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Menopause and Marriage

If there is one stage of life where a man proves his mettle as a husband, it is menopause. If there is a time during marriage when men must be called upon to make up for the fact that his only participation in the whole childbirth process was impregnation, it is menopause.

Menopause, officially defined as the natural and permanent cessation of menstruation between the ages of 45-55, is notorious for its accompanying problematic symptoms, like irritability, hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, incontinence, weight gain, hair loss and oh, so many other delightful traits to live with. And when we go through this insufferable phase, the men in our lives must go through it, too.

I went through menopause very early in life. I felt sorry for my husband who had to pull on an extra thick sweater in the car as I blasted the air-conditioner directly on my face. He often held me as I cried about my hair going down the drain. And he was patient with me whenever I offered divorce as a solution to his suddenly turning into an insufferable jerk after all these years. I am surprised he didn’t take me up on the offer.

But while the number of divorces jumps at mid-life, guess who’s leaving whom? In an AARP Magazine survey of 1,200 people who divorced in their 40-60s, over two-thirds of the initiators were women. Why?

Hormones play a part in menopause and thus, the resulting divorce. Studies show that early in life when women’s estrogen levels are high, they feel a sense of maternal nurturing. To ensure the survival of the family, they become the peace-makers and caretakers. As menopause ensues, estrogen levels drop while testosterone levels rise. A woman suddenly feels less inclined to be the pleaser. The increase of testosterone makes her “testy” and more prone to thinking about her own needs. A lot of women suddenly think, “I’ve put everyone first in my life. There are things about him and our marriage that I don’t want to put up with anymore.”

It leads many women to re-think their lives and their newfound sense of self compels them to break away from old priorities—child-rearing and husband-caretaking--and embark on new paths that allow them to pursue personal goals.

This can leave husbands dazed and confused. Just when they think they’re reaching the phase of marriage when the kids are raised, the house is paid, their retirements are padded and the golden years are approaching, their wives are discontented with them. Their wives want to leave and take half of the house and retirement fund with them.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to help your marriage endure the headaches of menopause:

*If you’re feeling less satisfied with your marriage and spouse, carefully consider all the facts before you make a rash, life-changing decision. Do you need to leave him behind to find happiness? If you’re unhappy with his current state, give him a chance to do his own personal development and come along with you. And don’t throw away a marriage built on good years, happy memories and mutual trust just because you’re feeling restless. This feeling with pass.

*Consider that it might be you when he suddenly seems incredibly annoying. Our tolerance levels are low. When you feel exceptionally irritable, retreat somewhere for a bit of alone time. It isn’t fair to unload your discomfort on others around you. Listen to your words and tone of voice. How would you react if someone spoke to you in that manner?

*Cooperation and compromise are necessary skills regardless of your age or situation. Have you seen older women who proudly state, “I don’t give a darn what anyone else thinks anymore! I want it my way!” While that might seem a healthy attitude, there’s always a call for civility and consideration whether you’re a man or a woman, young or old. Check yourself for rude and selfish behavior. Practicing patience doesn’t mean you’re a doormat; it means you’re a decent human being.

*Talk about your feelings regarding menopause. Women understandably approach menopause with a host of anxieties. “Am I less womanly?” “*Ack* Am I turning into a man because I’m getting hair in places I never had hair before?” It is a milestone that marks, now without any doubt, the end of youth. In fact, it is a sign of—gulp—rapidly approaching old age! Your body shows noticeable changes in elasticity and firmness. Wrinkles appear. You’re not ready to grow old! Menopause support groups are a good place to vent with others who are going through the same experience.

*Seek a doctor’s advice about hormone replacement therapy. There are risks associated with it, so it isn’t for everyone. But if your symptoms are severe, your doctor might recommend a low dosage. This could help alleviate symptoms from dry skin to lagging sex drive. Your doctor may also prescribe medication for other symptoms, too. When you’re more comfortable, you’re less likely to be irritable.

*Research simple dietary changes that can ease menopause symptoms. Check out a title by registered dietician and nutrition columnist Elaine Magee, “The Change of Life Diet” which features recipes using foods—soy, cinnamon, etc.--that are known to alleviate hot flashes, mood swings, memory loss, insomnia and more.

*Exercise is the best panacea for menopause symptoms. And it’s a great anti-aging antidote, too.

*Husbands and wives should support each others’ desire for fulfillment in later years. It can be a wonderful time for mutual exploration. Be open-minded without shooting down each other’s dreams even if they seem outlandish. One of my friend’s husband dreamed of sailing around the world. She flat out refused to consider the idea. She didn’t give him a change to discuss: How long would the trip last? Could she wait for him in a tropical port or did he insist she stay onboard for the entire trip? Would he consider boating part of the way with a friend? If crossing the oceans seemed too dangerous to her, would he consider sailing up and down different coastlines? Her close-mindedness ended any conversation as well as their marriage.

Focus on the benefits of menopause
This change of life isn’t all bothersome. When menopause ends, there is a new sense of freedom that comes with not menstruating monthly. No more pads, tampons and stained clothing. No more cramps and bloating. Without the risk of getting pregnant, your sex life is free from birth control concerns.

Be patient. When menopause passes, many women report not only a sense of physical freedom but also emotional freedom. Now that their minds and bodies are off the hormone roller-coaster, they feel a stability and maturity that liberates their creativity and sense of self.

Take this opportunity to discuss new dreams with your spouse. Press onward for personal growth. You may be surprised at how your spouse not only survives your menopause but comes through it with the same anticipation for change and growth as you have.

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