If your partner is going through the menopause, being prepared will help you both cope with the changes she is experiencing.
Denise Knowles, a relationship and psychosexual counsellor with Relate, offers some advice for men on how to support their partner through the menopause.
How will my partner feel during the menopause?
Our society values supple skin, youth, beauty and fitness. As a woman, when your skin becomes a little less elastic and your body shape starts changing, you wonder whether you can carry on doing all the things you want to. There’s a sense of ageing that you can't escape from.
If you’re having hot flushes, something that is private to you often becomes very public.
When it comes to sex and the menopause, a woman may experience dryness and worry that intercourse will become painful. If you’ve not really talked about your sex life, subjects such as lubricant may be awkward for a woman to discuss.
This can lead to your partner not feeling very good about herself and worried about how it may affect her relationship with you. She may also think: "I’m struggling to understand myself, so how can I expect him to understand me?" Women's insecurities are often linked to the reaction of their partners.
How can I show I care?
One of the key ways to show that you care is to gently point out the things you've noticed that have changed and genuinely concern you.
Maybe you could say: "I’ve noticed you don’t appear to be your normal, jolly self" or, "You seem to be a bit distracted" or, "You got cross yesterday because you forgot to do something. That’s not like you. Is everything alright?" That way, you’ve opened up a door for a conversation to take place.
I became incredibly clumsy and my husband noticed, and said: "Are you alright? It’s not like you." Just the relief that he’d noticed was really good.
Let her know you’re not being disparaging or disrespectful. Think of it as something you need to be looking at and working through together.
What can you do to help with the menopause?
It’s important for men to equip themselves with some knowledge about the menopause and perhaps about HRT. There are some men who think it's women’s business and there’s no need for them to be informed or even involved in it. That's incredibly insensitive.
In terms of sex, it can be a time of change for both of you. A woman may lose their sex drive or she may feel quite liberated and want sex more often. Men will also be ageing, and their sexual desires may lessen. They may be grateful that their partners don’t want sex so often.
As a couple, you may have to find new ways of being intimate without penetrative intercourse. Many couples develop a more sensual and intimate relationship. Some kiss a lot, going back to how things were before their sexual relationship, and relearning ways of displaying intimacy and affection. Women need to feel they’re still desirable and that you still want to get close to them.
How will it affect our relationship?
"The best thing is to look at the menopause in a positive way, to allow it to teach you ways of coping with a situation that you haven't come across before. It’s important to know you can be there for one another – that you can get through it and develop ways of coping.
When should my partner see her doctor?
One reason your wife or partner has not been to the doctor may be because she's terrified and doesn’t want to admit it's happening to her.
Offer to go to the doctor with her, where your partner's symptoms may be sorted out. If not, the doctor may refer her to the local hospital's menopause clinic, which generally has doctors, specialist menopause nurses and counsellors on hand to tackle problems.