How Can I Help My Wife in Perimenopause? What Perimenopause is Not

by Magnolia on August 3, 2010

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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.

A Home-Wrecker

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.

A Phase

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.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Von Kaenel November 22, 2010 at 9:40 am

Thank you for your website. I have found it encouraging. My wife is 41 and I believe she is going through perimenopause. She is moody, has trouble sleeping, has very erratic menstrual cycles, she is experiencing skin and hair issues and is very fatigued. She has also said that things bother her about me that before she was able to overlook. Things like me being messy, being withdrawn, and us having very few common interests. She has told me that she is more philosophical now than she was before, and things that she used to accept, she now objects to as a matter of principle. We have some issues in our marriage that were there before the perimenopause, but her feelings about these issues are so dire now. She has talked about separating and divorce, but has never moved out. I still love her, and this really tears my heart out everytime she does this. We have four kids under the age of 12, and I am trying everything I can to change and be a better husband to keep our family together. What concerns me the most is that she says she has lost her feelings of love for me, and she can’t get herself to feel love for me again. Did you experience anything like this when you were going through perimenopause. I’m starting to think it may be time for me to start letting go of our marriage, because she sure seems to want to leave and seems miserable with me. Is there any hope that she will rediscover her feelings for me, or is it time to just give her what she wants….a divorce. I know you can’t solve my problems, but I would appreciate any advice you could give. Thanks again for the blog.

Tom

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Magnolia November 22, 2010 at 11:03 am

Hello Tom,

I hope that I’ve already addressed some of what you asking in the blog post. But, to reiterate, the answer is: Yes. :)

I personally have experienced what you say you and your wife are going through right now and in many ways, I’m still there. I was 41 when I started going through menopause. I ended up conceiving my third child who is now 11 years old. I am 53 now.

The years from about 44 to 49 were the absolute worst. I was a raging, raving lunatic. There are no other words for it and frankly, it’s a miracle I never went to jail for murder. I was out of control and losing every semblance of sanity I had.

Fast-forward. I’m nearly 54 now. I hardly get my dandruff up about much of anything. If I get irritable, it passes within a matter of moments or a good night’s sleep. Had you told me 10 years ago I would feel normal again, I would have probably shot you. And then I would have dismembered you and fed you to my dogs. :D

All of the philosophical changes your wife is going through is a very real part of menopause. If you get a chance and you are interested in reading a bit about it, I have two books I highly recommend: The Female Brain by Dr. Louann Brizendine and The Wisdom of Menopause by Dr. Christine Northrup.

You will not find two better books in my opinion on the subject of menopause and the psychological and emotional changes a woman goes through. Unfortunately, women DO start to question their life, their marriage, their relationships in menopause. If we have been tolerant of much before menopause, we become tolerant of little afterwards. In fact, some have even said that women become more “man like” in her outlook. Less emotional, more “me” centered. Prior to menopause, our hormonal make-up is such that we are far more focused on others and their well-being.

However, when those hormones and brain chemicals begin to shift, we feel less maternal and nurturing and more apt to challenge things that heretofore we’ve happily accepted.

Dr. Northrup and Dr. Brizendine both address this phenomenon. I find it fascinating because, frankly, I’ve been going through the same evaluations and changes in my own marriage for about the past two years. I’m not divorced. But, there are plenty of things that I’m questioning if I want to live with the rest of my life.

So, it sounds like your wife is very much doing that and unfortunately, it is upsetting your home, your life and your marriage.

I would have to ask you though, has your wife sought any help for her symptoms? If not, is she open to seeking help? A good physician can help with the insominia, mood swings, and erratic cycles. I highly recommend natural hormones as opposed to synthetic. You can find a good product here at my blog if you check out the “the store” tab on my front page.

Just a suggestion, however. But, it might be a good place to start.

As far as giving your wife a divorce. I don’t think I would rush into that if I were you. If she hasn’t left or hasn’t filed for divorce, I wouldn’t make it easy for her. It might be in your best interest to back off and try to learn as much as you can about what is happening with her. I am happy to answer any questions or clarify anything for you. I’m not a miracle worker, but, I can assure you that everything you have told me here is NOT unusual. In fact, it might shock you to learn just how common it is. And I’m talking about the “talking about divorce” stuff.

Seriously. This issue is huge with women in perimenopause. Please look into those books I’ve recommended. I honestly think they will enlighten you. Also, if she hasn’t seen a good physician, try to see if you can get her to to one. I would recommend the websites of the following doctors:

Dr. Steven F. Hotze http://www.drhotze.com and Dr. Erika Schwartz http://www.drerika.com

Both physicians are schooled in bioidentical hormones. You can find their books in the sidebar of my blog as well.

