Gregory K. Popcak, Ph.D.
“We’re cracking up.”
“For me,” remarks Eileen, “I get upset when he’s (her husband) upset. It isn’t as if I’m loving this. It just adds to the stress of it all if I feel like I’m letting him down. Plus, I’m frustrated too. Sometimes I don’t feel like he gets that I miss our sex life too. I just can’t wait for the whole thing (menopause) to be over with.”
Perimenopause is the time, prior to halting ovulation altogether, that a woman’s cycle can become erratic due to the occurrence of hormonal imbalances and fluctuations. In a sense, perimenopause is the flip side of adolescence in that it occasions the ceasing of ovulatory function and it can begin anywhere from a woman’s mid-30’s into her 50’s. Because of the erratic cycles and confusing fertility signs that can accompany perimenopause, this can be a particularly challenging time for couples. The good news is that there are a few things couples can do to make this time much less frustrating and far more loving.
1. Get Some Training
Fortunately, the Couple to Couple League (CCL) offers a new pre-menopause class that can help couples make sense of the challenging experiences a couple can go through during perimenopause. Gone are the days when couples might experience months or even years of abstinence during this transitional phase of life. The art and science of NFP has evolved to the point that the symptoms of perimenopause can be decoded and understood so that couples don’t have to experience the burden of extended abstinence. For more information, couples should contact the Couple to Couple League to learn how they can continue to cultivate the love their marriage deserves even during this difficult time.
2. Pray Together.
I regularly recommend that couples pray together, but perimenopause is a time when couples can really benefit from an extra infusion of grace. Coming before the Lord together to express their mutual pain frustration or irritation with their bodies, their sexuality and their relationship can be a powerful exercise in joining together through a challenging time. When a couple can be honest in front of God and each other about the struggles that each are facing, they often can develop a remarkable degree of empathy and compassion for each other and those are two qualities couples can never have enough of.
3. Be in it Together
Perhaps the biggest challenge–second only to the physiological challenges of perimenopause–is the tendency for couples to turn on each other. The husband can allow his frustration to turn into resentment and anger at his wife. The wife can allow her frustration (with her body and her sexuality as well as with her husband’s apparent lack of sympathy) to turn into resentment and anger at her husband. There is a saying among marriage counselors. “Your partner is not the problem. The problem is the problem.” In this case, that means couples must resist the temptation to think of perimenopause as something YOU (spouse) are doing to ME. Instead couples need to think of perimenopause as a disorder that has symptoms that affect the entire marital body–husband and wife. The wife may experience one set of symptoms (physical, emotional, relational) and the husband may experience some of the same (emotional/relational) symptoms as his wife plus a few others of his own. Regardless, they are all symptoms of the same problem that they husband and wife must fight against together.
One important way a husband and wife can be there for each other through this time is by agreeing not to take each other’s feeling personally. Both husband and wife should feel free to talk about their individual frustration, anger, resentment, or irritation without fear that their spouse will take it personally because there is a mutual understanding that the couple is not frustrated, angry, resentful, or irritated with each other. Rather, they are frustrated, angry, resentful, or irritated at perimenopause and what it is putting them through. The more couples given into the temptation to make this experience personal, the more painful the experience will be. But when a husband and wife find that they can confess the feelings they aren’t proud of to each other and get a sympathetic ear instead of condemnation, they can transform a challenging time in their marriage into the fire that refines their love for one another.
4. Husbands Be There for Your Wives
As much as it is important to be there for each other, the fact is that it is the woman who is dealing with the worst of it. After all, she is the one experiencing the physical symptoms of perimenopause. A husband needs to cultivate the mindset that allows him to be a support to his wife who may be experiencing mood swings, sleep problems, and temperature fluctuations, to name but a few of the most common symptoms. “What can I do for you, Honey?” Should be asked sincerely and often. Better yet, make a list of the things you know your wife appreciates and start doing them without her having to ask. You don’t have to tiptoe around the house like you’re living with a timebomb (she won’t appreciate it) but the more attentive you can be to your wife’s needs, the more she will see you as an ally through this challenging time instead of treating you like an enemy.
5. Inventory Your Relationship
This is also a great time to take stock of your marriage. Perimenopause often occurs around the same time that a couple is launching their oldest children. Couples should take some time for each other. Make a marriage retreat. Read good books on marriage improvement together. Get some counseling–not because there is necessarily a problem, but to prevent problems from emerging and catching you off guard. By taking time to double-down on your investment in your marriage, you are sending a powerful message to each other that you are committed to building a marriage, rooted in Christ, sustained by grace, and confirmed though your own hard work that not even the gates of…well, menopause can stand against.
If you and your spouse are struggling with the challenges set forth by perimenopause, contact your PaxCare Tele-Coach today to get the solutions to the problems you are experiencing. Call us and get the skills you need to succeed!