The love of your life is hot, irritated and glaring at you. You switch the thermostat lower, but she’s still flushed.
It’s hot as hell in here! Turn it lower!
She sounds really, really annoyed.
It’s on 68, honey! C’mon!
But there’s more. She’s weepy, hostile for no apparent reason, and having trouble sleeping. The last few weeks she’s been complaining about night sweats. Come to think of it, she’s not all that interested in sex, either.
Night sweats? Weepy? Not interested in sex?
Is it that time of the month?
If your partner is in her 40s or over, it’s more likely that time of her life.
You know—the big “M.” Menopause.
What’s a guy to do?
Experts agree there are only two things you can do: Buy a sexy red sports car and get yourself a younger girlfriend.
OK. That was in very bad taste. But, in all seriousness, being discarded for a younger model is a fear many menopausal women share. Surrounded by a youth-worshipping culture, women in their 40s and 50s start to feel invisible. The last thing many want to do is broadcast their age by reminding our mates we’ve hit menopause.
Even the word sounds scary. As Dick Roth, the author of No, It's Not Hot in Here: A Husband’s Guide to Understanding Menopause, puts it: “Menopause is something I associated with my mother’s generation. Susan was way too young. I thought about her shriveling up, getting saggy breasts, and growing a hump in her back—and promptly went into denial. I married a young, slim, sexy woman. She’s not growing old. Nope. No way.”
The good news is that menopause has come out of the closet and is being discussed in bedrooms around the country. With more than 2 million American women entering menopause every year and 30 million post-menopausal women in the United States, it’s hardly a shameful secret anymore. And men are a vital part of that discussion.
The first thing men need to know is that menopause is a natural biological process and not a medical illness, says Dr. Karel Cooperman, LMHC, a Sarasota-based mental health counselor who specializes in women’s issues.
“There’s nothing to cure. Men often feel that their wives or girlfriends simply need to fix whatever is wrong—and their lives will be back to normal. But menopause is a natural process. Although it's associated with hormonal, physical and psychosocial changes in the woman’s life, it does not signal the end of her vitality, her sexuality or her sanity.”
Most experts agree that a key to successfully navigating the choppy waters of menopause is intelligent, frequent communication. “Spouses need to be able to comfortably talk to each other about this,” says Cooperman. “She should be clear about what she’s experiencing so that he can be part of that loop. He should make it clear that he is there to help her through this. Simple questions like ‘How are you feeling?’ and ‘How can I help?’ do wonders.”
Dr. Dan Watts, an ob/gyn and founder of The RenewalPoint Anti-Aging Center in Sarasota, agrees that communication is vital to maintaining a healthy relationship during menopause.
“How a woman experiences menopause can be very influenced by how her mate responds to it,” he says. “Men often don’t understand what’s happening and they begin to distance themselves. This may just be on an emotional level, but the woman senses it and can misread it entirely. It’s a domino effect. He interprets her lack of interest in sex, for instance, as a lack of interest in him. She does the same thing. If they both understand that a lot of this is simply due to natural hormonal imbalances, a lot of hurt feelings could be avoided.”
Another essential fact? That anniversary diamond you gave her may last forever—but menopause doesn’t. Although it can last anywhere from three to 13 years, it is finite, says Dr. Maureen Maguire, a gynecologist and gynecological surgeon.
“Menopause is a natural passage, just as pregnancy was a passage leading to the birth of a child,” says Maguire. “There is a beginning and an end. Both the woman and her mate need to understand that some adjustments will have to be made during this period. Changes in sleep, mood changes, physical discomfort—all of these elements can affect a woman’s everyday functioning. But it doesn’t last forever. The tumultuous period will end.”
So, talk to each other and keep in mind that this, too, shall pass. What’s next?
Educate yourselves, says Cooperman. “The transition will be easier and far less scary if you both know exactly what to expect and how to prepare for it.”
Some of the potential physical changes can include skin flushing, hot flashes, sleep disturbances, weight gain, thinning hair, irregular menstrual periods, vaginal dryness and osteoporosis. In addition, some women experience decreased libido, moodiness, forgetfulness, hostility and depression.
Sound daunting? Fear not. Such symptoms are manageable, says Maguire. “Each woman is unique in her needs, and we adjust our treatments accordingly,” she says. Many of her patients still opt for hormone replacement therapy, often with dosages smaller than used in previous years; others have decided that possible risks of the treatment outweigh its benefits.
“But if the woman decides to forgo hormone therapy, her mate should not complain each time she’s hot and needs to turn the thermostat down. They should both be prepared and educated as to what might occur.” Maguire adds that she always welcomes her patient’s significant other to engage in the patient-doctor consultations.
