Is this a menopause which I see before me…?

Thanks again for more inspiration, William.

The menopause is increasingly well understood. It marks a transition in female lives and has profound physiological and psychological effects. Discussions about it are becoming more open and frequent in the plethora of media we have nowadays. It is no longer the mystery, or perhaps taboo, it was in the past.

In a television discussion a few months ago, the partner of a famous pop star talked openly and movingly about the profound effect the menopause had had on her. The pop star listened intently, acknowledged it, and made two very telling points.

Firstly, he confirmed that he had been wholly unaware that she had been experiencing this change, nor had he grasped how changes related to menopause show throughout the day, over days, over months and over years. He acknowledged, also openly and movingly, that he had had extraordinarily little understanding about it.

Secondly, he went on to say he had been totally unprepared for the impact his partner’s menopause would have on him, psychologically and emotionally, and on their relationship. This revelation confirmed a realisation that has been growing in my mind over several years.

Whilst the menopause is a major transition in women’s lives, and a major female issue, it does have a profound effect on men who are really ill-equipped to respond. We have sparse knowledge of what is happening physiologically, and even less idea about the psychological and emotional impacts. Men certainly do need to become much better at providing understanding, support and love to their partners during this time.

However, where is the emotional support for men in doing this? What had been a known, stable and somewhat predicable time in life becomes the complete opposite. In trying to provide love and support to our partners, men can experience many negative thoughts. Am I a bad person in not being able to comprehend and support my partner? Have I failed in this? Am I responding in the right way? Am I still loved, and worthy amongst all this? How will we both change in the aftermath?

For many men, it can feel all-consuming and overwhelming, leading to feelings of confusion, loneliness, exclusion and bewilderment. Emotions such as anxiety over change, guilt at not being able to support, hurt by behaviours and even depression over the longevity of it, can emerge.

Observationally, the support mechanisms do not seem to be in place yet for men. When was the impact on men of their partners’ menopause last discussed in the media, self-help books or websites? It is also rarely openly discussed, without any level of awkwardness, in a social setting or privately with close friends.

So, the menopause is an incredibly challenging time for all. The ability to talk and share feelings about it does vary by gender. But let’s not assume it only profoundly affects one. Perhaps it is time to start the conversation.