hugs and closeness and becomes almost remote. But this can turn on a sixpence and suddenly she is needy and loving and tactile - almost overly so. Big swings have been the norm.

She has also been obsessing over her looks and her body, which never happened to this degree. This is constant. The reality is that my partner is a very good-looking woman for her age with a really good figure. She turns heads when she walks into a pub or restaurant and she's actually in the best shape she has ever been in. But since the menopause started she sees nothing but "a big pregnant belly" and a "raisin wrinkly face" and bangs on constantly to her friends about being "fat" to the point of annoying them - especially the ones who really are fat.

She gets up out of bed in the middle of the night and throws open all the upstairs windows talking about "how ridiculously hot it is in here." Or "you turned the heating on didn't you? Yes you did!" Try explaining it's "not hot, it's your menopause love" and you'll know all about it. You say "yes love" and you open the windows.

I love her very much, but I can certainly see why research shows so many marriages break up when the woman hits her 50s. I also feel hugely sorry for her. How horrible must it be to have what is essentially a whole new personality within yourself? The other day I read that menopause can last for 10 years! At least I get a break from it.

Because her personality changes have been so drastic and sudden I believe I have been lucky to have been alerted to menopause straight away. For those men whose partners change more gradually, it must be so much worse - simply because they won't twig what's going on and will inevitably take the moods and the grief personally.

It has helped that I have talked to male friends who have also experienced the exact same sort of stuff through menopause with their partners.

It has also helped that there is some information online (not much) which tells other men's stories, and gives information on how best to support your partner and how to be around her.

I cannot underestimate how important it is for a man of a certain age to be aware of menopause and to understand what is going on with your partner, and vitally that nothing your partner says or does should be taken personally during this difficult change. But it's no easy thing. Society simply forgets the men in menopause - the faithful partners who take the hurtful brunt, say "yes love", and wait patiently for their wives to return.

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