Many women find that menopause symptoms can change their romantic relationships. Mood changes, a lower sex drive, and night sweats are just a few examples of some of the symptoms that can place distance between partners. It’s also not uncommon for changing hormone levels to cause women to question whether they love, or even like their partner. Some women also lose confidence and self-esteem during menopause and worry about the prospect of their partner having an affair.
Understandably, these thoughts and issues can be debilitating, and leave you feeling anxious and uncertain about the future. You might find yourself wondering where to turn next, and feel helpless that you don’t have all the answers.
The reassuring news is that relationship problems during menopause are common, and don’t necessarily mean it’s time to throw in the towel.
Here, we’ve taken a closer look at why menopause can impact relationships, and suggested some things that can help.
Why does menopause impact romantic relationships?
Throughout a woman’s menopause transition, estrogen levels decrease. This change in hormone levels can result in a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms including hot flushes, sleep problems (which can lead to fatigue), irritability, anxiety, vaginal dryness, and a loss of sex drive. While these symptoms can be distressing enough for a woman to deal with as an individual, they can also affect the relationship that a woman has with her partner.
For example, if you used to have regular sex with your partner, but have lost interest and your sex life has changed, then you might feel less bonded to one another. Some women also say that during menopause, they suddenly feel as if they are seeing their partner in a new light – with some behaviours and habits that were tolerable before, now feeling impossible to deal with.
In addition, falling estrogen levels have also been linked to falling oxytocin levels (oxytocin is our ‘love hormone’). Oxytocin is the hormone that is responsible for helping us to feel bonded to our friends, family and romantic partners. So, if it declines, you might feel less inclined to want to be around others, and/or your love and affection towards your partner might be either absent or no longer as strong.
In some cases, menopause symptoms alone can cause problems within a relationship, whereas other times, symptoms can compound or exacerbate existing issues. Every relationship will be different, but the tips below will hopefully help to resolve some of the common concerns in relationships during menopause.
What are some common relationship issues during menopause, and what can be done to help?
1. Feeling as though you’ve fallen out of love with your partner
If you’ve questioned your love or affection for your partner during your menopause transition, then you’re certainly not alone – and while this can be due to other issues going on in your relationship, research suggests that it could be down to falling levels of ‘the love hormone’, oxytocin.
Oxytocin is the hormone that makes us want to cuddle up with our partner, hold their hand, or share with them our innermost thoughts and feelings. It’s responsible for creating bonds between partners that can result in long-lasting love and is also released during sex – which is why you might feel closer to your partner after a sexual encounter.
If oxytocin levels fall, then your feelings towards your partner can change. Some women describe feeling less attracted to their partner, or doubtful about their love towards them. Others have spoken about feeling fed up their partners, and wanting to spend more time alone.
Often, the most helpful thing you can do if this happens is to take the time to think things through. If your loss of love or attraction towards your partner is due to falling estrogen and oxytocin levels then, with time, this could resolve itself. Although this situation is never easy, when it comes to relationships, it’s often not a good idea to act on impulse – especially if you’re unsure of your feelings towards your partner, or if they frequently change.
A helpful way to make sense of any changes in your relationship can be to write things down. Journaling can offer clarity to a whole host of different situations, and can also be a great stress reliever. Plus, looking back over a few weeks or months worth of journal entries can be a helpful way to spot patterns or inconsistencies in your feelings about your relationship, and identify what some of the main issues might be.
2. Not wanting to have sex
If you’ve found that you are less interested in having sex with your partner, then there you might find it comforting to know that there are many women out there who feel the same way. A 2013 study in Britain’s The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist tells us that roughly 80% of women reported some decline in sexual desire during menopause.
Lower estrogen levels can be the direct cause of a lower sex drive. But it can also bring on symptoms such vaginal dryness, night sweats, and a loss of sensation in the vagina and/or clitoris – which can make sex feel less comfortable and enjoyable, and less appealing as a result. Some women also find that they take longer to get aroused or to climax.
While a change in your sex life can feel frustrating and potentially cause friction in your relationship, there are few things you can work on together that might help. The first involves talking to your partner about the changes you’re experiencing. It can help to choose a time to do this when you’re both as relaxed as possible, so that you’ll both be more likely to listen to one another and work as a team to find solutions.
Some of these solutions could be things like taking things at a slower pace to build anticipation and help you get in the mood for sex. You might find it helpful to put more date nights in the diary, to spend longer having foreplay, or to make more time to be intimate in other ways – such as by making time to kiss and cuddle, or give each other sensual massages. These can also be helpful ways to connect with your partner and strengthen your bond (by boosting oxytocin levels). Often partners who feel a strong sense of connection will be more inclined to want to have fun between the sheets.
If you’re experiencing vaginal dryness, then using lubricants can also be a great way to help to restore comfort and pleasure to your sex life. Our article, 7 tips to improve your sex life during and after menopause has some more ideas that you might find useful.
3. Wanting support from your partner but feeling unsure how to ask for it
During your menopause transition, there might be times when you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and/or sad. You might also have fleeting moments of irritability or anger – or longer-term lows in the form of depression or anxiety. It’s understandable to want some extra support from your partner while this is going on – for example, in the form of a cuddle, a chat over a cup of tea, or someone just to tell you that everything is going to be okay.