Please feel free to contact me privately if you have anymore questions.

Magnolia

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trev February 15, 2011 at 7:49 am

hi how do i contact you privately

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JK November 30, 2011 at 11:18 am

I think this may have been the most important thing I’ve ever read (female, 45 yrs old, not happy)

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mark January 8, 2012 at 2:01 am

thankyou sooo much. first I will say no I have not been my usual patient self. and yes I have told her she is going crazy. I have always thought my wife to a little off kilter. we have been married 30 years she stuck by my side through lets say,a horrible rinking career. I will say tht we have definitely.
had communication problems. I will work on this and let you know

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Kirt March 5, 2012 at 8:54 am

This must have been written by a woman. Menopause is not some sort of truth serum that proves every little perceived flaw by a man is brought to the surface. My wife has turned into someone I don’t know, impossible to deal with. I’m sick of apologizing for things that I don’t even know what I did. If stepping up means the man has to lay down and take a beating for years (My wife should be peaking out at 3 years now) I’m out. The woman needs to take a look at herself, she is the one that is crazy not the rest of the world around her.

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Magnolia March 5, 2012 at 8:57 am

Of course it was written by a woman, Kirt. How would a man even begin to understand the experience of perimenopause? Yes, your wife has changed. Life is change. Are you the same person you were when you were 15 years old? 21? 30?

Life is a constant evolution of change. Menopause is a definitely one of those changes, and yes, it does render her a “different person.” I would suggest that if you wish to stay married to her that perhaps you need to change right along with her.

However, if you believe that you have been the perfect husband, and that we live in a perfect world, then by all means, call her crazy and file for a divorce.

Magnolia

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mandy June 16, 2012 at 9:07 am

I loved reading this, thank you. I’m 40 and have just been told by my doctor I could be perimenopausal.. I have all the symptoms.. Waking up drenched etc.. Period changes.. Mood swings.. And more.

Apart from being relieved that there is now something to blame for my new ‘no-nonsense’ self, I also feel upset that i’m losing my womanhood and i’m really scared of ‘losing the plot’.. As my pms has gone lethal..

And i’m having to constantly hold myself down and trying not to cross this invisible line of no return.. If that makes sense. Unfortunately my partner was the first to go lol.. There were underlying issues already which I had already put up with.

It seems I dont want anything on my head and I dont want somebody to make things hard for me.. Things need to be simple and happy.. If any1 trys to make things hard for me, they will be gone to. I only want nice and easy things while I am on the verge of insanity.

I do feel happier and stronger in myself and pleased I can now put things into perspective and where they belong.. Thats prob all it is.. Just drawing a line at being a pushover. I quick around nicer ppl and try to do my favourite enjoyable things..

I take the dog on long walks when i’m feeling a bit down and reflect on things and clear my head. I dont know where my ‘ten men’ attitude has come from but I am a stronger person now and know what I do and dont want.

As I an probably at the beginning, I am really scared of it getting worse as my mother ‘lost it’ during her menopause. I am trying to keep my head above water whilst also trying to deal with 2 hormonal teenage boys and the breakup.

Their father is already living with another woman so he weren’t worth holding onto. I just think, if ur not a good partner or there isn’t a good balance in the relationship then u’ve got no chance when ur mrs goes on the change.

I’ve been doing spontaneous mad things too and if ur not prepared to go along with it, then u r the weakest link :-P and yes I agree its not just a phase.. It is a whole change of personality, and I feel quite happily selfish for once in my life.. Although I still do lots for every1 aswel.

If u dont like this change say goodbye. sorry to be blunt. Really glad I came across this page as I felt so alone in this and feel like I understand now why I have been the way i’ve been..

I dread my nxt pms and beg the lord to help me through them few days of being on a different planet. Reading back.. I feel like I have just described a man hahaa. Thanks magnolia x

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Magnolia June 16, 2012 at 9:28 am

Hello Mandy,

Yes, it is quite a change and it can include abandoning relationships for a lot of women. It sounds like you’re coping with things pretty well. Long walks with dogs is always a good thing. I do the same pretty much every day.

My two older children are no longer teens, but I do have a 13 year old. But, she’s delightful and does not present issues for me. So, my life is now much calmer and less stressful than it was for so long.

I’m glad you found your way here. Please do join us at Facebook for chats. You can find the link on my front page or you can just click through here.

Magnolia

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