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How important is awareness and talking about menopause?
Menopause is so rarely talked about, and as women, we spend roughly half of our lives in some form of perimenopause or menopause! That’s half of our lives, and we aren’t talking about it!
Why is menopause referred to as the “silent passage?”
To women, we characterize the first parts of our lives with sex, with babies, with having our period, with youth, with femininity, with vitality, and perhaps with hopeful anticipation.
However, the entire second half of our lives and sexuality are not as discussed by our parents or represented in the media or shared within our social networks, so much so, that menopause is often refereed to as the “silent passage.”
It is this passage, the next major one, after the much talked about and much anticipated transition of puberty, (or third if you include becoming a mother and pregnancy) that many women enter largely alone, silently, and of course, UNPREPARED.
How does menopause affect relationships?
With the experience of menopause in the dark and kept quiet, is it any wonder why many women experience the transition of menopause with a sense of confusion, a challenge to their notions of vitality or sexuality, perhaps a sense of loss or increased havoc in their intimate relationships??
I always say that menopause doesn’t only affect a woman, it happens to her relationships! So, it is crucial to begin to address and talk about women’s experience of menopause, children’s experience of a mother’s menopause, a partner’s experience of menopause, a relationships experience of menopause, and finally our own sense of self through menopause.
Remember this is a natural process!
First of all, menopause is a universal, natural experience and process. I think all women want to be assured that this is supposed to be happening!! And because menopause can be really tough, there is sometimes this sense that this must NOT be natural, this can’t be what is supposed to be happening!
So as a result, there is a sense that something is wrong and unnatural, and whenever we have this feeling, we are less likely to feel comfortable talking about it or associating it with anything potentially positive!
Also, menopause is one of those things that we can’t see. Unlike the changes that exist in puberty and the visible belly that grows in pregnancy, menopause is not something that family and even the random stranger asks about and rallies around like we do when we ask how her pregnancy is going or when we commiserate around our teens raging hormones.
So, because we are not asked about how menopause is for us, how are we doing, or how can others help, it becomes one of those topics that we need to broach ourselves, bring to the table, and ask for help. We will only do this when we remember that this IS and natural and universal experience!
Let it be about YOU!
For women, who have spent much of their lives caring for others or putting others first, asking for the focus to be on us or asking for help or “complaining” about the difficulties associated with menopause, is quite uncomfortable and could be seen as signally a failure in some way. This in large part is why women find it difficult to be open about the challenges they face in menopause, and are often less likely to seek help.
Also, when women experience changes in sexuality or sex, whether it is less or more drive, discomfort with some of the physical changes that happen with menopause, many women freeze up in seeking help or attention with their sexual needs and desires, in ways that men don’t shy away from (hello, Viagra ). This is in large part a reflection of the difference between men and women’s sense of importance they place around their own sexuality and pleasure. So, don’t be afraid to start to focus on what might be pleasurable for you now with sex or intimacy. Do you need lubrications in order to enjoy sex, do you need to convey to your partner how things may have changed for you in terms of what you like or need sexually that may be different than what worked before. Do you need to take sex off the table for a bit (agree that this will not be the goal for a period of time), so that you can begin to relearn and explore the other forms of intimacy that might work for you right now (example: just kissing, just cuddling, massage, your husband rubbing your head and getting you a cold compress at night etc). Sometimes women will avoid sex and all intimacy all together (for fear it may turn into sex) during menopause. Instead I suggest to wipe the slate clean of what used to work sexually or intimately and start to re-explore what might work for you and your partner in this second part of life. It can actually be a fun process when the issue is on the table, when women ignore it or avoid sex or how it may need to change for them, partners are more likely to misread changes and distance in relationships can start to settle in. Part of bringing our own experience of menopause out of the dark is to make sure others around us are not in the dark about how we are feeling and what might be going on for us during this time.
Start the conversation!
Begin to ask friends and relatives about how they are doing with menopause and what they are experiencing. Sometimes the best way to get the conversation started is to ask the question, “How are you doing?” The question ‘how are you doing’ helps others, but it also helps us to feel less alone, and often results in a, “…and “How are YOU doing?” In general staying connected to friends and family while going through something challenging is always helpful.
Talk to your young adult children about what to expect in menopause, what has helped you etc. Simply by talking and preparing others for menopause brings the topic out of the dark, and redefines the process as natural, manageable and even empowering.
It takes a village! Start developing a support team!
Create a “coming of age” ritual for your friends who are also going through menopause. So, as a way of marking and celebrating your transition into a new phase of development (like the bar mitzvah in Jewish cultures), create an all female party, adventure trip, monthly dinner night, where you are only surrounded by those who are also going through this transition and are ready to say, we have earned this party, this trip, we are not alone, and we are going to remind ourselves that the fun and commiseration doesn’t stop with menopause, it’s a time when it really gets going!!
Find a doctor that has an interest and the time necessary to devote to discussing and investigating your experience of menopause, or find a doctor that even specializes in this area.
Find a Therapist
Many families find that there is an increase in relationship issues around the time of menopause. For many pre-menopausal women, unaddressed relational difficulties or issues get swept under the rug in favour of dealing with the day to day functioning of raising healthy children and the scheduling and focus they entail. However, once the kids leave the nest, which is often around the time of menopause, all of the things that were once swept under the rug in favour of the day-to-day functioning of raising a family, start to get brought to the surface. Now it’s just about the couple, their relationship, and they are forced to look any issues or distance between them in the face!
So, if you are having trouble negotiating these surface issues that perhaps have been unaddressed for years, and you want to use this time as an opportunity to re- learn your relationship, heal old wounds, take care of each other, there is no time like the present to find a great couples therapist to help you through!
Start getting excited about this next chapter of LIFE!!
As we all know, even the toughest experiences of change can result in the most development and growth. It is important that menopause not be kept in the dark and not be seen as something that we are ashamed of.
Instead, try to see menopause as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your desires, your relationships, and your life. Menopause can be a reemergence of self; one that is less attached to child rearing or the slow climb up the corporate ladder for instance that tends to characterize much of our young adulthoods.
Instead, think about how you would like this second part of your life to look? What things might you explore about yourself, your relationships, and your interests, that a younger, less confident, or less self-focused self would have done? As women we are used to physical maladies that center on being a female; our monthly periods, pregnancy, and child birth to name a few. Menopause is just another change, and our female history tells us we can handle it, just as we have the other big physical changes in our lives. It is natural, and like all of the difficult hormonal changes in our lives, it can be difficult, but it can make room for wonderful things.
Get creative about what your life post menopause will look like and get excited about it. It might be difficult to get excited when you’re facing the discomforts that might come along with perimenopause, but this challenge makes it even more imperative that you get creative with how you are going to face this time. Try to engage in productive and fun outlets that enhance your sense of self and your self-esteem during this time. If you have always wanted to join a team sport, take those tennis lessons, see a sex therapist with your partner, sing that song, or dance that dance, now is your time to do it! Challenges are uncomfortable, and change is difficult. But, if you face menopause with a sense of freedom and excitement for new things, new discussions, new connections and new discoveries, you can change your experience of the “silent passage” to a more bold, mature, and true-to-self, “Bold Passage.”