When your email arrived, I was confronted with a 'sliding doors' moment, knowing I could jump on board the well-trodden medical narrative on hormones, HRT and implied deficit, or I could present an alternative. Our female body ebbs and flows and we become familiar with its pattern, managing it fastidiously during adolescence and when we yearn for a child. It can feel like a betrayal when it stops "behaving" and becomes a new life force.
Cultural stereotypes of menopause influence how women experience this universal stage of life. The Native Americans have a saying; "At menarche a woman meets her power, during her menstruating years she practices her power, at menopause she becomes her power."
In our Celtic tradition, older women were highly regarded, seen as the seed, holding knowledge and the possibility of all the other constituents, the flower and the fruit. Menopause, when viewed through these lenses, is not deficit focused, rather it is an opportunity to answer poet Mary Oliver's question once and for all, 'What will you do with your one wild and precious life?'.
No longer seeking the approval of family or taking care of young children, many women find themselves taking stock of their lives at this point, perhaps realising dreams, goals or values have been compromised in the service of others. This epiphany, coupled with an increasing sense of purpose, can result in a reappraisal of relationships.
It is not uncommon for women to report that this stage of their lives coincided with relationship difficulties, but it is overly simplistic to assume that hormone changes are the cause. It is far more complex than that, with biological, psychological and social factors at play. It is possible that some of your disappointment is directed at your husband because he personifies the distance between your recollected goals and where you see yourself now.
During this metamorphosis, women may feel as though they are in a crucible. When we place things in a crucible, the object often changes its form under extreme heat, emerging as something new. During this stage, we shed parts of us that are no longer needed.
The deep discomfort we can feel during menopause may also relate to a sense that our body is under threat. You may sense your husband is not sufficiently in tune with your experience. When we don't feel understood, we can feel more vulnerable to threats, and our stress response system takes over. Your frustration with your husband may be a manifestation of your fight response. How you've had to navigate stress in your life may be influencing how you are experiencing the interplay of your relationship and this life stage. We also know that women with more adverse life experiences can experience more significant symptoms associated with menopause than women with less trauma.
This is a time for a pause - the clue is in the word. Be compassionate with yourself. Sometimes when we become aware of sacrificed dreams or values, it can feel like an assault on our core. But it is wise to use this time to consider your next step. I suggest you connect with good friends and/or a therapist who can help you explore these feelings and thoughts and identify what meaning they have for you. It can be helpful to disconnect from your usual routine to connect more authentically with yourself. Many people at this stage of life benefit from a retreat, yoga, meditation, forest bathing and so on.
Through connecting on a deeper level with yourself, you will be better able to determine whether you want to share this richer version of yourself with your husband or if your marriage is no longer a nourishing space for you. It can be difficult, for example, if you discover your values of health, curiosity, and humour are not shared by your partner.
Your husband may also feel the toll of his ageing, being less vibrant than his younger self. Many men in our society are under immense pressure to 'man up' and not talk openly about feelings of insecurities, resulting in withdrawal. I wonder if some compassionate exploration of how he's experiencing changes might reveal some shared feelings. As a married couple, neither of you lives in a vacuum and any change in one is likely to impact the other. I suggest you create space for you both to talk, to explore new ways of being intimate with each other.
I am reminded of TS Eliot's words in Little Gidding, 'We shall not cease from exploration, and in the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.'
Take good care.
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