Menopause and Marriage
The Last Frontier for the Battle of the Sexes
When I first began blogging about menopause, it was under the assumption that menopause is a women’s health issue, and primarily it is. As an ardent champion for women’s health, a part of me wants to keep it primarily about women. But my experience over the past few years has shown me that menopause is very much a marriage and family issue as well.
As most of us know, divorce statistics have shifted radically in the past 5 decades. Where once it was the stereotype of a successful middle-aged man trading in his older wife for a younger and more attractive secretary; it is now women who file for divorce and leave marriages at a rate of 3:1 over men. What’s more, many of these divorces are occurring when women reach menopause in their 40s, 50s, and 60s.
Unfortunately, I do not find this surprising. As a menopause health writer and blogger, I’ve received countless emails from men whose marriages and families imploded when their wives entered menopause. For many of these men, their marriages were long, had been stable, and from their point of view, happy and fulfilling – at least until menopause came along and ruined everything.
I will concede, when a woman is raging from mood swings, is irritable, crabby, irrational, and just plain nasty due to the shift in her hormones, it is not a far-fetched assumption to think that menopause is the problem. But, as I’ve said before, menopause is not solely a collection of biological and physical changes. It profoundly affects every single aspect of a woman’s life – marriage included.
Dr. Christiane Northrup addresses this issue in her book The Wisdom of Menopause, explaining that menopause places a woman’s marriage under a microscope. Hormone-driven changes literally rewire the brain, and these changes, says Dr. Northrup, create in women a “sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them.”
Prior to menopause, a woman’s hormonal wiring renders her more likely to self-sacrifice, and put the needs of others ahead of her own. When women reach menopause, however, they become less inclined to think about others, and more inclined to think about themselves. This is also the time she may raise red flags if there are things she is unhappy within the marriage.
Unfortunately, this is not always welcome news to husbands who have become quite accustomed to the status quo, and are generally mystified at what seems to be a sudden and quite unreasonable strain being placed on the marriage.
Traditionally, men primarily leave relationship issues in a marriage to women. Many of them feel that since they carry the financial load in the marriage, she should carry the relationship load. I can certainly understand why they would feel this way, and perhaps those expectations are perfectly reasonable and acceptable for a time.
But if marriages are to survive menopause - and personally, I do believe they can – then there has to be a meeting of the minds where new ground rules are set for the marriage going forward. Expectations should be re-evaluated, and any unresolved issues that may have plagued the marriage should be addressed.
Men instinctively understand this process when it comes to physical things in their life. For example, they know that in order for their automobiles to continue to run well, regular maintenance, new tires and brakes, and maybe even a new paint job is necessary. If they neglect these things, they will soon find themselves without reliable transportation.
Similarly, a marriage which has suffered years of neglect will break down under the strain and pressure of the change of menopause. However, if both partners are willing to invest the time and emotional capital necessary to sustain it, menopause and marriage do not have to be mutually exclusive.