January 13, 2023
Loving relationships have extraordinary power to motivate healthy living. They represent the purpose and valued engagement men need to sustain an active lifestyle.
Almost two years ago, I wrote about the role my wife Maria plays in supporting my routine and presented the clinical evidence documenting this power. And, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I offered tips on how to boost resiliency and help sustain relationships.
So, as we enter 2023 and men look to jump-start their healthy routines, I want to revisit the importance of loving relationships, and do so by giving my 50-plus readers (and others approaching this milestone) some insight into one of the biggest challenges that women (and couples) face at this time of life – menopause.
Yes, I want to get granular, remind men of what their wives or partners are going through, and show them how to support them. In the process, they will strengthen their relationships, and even improve their own health.
Let us start with a quick review of the basics. Menopause is a particularly nuanced part of the aging process and does not offer the clarity and definitiveness that men inherently seek.
What people normally refer to as menopause is actually a three-step process that includes perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause. Perimenopause typically begins when a woman hits 40 but can sometimes occur in her 30s. This is the time when the production of estrogen starts to decrease, and hormone levels drop. And here's key point No. 1: This process can extend as long as 10 years because the average age for a woman to hit menopause in the U.S. is 51. Menopause is the point when a woman has not had a period for 12 consecutive months. Once reaching this point, a woman is postmenopausal.
What is critical for men to recognize is that during the perimenopausal stretch, women experience a wide range of symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, these can include irregular periods, vaginal dryness, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, sleep problems, mood changes, weight gain, slowed metabolism, thinning hair, dry skin, and loss of breast fullness. To this list, Harvard Medical School adds low sexual desire, memory and concentration problems, and depression.
To further complicate things, these symptoms do not necessarily affect all women, and not all affected women experience the symptoms to the same degree. And, what happens after menopause? Do these symptoms continue in postmenopause?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms may become milder or go away completely during postmenopause. However, some women may experience menopausal symptoms for a decade or longer after menopause. Guys, no matter where your partner is on the menopausal continuum, she needs your compassion and support to cope with these symptoms. Let us look at what the experts recommend.
The University of California, Berkeley acknowledges that menopause can test the strength of a couple's relationship and recommends that men should educate themselves and learn the facts. Ultimately, a man needs to become an ally of his partner during menopause. Men also need to step back for a moment and get beyond the impact on them to understand what is behind her behavior change. The moodiness women exhibit is not irrational behavior.
The Health Experiences Research Group based at Oxford University suggests that men need to empathize more with their partners' needs, offer support and understanding, and not take their partners' behaviors too personally. The researchers also recommend that men reassure their partners that they still value them, pay complements and show affection. Their studies show that some partners seek workarounds to maintain good sexual relations.
Finally, the independent nonprofit HealthyWomen says that male partners should encourage women to discuss their menopausal concerns with their physicians, and even involve them in the conversation – much like the discussions men have with their doctors about erectile disfunction, in which women commonly participate. The nonprofit also encourages practical support, like placing clean bedclothes close nearby if she sweats through her pajamas and keeping the bedroom cool.
Many men are not accustomed to providing emotional support to women, but when they do the practice has dual benefits. I previously explored this topic, citing studies that show how offering emotional support boosts the giver's physical and mental health, including lower blood pressure, increased self-esteem, less depression, lower stress levels, a longer life and greater happiness.
Despite this upside, not to mention the needs of their partners, men often fail to provide emotional support due to a lack of understanding, poor empathy, misallocation of focus, attention or outside distraction. Men who are taught to lead, protect and provide do just that when their partners are truly in search of compassion and understanding, not resolutions. Menopause provides the opportunity for men to step up and meet the needs of their female partners. The fact that it can have tangible benefits for them is even more reason to grow into this role.
The experts are clear, the best practice is to manage menopause with teamwork. Spouses and partners can maximize their quality of life through education, an open dialogue between themselves and their medical professionals, and showing compassion and attention to the small comforts of life.
Sound familiar? It should. For several years, I have presented the evidence that couples who support each other have a greater chance of maintaining their healthy behaviors.
Men, with teamwork equally applicable to menopause, you have an alignment of strategy that can bring you and your partner the health, happiness and fulfillment that life is all about – even during menopause. It is a big reminder that we're in this together. Helping your partner navigate menopause will impact her well-being, your relationship and even improve your own health. Connecting these dots is a game-changer and a great way to start the year.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.