So Chris Evert has blamed the menopause for the breakdown of her marriage to former husband Andy Mills. She is not alone - having menopausal symptoms can affect women in so many ways and symptoms can often be very detrimental to relationships. I have consulted with numerous women whose relationships have either failed or are failing as a result of their menopause.
Many women and certainly many men do not realise how this can be, so I will explain a few reasons for this.
Firstly, the changes in hormone levels that occur in our bodies during the perimenopause can often lead to mood swings and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many of my patients explain that they become very cross and irritable with the smallest of triggers, or even with no precipitants, which can often lead to them shouting unnecessarily at the nearest person - often their partner.
Secondly, night sweats can be unbearable and alarmingly frequent. It can be common for women to have to change their bedclothes and the bed sheets at least once a night, often every night. Even if they don't have to do this, they often describe the duvet needing to be flipped back when they are hot, only for it to be pulled back by their freezing partner. So it is not just menopausal women who have disrupted nights' sleep, their partners often do too.
Thirdly, the changes in our hormones levels, especially our testosterone levels, can lead to levels of libido (sex drive) reducing. Many women explain to me that they still love their partner but are no longer interested in sex - they purely "go through the motions" to please their partners.
Also, the low levels of oestrogen that occur can cause the tissues around your vagina to become thinner, dryer and inflamed. Your vagina may then shrink a little and expand less easily during sex making sexual intercourse more painful or uncomfortable. Your vulva (the external genitals; labia, clitoris and the entrance to your vagina), may become thin, dry and itchy. You may notice that your vulva or vagina has become red and sore. None of these changes are conducive to a healthy, active sex life!
On top of this, the overwhelming fatigue that many women experience, the loss of confidence, hot flushes and memory problems that can also occur really can have a negative effect on their relationships.
This all sounds really depressing but it is so important to know that there are many treatments available to help with these symptoms. These treatments include:
- Talking about the menopause and knowing you are not alone can often really help
- Taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), even for a short time, can make a huge difference. There are many different types and doses of HRT available so it important to find one that suits you and is associated with low risks.
- Using topical oestrogen (so using it as a gel, tablet or in a vaginal ring) can work really well. Using oestrogen in this way is not associated with the risks of HRT and can be used by most women very safely.
- Using vaginal lubricants and moisturisers. These can be used on their own or on in conjunction with oestrogen. There are many really good, effective lubricants and moisturisers available either from your doctor or to buy from various chemists. There are many different products available and it is important to find one that suits you.
I really hope that having all this information on board will improve or even save some relationships that are being negatively affected by the menopause.
Dr Louise R. NewsonBSc(Hons) MRChB(Hons) MRCP FRCGP is a GP and menopause expert, based in Solihull, West Midlands, UK.
Follow her on twitter @mymenopausedr or My Menopause Doctor on Facebook.