It’s natural for relationships to shift over the years, with an ebb and flow of passion. Though this change is inevitable, it can still be difficult to adjust to.
This is the challenge being faced by this week’s reader: Sam.
“My wife is in menopause, making love has decreased for some time and now is non-existent,” Sam says. “I miss my wife so very much, but I can’t get next to her at all. The situation is becoming untenable, it’s affecting my health and moods, there’s a distance between us and I fear for our future.”
Sam has suggested hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to his wife, but she doesn’t want to take it. “She says her mother just got on with it,” he explains.
“I know it sounds selfish on my part, but this no intimacy at all is driving me crazy,” he adds. “I’m at a total loss and trying to talk it over with her is met with total disinterest and rapid change of subject along with ‘you have no idea.’
“I do love and care for my wife so very much. Please help whilst we have a marriage left worth fighting for.”
It is estimated that there are around 13 million people who are currently peri-menopausal or menopausal in the UK, so you can bet this is a situation plenty of couples can relate to. Yet there’s so much secrecy surrounding menopause, it’s no wonder partners like Sam sometimes feel lost.
Luckily, we have psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member Laura Echeverria on hand to provide some advice.
“It is one of the most unspoken challenges within marriage – learning how to dance often a completely new dance with a partner you thought you both knew,” she says.
“This next phase brings a whole host of changes physically, emotionally and biologically with the added pressure of societal pressure, which can have an enormous impact on relationships.”
What would you say to this reader?
The menopause is often a time when one or both people in a couple feel disconnected within themselves, so the tendency is to pull away from each other. Echeverria recommends doing the exact opposite, instead stepping closer.
“When your wife says, ‘you have no idea,’ you say ‘you are absolutely right, so help me understand what is happening and how this feels for you.’” she says.
“It is not selfish to communicate your wants and feelings as long as there is a healthy balance of ensuring both your needs and wants are being listened to and heard, then working together as a team to take steps together towards them.”
How can Sam support his wife through menopause?
Though it’s great that Sam is taking an interest and has started researching HRT, Echeverria says he should try not to come up with set solutions, as every person experiences menopause differently.
“The best way of understanding this and how it feels for your wife is to ask, listen – however awkward and difficult – start the conversation,” she adds.
“Often your wife’s lack of wanting intimacy may be a feeling of disconnection within herself or lack of confidence with the new identity, try to do things together you both truly connect on, that made you both laugh and feel close. Talk through what attracted you both to each other.”
If a couple finds these topics tricky to discuss in person, Echeverria says writing a letter or email to one another can work.
“Set up an email address that is only for the two of you, which can start with addressing and understanding feelings and emotions then can move to intimacy needs and wants,” Echeverria says.
“Maybe then use it for a way of communicating intimate thoughts to each other on a daily/ weekly bases – an ongoing dialogue away from everyday life.”
What are some practical tips to try to regain intimacy?
“I would urge you to express the reason you want to hold your wife’s hand on this journey is because you love her and miss her, be open and allow her space when she is ready to open with you,” Echeverria says.
“When your wife is ready, read together, explore together, look at this next chapter as an adventure to go on together.”
There are options out there to help women through menopause – from HRT and supplements to talking therapies and exercise classes – so Sam should support his wife to explore options that make her feel confident. But crucially, the next steps are her choices to make.
“Above all, spend time together just exploring each other physically and emotionally,” says Echeverria. “Communicate in whatever way feels comfortable, go on dates, be silly - play and have fun!”
Love Stuck is for those who’ve hit a romantic wall, whether you’re single or have been coupled up for decades. With the help of trained sex and relationship therapists, HuffPost UK will help answer your dilemmas. Submit a question here.