If your partner isn’t responding in the ways that you would hope for at the moment, then it could be that they simply don’t understand what’s changed, or how to help. Some partners will do nothing at all through fear of getting it wrong.
For this reason, it’s important to let your partner know what you’re going through, so that they can offer you the right support. Chances are, they will also be more patient and understanding if they’re clear on why things have changed – especially if this reassures them that they aren’t the cause.
It can be easy to feel that you just want your partner to know what to do and how to help you feel better, but this isn’t always realistic. Menopause and everything that comes with it, might be new territory for your partner, and they might not know much about it or what to do for the best.
If this is the case, then don’t be afraid of having a very explicit chat with your partner, where you clearly explain what changes you’re going through physically and emotionally – and what you feel you need from them.
For example, if you’re having a bad day and everything is getting on your nerves, then perhaps the best thing your partner can do in this situation is to give you some space. If you’re feeling particularly tearful, then perhaps your partner can just be there to offer you a shoulder to cry on or to try and make you laugh. Or, if you’re struggling with fatigue, then maybe you could also ask your partner to help you out with certain tasks that you find particularly tiring.
You could also ask them if they would be willing to read a little bit about the menopause to increase their understanding. Our article, Managing your menopause journey, provides an overview of the menopause transition and offers some tips on how to cope. Perhaps this could be a good place for your partner to start if they are willing.
Having that first open and honest conversation about all things menopause should hopefully help future conversations to feel easier. Where there might have been interrogative questions and reactivity from your partner in the past if you were struggling with symptoms like mood changes or a lower sex drive, hopefully now, there will be more understanding and support between you.
4. Feeling angry and/or irritable
Changing hormones during menopause can leave you feeling fed up, stressed and/or irritable. While whatever you’re feeling is completely valid, it can be useful to explore ways to manage negative emotions, so that they don’t overwhelm you or place unmanageable strain on your relationship.
If you arrive home after a busy day at work, and your partner says something silly that makes you feel like you’re going to explode, then taking a step back from the situation can help to diffuse things. Mindfulness, regular exercise, or deep breathing techniques can be helpful tools for doing this. Not only will they offer you some moments to check in with yourself and take note of how you’re feeling, but they’re also great stress-busters, so will hopefully offer you some relief.
As previously mentioned, journaling is another habit that has some powerful mental health benefits. It can not only reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, but it can also help us to keep perspective, regulate our emotions, and improve our sense of confidence and self-identity. You might want to have a read of our article; The power of journaling as a life habit to find out more.
5. Feeling less confident in your own skin
Though menopause is something that almost all women have to go through, accepting the changes that come with it can be difficult. Estrogen is the hormone that tends to make us feel sexy, so when it declines, we might see ourselves differently. Falling estrogen levels can also disrupt glucose and fat metabolism and lead to weight gain.
When this happens, you might experience a dip in confidence and self-esteem – perhaps you no longer feel as good about yourself as you once did, and so feel less happy and secure in your relationship as a result. If you can relate to this, then it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Research from Healthspan shows that nearly half of women surveyed said that due to menopause they no longer felt attractive, and almost two-thirds of women said that they no longer wanted to have sex with their partners.
Tackling low confidence and self-esteem can be tricky, but there are some things that can help. Although it might sound obvious, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet are a couple of key ways to improve your overall health and wellbeing – and feel more confident as a result. Other confidence-boosting ways to celebrate and care for your body could include treating yourself to some new underwear, or to a new sex toy. Or, even something as simple as making time to moisturise your body from head to toe after you’ve bathed or showered. These acts of self-care can help you to accept your body, and hopefully feel more confident between the sheets with your partner.
No matter what body changes you go through during menopause, try to remind yourself that you are still you and that you deserve to be loved and to have amazing sex. If you don’t believe it at first, then keep telling yourself until you do.
The emotional and physical symptoms of menopause, such as vaginal dryness, a lower sex drive, and mood changes, can put a strain on relationships. But, it’s important to keep in mind that this transition is natural and normal, and isn’t anyone’s fault.
Every relationship is different, but if menopause symptoms are the root cause of problems in yours, then hopefully some of the tips above will help. Often, honest and open communication from both partners is the key to finding solutions that work for everyone.
However, if you feel that things are getting out of hand, and your menopause symptoms are making life miserable – perhaps not just at home, but at work, and/or socially – then it’s important to make an appointment with your GP. Alternatively, you could consider seeing a menopause specialist. You can find a list of menopause specialists recognised by the British Menopause Society (BMS) here.
If you feel worried about the prospect of visiting a health professional to discuss your symptoms, then perhaps you could ask your partner to come with you. Sometimes, just having them by your side to remind you that you’re not alone can make all the difference.
For more menopause tips and advice, you might want to have a read of our article; Managing your menopause journey, and 5 tips for maintaining friendships during menopause.
Have your menopause symptoms affected your relationship? Did you find a way through it? Do you have any additional tips on managing relationship issues during menopause? Join the conversation on the community forum, or leave a comment below.