Watts agrees that most symptoms can be eased once diagnosis is made. “Women are more run by their hormones than men are. Their systems are more hyper-vigilant. It’s what makes them nurturing, caring beings—and why men love them. Hormonal adjustment is available if the woman chooses to go that way”
So far, so good. But what about her sex drive? Does that pause during menopause?
The answer to that is yes and no. While many menopausal women do report reduction of sexual interest, more than half say their sex drive has not decreased. Certainly, physical and emotional discomfort can lessen the desire for sex. As estrogen levels decline, vaginal tissues become thinner and less elastic, which can lead to discomfort during intercourse. More important, though, is that sexual desire is often linked to how the woman perceives herself. With all of the bodily and emotional changes she’s experiencing, she may feel less desirable to men in general.
Hormone replacement therapy and localized estrogen creams and products can help flagging desire—and so can loving support from her partner.
“She needs more assurance that you are aware of her feelings and still attracted to her. Remind her that she’s pretty or that her perfume smells wonderful,” says Cooperman. “In our youth-oriented culture, the 50-something woman is too often depicted as old and undesirable. It’s different in Europe, where an older woman is considered sexy and engaging. Look at Catherine Deneuvre, who still gets the roles of sexy women. Most American actresses over 40 are relegated to playing grandmothers.”
And by the way, if you’re about the same age as she is, you may be the one experiencing a drop in libido or sexual functioning.
Some women actually experience an increase in sexual vitality at this time, says Maguire. “Again, it’s different for every woman, but some women feel more sexual because they are free from pregnancy. Sometimes their children are moving out or have already moved out—and that opens up more time for themselves. For these women, there can be a real sexual awakening.”
It comes down to this: Menopause doesn’t have to be something men or women have to grin and bear. Indeed, it can be an enlightening and empowering process for the two of you. If the man is willing to ask questions, get educated, be engaged and show compassion, you’ll both come out of this with renewed love and respect for each other.
In fact, says Cooperman, if properly managed, menopause can be a time when a woman comes into her own for the first time in her life. With fewer responsibilities, she has more time to get involved with the community and explore her passions. “This is a time we can take a look at ourselves and get closer to what makes us tick,” she says. “It’s a time of life to enroll in classes, travel, volunteer, and do things that satisfy you. You can have a five-minute pity party if you want—but that’s it. This is a time to please ourselves. Personally, I’ve found it to be an exhilarating time of my life.”
And, guys, remember this: Despite the changes she’s experiencing, the woman you fell in love with is still hot.
And not just in the Fahrenheit sense.
THE FACTS ABOUT HRT
Dr. Dan Watts of Sarasota’s RenewalPoint Anti-Aging Center answers a few basic questions about hormone replacement therapy or HRT.
Why should women consider undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during menopause? Painful intercourse due to dryness in vaginal tissues, lack of libido, hot flashes, osteoporosis, and changes in body composition, such as weight gain.
Can all menopausal women benefit from HRT? Most can, yes. Some women may have contraindications, such as estrogen-receptive cancers. Each person needs to be tested individually.
How can a woman find out if she should consider HRT? Talk to your physician and ask to have a hormone test. There are a lot of good books out there, too. I highly recommend Suzanne Somers’ book, The Sexy Years: Discover the Hormone Connection—The Secret to Fabulous Sex, Great Health, and Vitality, for Women and Men.
Is it true biodentical hormones are better than the more widely used synthetic ones? Bioidentical hormones are manufactured to have the same molecular structure as the hormones made by your own body. Synthetic hormones, such as Premarin, are intentionally different because drug companies can’t patent a bioidentical structure. Patented chemicals don’t take care of all the problems; they may cure hot flashes, but they also increase risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease. The bioidentical hormones seem to take care of the problems with minimal side effects.
Evolution’s Ernest Santana on staying fit.
We’ve heard it before, but it’s Ernesto Santana’s favorite mantra: Do everything in moderation and you’ll stay healthy and fit. This former baseball pro (The Pirates, White Sox and Blue Jays) is the founder of Evolution, a hip new downtown fitness center he opened with his fiancée, Suzette Jones. The Evolution philosophy is all about whole body fitness: Each member is given a full body analysis to determine metabolic rates, bone density, body fat composition and flexibility—and then a program is designed specifically for them. “We look at how your body evolves,” says Santana, who is certified in various fitness modalities, “as your exercise regime progresses. Then we restructure your fitness program to match your new needs.” So, what’s one vital thing a person can do to stay in shape? “Walk,” says Santana. “At a good pace—outside. Don’t go overboard, but do it in a progressive way so that you add minutes as the weeks go by. It’s all about progress, evolution—you need to constantly challenge your body to new levels of endurance.” What about diet? Santana smiles and returns to his mantra. “Eat what you love to eat—but in moderation.” Evolution, 1990 Main St.; 955-9300.