Sometimes it’s as simple as getting her a cup of tea or giving her a back rub — or it can be more involved, like taking over household responsibilities with the kids or reading articles on menopause.
Whatever it may be, Sandy is there to support his wife, Vanessa, 42, who has been going through perimenopause (the phase leading up to menopause) for about a year. “Her body is changing,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is trying to understand her and how she is feeling, and to help and support her. It’s also about managing expectations and recognizing that this affects her mood.”
In addition to mood swings, Vanessa struggles with hot flashes, irregular periods and fatigue.
“Research and knowing more has helped me be able to prepare for [helping her during this time of life],” Sandy said.
His efforts to support his wife and to understand what she is going through during perimenopause aren’t going unnoticed by Vanessa.
“He’s always been thoughtful, supportive, a good listener and quick to ask, ‘How can I help? What do you need?,’” Vanessa said. “He has taken over a bunch of the executive function tasks for our family because my brain is occasionally unreliable — he’s been managing the sports schedules and handling getting the boys ready for school in the morning, for example … This is helpful on the days when I haven’t slept much.”
Sandy may be doing the right, mature and loving thing by prioritizing Vanessa’s needs during perimenopause, but for a lot of men, it isn’t always the most obvious thing to do — at least, not when Sandy considers some of the men around him.
“I don’t see many other husbands doing this stuff,” he said.
Why don’t more male partners of women going through perimenopause and menopause step up to the plate and provide essential care and compassion?
It comes down, in part, to a lack of education. And this lack spans much wider territory than the subject of menopause alone.
“We have to recognize that this is not limited to menopause and that it echoes barriers to learning about premenopausal and postmenopausal health issues, as well,” said Sharon Parish, M.D., a professor of medicine in clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-author of the study The MATE survey: men’s perceptions and attitudes towards menopause and their role in partners’ menopausal transition.
“It’s all a bit of a taboo topic that is seen as embarrassing,” Parish said. “We need to demystify it and destigmatize it and take the embarrassment out of it.”
To destigmatize and demystify menopause, Parish said we must first turn to the medical community and motivate physicians to talk not only with women about it, but to also involve their male partners in the conversation.
“When they’re treating a menopausal woman, physicians should ask her to bring her partner in,” Parish said. “They need to do this more routinely and more consistently. They are starting to do this for men who have erectile dysfunction, but not for women going through menopause.”
With more education on menopause, men may better understand the transition and how it affects their loved ones.
To help support women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a practicing gynecologist at the Yale School of Medicine with a special interest in menopause, recommends that male partners encourage women to speak openly with their healthcare providers about what they are going through in regards to menopause.
“Make sure she gets a provider who will really listen to her,” Minkin said. “There’s a lot we can offer to help with symptoms.”
Additionally, partners should be mindful of the little things — like keeping clean bedclothes next to her at night so she can have a dry outfit ready to change into if she sweats through her pajamas.
“Also, if you see she is getting testy, don’t offer her a glass of wine,” Minkin said. “A lot of women turn to wine to calm down, but it makes things worse by precipitating hot flashes, causing her to wake up hotter.”
If a woman needs to sleep in a cool bedroom, her partner may also want to consider getting a dual control electric blanket so they can keep their side of the bed warmer, if desired.
But being supportive to people experiencing menopausal symptoms shouldn’t fall on the male partner’s shoulders alone. All types of partners, including family members, friends and even colleagues, can be there for people as they go through this often uncomfortable transition.
Even bosses should be tuned into what’s happening (if the employee so wishes) and sensitive to what she needs to be content at work during the menopause transition.
“One simple thing that people — including work colleagues and managers — can do is to make her environment more friendly,” said Minkin. “Let her control the thermostat and understand that she needs the room a bit cooler … Give her windows that she can open and adjust herself. Consider flexible hours that accommodate her body clock. It’s all very simple, but it helps.”
A little support can go a long way.
Encouraging open discussion of menopause with younger generations not only helps women feel safer and more comfortable when they go through menopause, but it can also help prepare their parterns as well. And, it’s important to include our sons in the conversation.
“Your sons are your kids, and they want to know what mom is experiencing,” Minkin said. “And knowing won’t only help them understand and support their mothers, it will also make them better partners if, later in life, they are with a woman.”
Lastly, it can help younger generations if older people who have already been through the transition talk with their family members who are currently going through menopause and offer support.
“People often didn’t talk about these things in the old days,” Minkin said. “But your mother and Queen Victoria went through menopause too. Talking with her can be helpful for both of you.”
*First names only have been used for privacy.
This resource was created with support from Astellas.