Dear me (of about five years ago),
I had intended to write to you to warn you of the coming storm in your relationship. I wanted to jolt you into action, to give you some insight into the path you are on and how best to tread it. But instead, I think I’ll start with some reassurance. If I were you, (which I was) I would want to know what happens in the end first. Well, it all works out in the end, or at least it has so far… which is nice.
Your world is about to change thanks to a completely natural process called the menopause. You will think you know what this thing is… you don’t. You will have three misconceptions to overcome if you are to get your head around this thing.
1) You will think the menopause must be a good thing. This is because your simple little male mind has never been able to understand how women put up with periods in the first place. You don’t really want to know about periods when it is your wife’s ‘time of the month,’ and you definitely don’t want to talk about them. Maybe that’s a man thing, maybe it’s just you. Either way, this immature aversion will lead you to conclude that surely if the periods stop, that’s a good thing… right?
2) You will think you understand menopause. You will have heard that there are symptoms associated with Menopause, but you will only really know about hot sweats and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Meanwhile back in reality, the symptoms are so broad and challenging for women that women themselves struggle to get to grips with them. By the time you begin to comprehend what your wife is going through, you will end up in couples counselling with Relate. Which by the way, was a very positive experience, so when it comes up, don’t be an idiot about it.
3) You will think HRT is a silver bullet. You are a simple creature. You’ve seen nicotine patches, and you know that there are HRT patches, so you will assume that they work the same way. They don’t.
So, when your wife gets the diagnosis that she is perimenopausal, you will start with a distinct disadvantage.
Here’s what will happen next.
- Your wife will be tired all the time. She will spend so much time sleeping in the day that you will start taking photos of her in all the places where she falls asleep. You will think this is funny. It’s not. Eventually, you will start to feel lonely, sat there on your own each evening without anyone to argue with about what to watch on the tele. Neither of you will have associated this constant tiredness with the menopause. So, you will discuss whether she needs to slow down at work, so that she’ll have energy for other things… silly things… like you.
- She will complain of a fogginess in her thinking. You somehow managed to marry a highly intelligent and independent woman who runs her own business and kicks butt every day of her life. But now the facts and figures she previously had on tap seem to evade her. Again, neither of you will initially associate this with the menopause. She begins to lose confidence and starts double checking her work, leading to an even longer workday.
- She will struggle to sleep at night, have the night sweats and a myriad of other symptoms. Many of these are ‘better known’ symptoms. They have a nice, neat circle drawn around them. Everything inside this circle will be a symptom of the menopause. Everything outside of this circle must therefore be due to something else. This includes the fogginess, the tiredness, and a general feeling of dissatisfaction.
- These symptoms, in combination, sap her patience. You start to feel like every conversation is somehow an argument. Some of them are, and when it’s your own dumb fault, you deserve everything you get, but it feels like every conversation. You will watch as she begins to wonder why she feels this way. She begins to doubt everything. Is she in the right job, do you live in the right house? How can she change the way she feels? The conclusion is obvious. She is not happy with her life. Which means, she is not happy with you. The worst part is… she will believe it.
- The analysis will begin. We don’t like the same things. We’re one of those couples where opposites attract, and our strengths that once seemed to complement each other, now become examples of how different we are, and why we’re not meant to be together. The nice lady at Relate will help us talk about all of this and establish that our relationship isn’t the problem. Without that… this would have ended very differently.
Through all of this you will have feelings. Yep, emotions. You will feel guilty for wanting more of her time. You will accuse her of putting you last. You will stop suggesting you go out because you know she will be too tired. You will stop initiating sex, because you know about that menopause thing, and you’ve had enough of the knock backs. You will start to feel like a five-year-old, screaming for attention. You don’t want to be like that. You’re stronger than that… right. You don’t need anyone. You will shut down.
There are two things that will save you.
The first is counter-intuitive to everything people will tell you. Menopause is a natural process that every woman goes through. It is not a sickness. It is not an illness. But you have a switch in your brain that knows what to do when someone you love is sick. It snaps you to attention like a good little soldier. It stamps one overriding priority across your forehead; look after your wife. Get her the best treatment, find out more about what’s going on. Tuck her in when she feels tired, do the little things that make life easier. Understand. I have no doubt that this works because illness removes intention from the equation. My wife doesn’t sleep into the evening because she’d rather be asleep than talk to me, she does it because she can’t help it… she is ill. This will make you a team.
The second will be her determination to find out more about the frightening range of symptoms involved in a ‘natural process’ than we’re only just beginning to understand. Davina McCall and her series will help. When you can widen that circle to include all the symptoms of menopause together, those loose symptoms will be less likely to wander off into your relationship and cause trouble whilst in search of a reason for being. Your wife will work it all out.
There is still some road to travel here, and whilst there is still the possibility that I may, at any moment, hang the towel up on the floor again and end up out in the cold, our sense of humour is back. We have fun. Things are different but we are in the middle of a process here, and we are in it together.
I’m so glad I’m not you right now. But it will be okay.
You (in five years’ time).
P.S. If you are a woman in the process, and you happen to be reading this, then in amongst all the other thing you have to think about right now, could you do me a favour? Remember to hug your other half every once-in-a-while. Smile at them, and hug them, for no reason, even if you don’t feel like it. It will make a difference. Thanks.