Living in isolation, particularly during stressful life experiences, has never been recommended for our health and happiness. Going through menopause in isolation is no exception. We know it's important to talk to our doctor when unusual changes occur with our body, but no one talks about or encourages us to talk to our friends or family when the physical changes are deeply personal, or could be perceived as embarrassing.
For example, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, urinary incontinence, mood swings, anxiety, fuzzy thinking and depression are all symptoms that many women report when the menopause transition hits, yet many women don’t tell anyone.
Seeking Support During Menopause
Seeking support during menopause from our family and friends is just as important as considering the many options for symptom relief. I want you to read that statement again, slowly. Not having support from family and friends during menopause is like trying to drive a car on three wheels. It doesn't work well, the ride is going to be very bumpy and you won't get where you want to go very fast. If I know anything about menopause, I know this, we want to get through it and back to our life the way we knew it as fast as we can. What do I suggest that will help you do that?
Let's start with friends first. Women form strong bonds with other women starting in childhood. We do this by sharing our most intimate feelings about our lives, so much so we've been accused by the opposite sex of wanting to process these feelings ad nauseam. It's the process of sharing that builds the bond with our girlfriends. Sharing and processing are forms of intimacy. Men, because of the way their brains work, generally don't share intimate feelings with their male counterparts. Their friendships are very different. They also have a difficult time asking for help or advice. As a result, their support systems can be limited.
Sharing your feelings, fears and concerns with your girlfriends about menopause is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself. Chances are, they are going through it, too. The experience may not be exactly the same, but you will receive the most important thing that will help you move through it – validation. Validation of any life experience or feelings is music to the soul. If you've been feeling like you're crazy, validation will help you let go of that feeling.
Another important aspect of sharing and talking about your menopause experience with your girlfriends is brainstorming for solutions to relieve symptoms. Your doctor may offer only one or two solutions for you to try; your girlfriends may have ten or twenty solutions. Having more solutions gives us hope, and empowers us to take control of the situation. There's nothing more powerful than personally knowing women that have gone through menopause and survived!
Sharing Your Menopause Experience with Your Family
Many women have reported to me that they are reluctant to share what they're going through with their family, particularly with their partner. They report feeling embarrassed about mood swings, particularly if their symptoms have affected sexual intimacy with their male partner. What can happen to the relationship if you don't share what's going on with your partner? He may take it personally, and as a result, the relationship can deteriorate. This can affect not only sexual intimacy but affection and day-to-day communication.
I've personally had the opportunity to talk to many men about their feelings regarding their experience with their partners' menopause experiences. Every one of them wants to know what they can do to help. Many men feel powerless to help their partners ease the discomfort from hot flashes, mood swings and sleep disturbances, just to name a few. And when it comes to sexual intimacy, they want to know how they can make it more pleasurable. When I tell them that sex has probably diminished not because their partner no longer finds them desirable but because it hurts to have sex, they're shocked. They say they wished they'd known.
Intimate relationships can be very complex and a multitude of factors affect their longevity and health. However, honest and open communication by each partner, especially during stressful transitions like menopause, will improve the probability the relationship overall will continue to grow and thrive. Remember, men are natural problem solvers. They want to help but they need direction with sensitive issues. Menopause is definitely a sensitive issue.
If sharing your feelings and experience with menopause feels intimidating to you, start with someone you know is safe and will listen without judgment. This person may be a family member, like a sister, or a best friend. After you get your feet wet, then share openly with your partner. Start slowly, test the waters and if you need help to delve deeper with intimate issues, like sexual intimacy, don't hesitate to hire a therapist that can help you express your most intimate feelings with your partner. There are many reputable online sites that will allow you to gain more information and support like www.the2ndtalk.com. Your life is waiting for the second chapter. There is so much more to experience after the change!