It seems to happen overnight. What was once a peaceful household with a doting wife and mom at the helm becomes a chaotic atmosphere filled with forgotten appointments, crying episodes and a vacillating thermostat. Mom just doesn't seem like herself. And, from the menopausal perspective, she isn't.
Although menopause is a natural part of a woman's life, the transition can often be far from idyllic both for the woman and the people standing on the sidelines.
Rather than cowering in the shadows until the coast is clear, this is the time when your support of the woman in your life can make a positive impact. Here are some suggestions on where you could offer the most help.
1. Be patient with the irritability
If you were to ask what is wrong, she honestly couldn't tell you why she is feeling so irritable. As a result of al the physical changes, life just feels "off." Although nobody, menopausal or otherwise, has the right to yell and scream at people on any occasion, a gentle reminder to go calm down will do more good than taking what she says personally and trying to yell her down.
Now is the time where a woman needs to reduce stress in her life. That's hard to do when hot flashes, night sweats and hours of insomnia invade her evenings. Many women have found success in taking up yoga or other relaxation exercises that encourage calm. Rather than sending her off to a Pilates class, offer to join her and you can learn to relax together as a family.
3. Be patient with intimacy
A common symptom of menopause is vaginal dryness and tender breasts. That, along with a weaker libido, makes maintaining sexual activity challenging. Efforts to sustain some sexual interaction does offer benefits in that it keeps blood flowing to the vagina thus preventing the onset of infection. Welcome casual touch while offering reassurance that life will return to a new normal when she is ready. The good news is that many women report having a heightened interest in sex when they have progressed through the postmenopausal stage.
4. Be patient with the chaos
She is going to forget things. She is going to get upset. She is going to cry over minor occurrences. Your best defense is to educate yourself on the symptoms of menopause and prepare yourself for the change. For many women, the realization that the main thing that distinguishes them as a woman no longer functions has a profound effect on them. In this case, make yourself available to talk and offer encouragement. Remind her that there are numerous ways to celebrate her femininity that has nothing to do with her biological makeup. She is still a wife, mother, friend, aunt, neighbor, sister; a woman takes on a number of roles throughout her lifetime. Emphasize that you are here and ready to start the rest of your life together.
In the midst of handheld fans and a foggy mind, some women may wonder if there is a life beyond menopause. As a support, it is your job to remind her there is, and you look forward to sharing this new adventure with her.
Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is the Director of Provider Relations at North American Health Care, faculty associate at Arizona State University as well as many other community organizations.