Husbands, boyfriends, partners, sons, uncles, fathers and friends may have the best of intentions, but still struggle to support the women in their lives during the delicate phase of life that perimenopause is. As societal taboos and healthcare industry denial fuel a tacit code of silence around all things menopausal, a shift is slowly occurring. More books are being published about perimenopause; online communities are growing; more women are testifying in podcasts and videos about their experiences; and new companies are popping up, intent on filling a void and capitalizing on an underserved, growing and economically viable market.
Still, men in everyday life may not know how to help their loved ones navigate perimenopause. Often, they are just as confused as the women who are shocked and befuddled by their new symptoms – and their new selves.
Financial Support. Money matters when it comes to accessing and acquiring quality treatment for perimenopausal symptoms. While insurance can help pick up the tab for those fortunate to have better-than-average coverage, in some cases insurance won’t pay for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) at all – leaving women to pay the full cost out of pocket with conventional doctors, or sourcing care (out of pocket again) at boutique HRT and anti-aging providers. While money isn’t everything, especially in relationships, if you are able to contribute financial resources to the pursuit and acquisition of ongoing perimenopausal care, it’s priceless. Also, if you can allay any guilt the woman in your life may feel about allocating resources to her perimenopausal healthcare, that is helpful, too.
At a minimum, expenses to anticipate include office visit co-pays, lab fees, prescriptions and follow-up visits. As many women also begin to supplement prescriptions with natural remedies and supplements during this phase of life, expect costs for those as well.
Fact-Based Knowledge. Perimenopause is a phase of life that our families, educational system, faith-based communities, media, pop culture and healthcare system do little to prepare women for. There is ample information and preparedness for adolescence and even “low T.” But even though menopause is described as “puberty in reverse,” it is met with eerie silence. When the woman in your life begins to experience perimenopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes, night sweats, changes in mood, motivation or attitude, hair thinning, weight gain, trouble sleeping), she may not at first know the cause. Once she connects the dots and realizes that she is in process of hormonal decline, she may begin doing oodles and boatloads of research. She may join online forums, start buying and checking out various books, saving news articles to her favorites and doing all she can to learn about what’s going on with her body – least of which is why no one told her!
You can be an ally in this process by doing your own research as well. Join support groups for menopause and perimenopause, if they are not gender exclusive (e.g. they allow men to join). Try to read up on the latest research and scan your library’s catalog for books on the topic. If you learn something you didn’t know, or find something that corroborates her research, chime in and share it with her. Sometimes women feel like learning about perimenopause is a one-woman job – and it often is. But having someone in her life that shows sincere interest in something affecting her well-being is a huge relief and reassurance.
Keep the Faith. A bad run of perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms is not for the faint of heart. The collective range of symptoms can be so disruptive and debilitating that it makes women question the quality of their very lives. This is a time ripe for faith, a time when people find resolve in a power and force greater than themselves. Whatever your believe system or faith practice, this is a prime time to serve as a spiritual friend to the woman in your life. Pray for and with her. Pray for your own ability to endure these storms, for the strength to be a pillar of support. Initiate or maintain spiritual practices that give her meaning, fortitude and optimism.
Hold Her Blameless. It’s hormonal; it’s really not her fault. Not the mood swings, the crying spells, the outbursts, the sweaty sheets . . . Perimenopause is really the beginning of a long-term hormone deficiency state. Hormones are pivotal messengers responsible for a multitude of functions and for various levels of other bodily signals, such as neurotransmitters. Once you realize that the responses and reactions she’s experiences are actual side effects of hormone fluctuations, the more you will understand the involuntary nature of it all.
Patience is Key. It may sound cliché, but this is a marathon, not a sprint. Did you know that perimenopause symptoms may occur for a decade before actual menopause (12 months without a period) happens? And then post-menopause, women may deal with new symptoms, other changes and, in best cases, a reduction in issues – any and all of which lead to a new normal. Realize that just because she’s now on HRT, an antidepressant or is making lifestyle changes that appear to be improving things, that doesn’t mean this phase is over. This is an era of inner-body flux, and your resilience through it all will not go unnoticed.
Chip In without Complaint. Being part of a couple or a family means there are more than two arms, two legs, two hands and two brains to figure things out and get things done. During this time, a woman’s energy and motivation may dip. So pitch in and do some of the tasks that she typically does. Notice you’re out of milk? Go to the store yourself and replenish the fridge. Hungry and dinnertime nearing? Order takeout or cook for the family – without her asking. See the bin of laundry piling up? Wash it, dry it, fold it and put it all up. Perimenopause is a time of change, and as a woman navigates its ups and downs, she needs to focus more on her new self and preserving her well-being, as stress-free as possible.
Go with Her to the Doctor(s). Yes, it may be inconvenient. Yes, you may have other places to be or things you’d rather be doing. But accompanying her to the doctor is a bold, subtle showing of incredible support. Not only can you witness and digest the information from medical professionals, you can also be an active contributor to ensuring she gets heard – and hopefully receives quality care. You need not be a passive bystander, either. During these visits, you can take notes, ask questions, bring up observations or symptoms, ask about prescriptions, side effects and dosages, and simply listen. Your very presence is a powerful visual statement that the woman in your life is not tackling this alone. She has people in her life who value and love her – and they should treat her as a whole person, not an isolated problem.
Give Her Space. How often does she get time to just be alone? If you have kids, elder relatives at the house, or even if you work from home, the answer is probably “rarely” or “never.” Just because a woman is a fantastic mom, wife or caregiver does not mean she doesn’t crave alone time. Take the kids for a multi-hour outing. Better yet, haul them away for the weekend and go visit your relatives. Arrange for someone to take over and do the things she usually does, just so she can get a break for a couple of hours on a regular basis. On a day-to-day basis, stop interrupting her and asking questions about matters you can otherwise address or figure out.
Celebrate Small Wins. Every day can feel like a guessing game or a roll of the dice for a perimenopausal woman. Will she or won’t she sleep? Will she or will she not feel anxious? Will she or won’t she have hot flashes? Each good day is a major win in the lifecycle of a menopausal family (yes, family). Don’t take these positive moments for granted. Acknowledge the goodness of the day, which will eventually turn into good weeks and good months as the necessary treatments are identified and take hold. Let her know you appreciate that this journey is a marathon and not a sprint.
The Real Peri Meno is devoted to all things perimenopause - the science, treatments, care, understanding, personal experiences, relationships, culture and more. The brain child of Keisha D. Edwards, The Real Peri Meno developed out of her own shock-and-awe experience with perimenopause and navigating the disjointed U.S. medical system in search of answers, support and relief.
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