Update: This post was originally written in 2009. It has been edited and updated to be republished
Well, as you can tell from the title of this post, I’m sending out a lifeboat of sorts, to husbands whose wives are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause. The search data on my blog tells me that more than a few men are out there searching for information on perimenopause, and how it affects women. I’m also assuming that these men are trying to understand what is happening to their wives, so they can cope with it, and maybe even learn how to help their wives as well.
She’s Not Crazy
Unfortunately, however, nearly every search term I see in this data includes the word “crazy.” On the one hand, I fully understand why some men would say that. Because it’s certainly how it makes us feel sometimes. And if you’re not familiar with the many ways the symptoms of perimenopause can affect women, then maybe you might use that word to describe it.
But, if you are searching for an accurate knowledge of perimenopause and how it affects women, gentlemen, then I would strongly suggest that you refrain from using such adjectives to describe the women you love, and to whom you have devoted your lives.
I can also assure you that if you are sincerely looking for for ways in which you can help your wives, and ergo help yourselves as well, beginning from the premise that she is “crazy” is certainly not the best place to begin a productive conversation. I would certainly hope that reasonable minds would agree. Yes?
It’s Also Not Personal
I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that most husbands are like mine. Though he is now my “ex” husband, and in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that his treatment of me during the years of perimenopause played an enormous role in my seeking a divorce.
Some of you might think this bias hampers my ability to write objectively on this topic. And you would be right – about the bias part. Bias runs deep and wide at The Perimenopause Blog. But, that is not necessarily a bad thing. My experience has merit and value.
And the circumstances and dynamics which were at play in my own marriage were not unique or extraordinary. I say this with confidence based on the hundreds of comments and emails I’ve received over the years from men just like you. There are many parallels and similarity of experience.
Because of that, I believe these similarities can enable you to extrapolate valuable knowledge and understanding of what happens when women go through through perimenopause.
So don’t discount personal experience right off the bat. It might prove to be invaluable asset for you by helping you to broaden and deepen your understanding of perimenopause.
Now, all of that said, something my ex-husband did which only served to make things more difficult was that he personalized my perimenopause symptoms.
What do I mean when I say he “personalized” my symptoms? I mean that he saw everything that happened to me as being primarily about him. And it wasn’t. I was the one going through perimenopause, not him. But, rather than separating himself from the fact that it was me and not him, he talked primarily about what he was going through and how difficult it was for him.
It’s silly really. But, that was the reality.
Yes, it is true that it was difficult for him when I was having mood swings for example as I would often times unload said mood swing on him. So an excellent argument could be made I suppose that it was indeed personal. Except that it wasn’t. And I always went to great lengths to explain that what was happening to me was not about him. It was my hormones.
I apologized profusely when I behaved badly, and did everything I could to assure him that my failings were not an indictment of him. There were times when he seemed to understand. At least, I wanted to believe that he did. However, mostly he didn’t. And that made more difficult for both of us.
After a while it became equally as stressful for me to keep explaining this to him, and constantly having to massage his wounded ego, as the actual mood swings were themselves. In fact, it was exhausting. Eventually I stopped explaining altogether because it was fruitless.
Did I mention we’re divorced?
Maybe an Analogy Will Help You Understand
Do you have children? If so, then you were likely present when your wife went into labor and delivery and watched (or were at least close by) when your child was born? A joyous moment for all, without a doubt. It is also a wonderful illustration of hormones in action.
I read once (somewhere) that physicians, with all of their medical knowledge, still do not know what exactly triggers the onset of labor. They do know that hormones are involved to some degree, but they cannot pinpoint exactly what causes labor to begin. They are very clear on what happens after it begins. But what triggers it? Clueless.
When child labor begins there is no stopping it. There is no controlling it. In fact, there is no more stopping it or controlling it, than there is stopping and controlling the hormonal changes which cause the facial hair to grow on your face, or which changed the register of your voice when you went through puberty.
Remember those years? Gentlemen?
As the mother of a son, I distinctly remember how befuddled he would become when his voice would crack, randomly and literally out of the blue.
“Where did that come from?” he would ask.
Why? Because not only could he not control it, but he had no idea when it was going to occur either! It was a totally random event which he had absolutely no control over. Much like the mood swings and other symptoms of perimenopause.
The Girl Can’t Help It
As you may have already figured out, just as women cannot control labor and delivery during childbirth, and you could not control the pubescent changes which occurred in your teenage body, neither can we control the symptoms of perimenopause. None of them. In fact, perimenopause is often called the “second adolescence” due to the crazy and wildly unpredictable hormonal shifts.
Yes, I will concede, some of us are better at managing it than others. But even the most contained women have an “H” of a time with perimenopause mood swings, for example. It’s an organic, systemic, biological change that we can no more control than the color of our eyes, the size of our foot or the shape of our nose. We came wired with all of these DNA-defined components and have absolutely no say about it.
But, I can assure you gentleman, that ALL of the women I know, and I mean ALL of them, if given a choice, would choose NOT to be a depressive/raging woman drunk on estrogen and progesterone. Yes, it’s true, we sometimes laugh and joke about it among ourselves. But, that’s called coping. Because, frankly, if we couldn’t laugh about it and make fun of it? It would be an even bigger nightmare.
So What’s a Husband to Do?
Believe it or not there is plenty you can do. Listen carefully and understand this:
She’s not doing it on purpose. It’s not you that she’s mad at it when she’s mad. Not really. It’s her body. Yes, it’s you, but it’s not you. Not really. It’s the dog, but it’s not the dog. It’s everything and it’s not everything. All at the same time. It’s the universe. It’s hormones. Scary hormones. Yeah, crazy. I know. And that’s exactly how she feels sometimes. But, she’s not crazy. Just stressed and maybe a little scared too.
If you are here for searching for understanding, then I applaud you. I know it’s difficult for you. It’s difficult for us too. But, you have more power than you may think you do. Your wife could use non-judgement. She could use a few kind words and a hug too. Even if she doesn’t acknowledge those kind words, the hug and the lack of judgment, give it anyway. It’s not going unnoticed, no matter what you think.
And remember, no matter what she says, how she says it or how it makes you feel, it’s really, REALLY not about you. Give yourself and her a break too. Don’t take it personally. Just realize that if she had a terminal disease and acted like this, chances are you wouldn’t take it personally at all. You would likely understand, hopefully, in one of those philosophical-spiritual- existential – kinds-of-way, that she is dying and she’s fighting back.
We’re not terminal or dying during perimenopause. But it sure feels that way sometimes. And if you guys could understand that just a wee bit, and could offer your big strong shoulders to cry on, it would help you both out a lot.
And her’es one final and very important thought: We need you in our lives or we wouldn’t have married you. And when we are going through this very difficult time called perimenopause – we need you even more. We need you to step up and honor the vow that you took and the promise that you made – for better or for worse, and through sickness and in health.
If you can do this for her, she won’t forget it when she comes out on the other side. That’s a promise you can take to the bank.