One of the first places to begin when talking about perimenopause is to define what it actually is. It’s difficult to help anyone if you do not know exactly what you’re dealing with.
I often say you don’t cure cancer by calling it a cold, and you can’t solve an algebra problem if you begin with the wrong premise.
That said, I think most men probably know what perimenopause is. What they don’t often know, however, is what it is not. So, let us begin by defining perimenopause in terms of what it is not.
With the many confused and desperate husbands that reach out to me, I’ve noticed a pattern. For starters, nearly all of them are in crisis mode. Either their wives have left them, they are talking about leaving them, or they are considering divorce.
Furthermore, they are convinced that perimenopause created the crisis in the first place. As far as they were concerned, they have been living happily ever-after in a solid marriage that has hummed along in perfect harmony. That is, until she upset the apple-cart with that perimenopause stuff.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, consider the insightful words of a fellow husband and brother-in-arms, Ken, who recently left a comment here at The Perimenopause Blog:
“……….It came out that I am too controlling and she doesn’t know if she can cope. She is right, I was. I believe perimenopause amplifies “real” problems. I don’t blame her hormones for that………..”
Bingo, Ken. Her hormones did not cause you to be too controlling. In fact, gentlemen, hormones are not capable of creating flaws or communication issues in a solid marital relationship.
What they can and often do, however, is intensify and amplify “real” problems, as Ken called them, which may have been simmering below the surface of the marriage for a very long time.
If you and your wife have had communication problems over the years let’s say, then perimenopause can and often does further exacerbate that problem. But, it does not, and I repeat, it does not create that problem.
I believe if most men had the insight that Ken had regarding his own marital issues, half the battle would be won. That is because perimenopause can no more cause a “good solid marriage” to spin out of control than the five o’clock shadow on your masculine face could.
Perimenopause, like the hair on your face, is the result of hormones. Shifting hormones. Yes, this shift can render your wife more sensitive or less sensitive, more emotional or less emotional, distant, reflective, discontent and downright difficult to live with. But, it does not make a good marriage bad.
A Personal Choice
As a mother of teens, I sincerely understand how difficult it is to not think that hormonally induced behavior is really just one big, fat attitude problem, that said “hormonally drunk” person should just get over. Especially if that attitude problem happens to be particularly nasty and directed squarely at you.
While I do believe in theory, it is possible for a woman to remove herself from a situation that might become volatile when she is suffering from mood-swings, for example, I do not know many women who can actually do that when she is in the thick of perimenopause symptoms.
That is because perimenopause and its effect on our hormonal state is organic. It’s biological. And frankly, trying to box up the effects of hormones into a perfect square with four clearly defined right angles is like trying to separate the head from the physical body. It just can’t be done. It’s messy.
Hormones direct a large part of our bodily functions. Much, much more than just fertility and sexuality. To presume your wife is deliberately choosing to have volatile, wild, mood-swings or behave in ways that are not typical for her, is not only an erroneous presumption, but counter-productive to helping her as well.
While I do not want to be dismissive to the fact that you are affected by this hormonal tsunami called perimenopause, I think it’s imperative to establish that she is not choosing, plotting, planning or penciling in a week to go postal with perimenopause mood swings.
Remember, gentleman, if you think it’s difficult for you, it is even more difficult for her. She is the one who is being thrashed without mercy by hormonal mood swings, crashing fatigue, insomnia, night sweats and hot flashes. You, unfortunately, are the collateral damage.
But, I can assure you that any effort on your part to separate her behavior from any perceived personal affront on your manhood will serve you well. Not only can it diffuse any nuclear hormonal explosions, but it can also pave the way for her to realize how long-suffering and enduring you have been. Which in the mind of most women will send this message:
“I love you and I am here for you”.
Trust me on this one, gentleman, there are not enough diamonds, flowers or chocolate in this world that will equal the impact of your willingness to communicate to her that you are sensitive to her plight and how it makes her feel. Of course, a little chocolate while you’re doing that probably wouldn’t hurt either, now that I think about it.
A Psychiatric Disorder
Yes, she’s acting crazy. She’s probably even said, “I feel like I’m going crazy. Perhaps you have even thought she has finally gone over the edge. But, she’s not.
And might I add gentleman, that accusing her (if you have) of being nuts, calling her nuts or even quietly harboring nutty thoughts even though you may have never uttered them out-loud, will do nothing but further alienate your wife and hamper your efforts to be helpful.
Besides, you are here because you want to “help”, right? Then, take note – she’s not crazy. In fact, if you hear her voice those kind of thoughts, you would do well by her to assure her she is not going crazy and those voices she hears are just a figment of her imagination. Just kidding.
Okay, it is a phase, sort of. A phase in that she will eventually come out of it. But, it’s not a phase in the sense that you can label it as such and then be dismissive.
Look, I’m going to be honest. Much of what I’m writing here is the direct result of my own experiences and how my spouse has responded to me. While I believe in individual differences among genders, I also believe there are some generalities that can be made, such as his tendency to call my hormonal upheaval a “phase” that I will eventually “get over”. Unfortunately, I hear this type of attitude frequently with men.
Where my spouse and many other men men err, is that perimenopause is not a “I think I like rocky road ice cream this week” kind of a phase or “I think I’m only going to wear white t-shirts” kind of phase.
So, if you’re thinking that simply hunkering down and riding it out until you have your old wife back is a safe coarse of action, you may find yourselves in a world of hurt, gentleman.
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “A new normal”. Well, that is an accurate statement when it comes to perimenopause. She will come “out of it” so to speak, but she will not come out of it the same woman she was when she went in.
The change of menopause is much, much more than just a cessation of fertility and menstrual cycles. A monumental paradigm shift is also occurring. Your wife is completely re-evaluating, re-defining and re-shaping her entire belief system, boundaries, self-image and out-look on life.
If you are willing to re-think, re-define and re-negotiate with her, you might find the “new normal” that emerges on the other side is better, less clunky and much more satisfying for you both.
If, however, you choose to be insensitive, dismissive or attempt to hold onto the status quo, you might find yourself facing a pretty rocky road fraught with alienation of affection, separation and possibly even a divorce.
Statistically speaking, if a woman is going to walk out on her marriage, the chances of her doing it during menopause are about 50:50 and some say even higher. So, if she’s unhappy or the years of unresolved issues have finally bubbled over during perimenopause, I would strongly advise that you take it seriously and be willing to get in the trenches with her to work it out.
A Closing Word
Finally, gentlemen, I do not wish to incite panic, inflame you or set off any unnecessary alarms. But, I cannot guarantee that if you take everything I say to heart and apply it with flawless precision that all of your marital problems with magically disappear. It may be that your marriage is done for no matter what you say or do.
What I can tell you, is that if you will consider what I say, and are willing to look at things differently, it is possible to successfully navigate the turbulent waters of perimenopause.
Fortunately, perimenopause is not a permanent condition. It is a transition. But, if you are willing to provide unwavering love and the type of unconditional support that women crave and need during difficult times, you can provide a solid bridge for both of you to cross into a safe harbor.
It won’t be easy or even remotely fun, but if you are willing to step up (and I bet you are) then your chances of success will increase exponentially.