Of all the classes you’ve taken in school, you probably never had a discussion about menopause or perimenopause. Most health-related education covers only the basics, particularly those most relevant to a young audience. Flash forward to your 40s or 50s, and that education is so far back in the rear view mirror, you may not remember even the remotest mention of this transition in a woman’s life. And yet, you’re very likely to encounter coworkers, friends, and family members while they’re right in the midst of it.
Recognizing what’s occurring in a woman’s body, especially if she’s the closest person to you, can help you support her through her journey. To get a better understanding of everything perimenopause entails, you’d need to talk to hundreds of women as each journey is different. The following tips may not apply to every perimenopausal woman you meet, but taking the advice to heart and knowing how you can help make the experience easier will go a long way toward making sure her journey isn’t harder than it needs to be.
Avoid Assuming a Woman Is in Perimenopause
No one likes being compared to someone else, especially when the comparison relies on stereotyping. There are no reliable visible indicators that a woman is or is not transitioning toward the end of her reproductive lifespan. Visual clues, like flushed cheeks, don’t necessarily indicate someone is experiencing hot flashes. Skin conditions such as rosacea can cause rosy cheeks, too, so don’t assume anything.
In the workplace, you’ve likely encountered perimenopausal coworkers, but that doesn’t make them (or you) an expert on the matter. To avoid an awkward situation or a potential case of harassment, avoid saying things like, “I couldn’t even tell when so-and-so went through menopause.” Comparisons will only lead to counter-comparisons, and you probably don’t want to know what a perimenopausal woman will compare you to.
Sympathize But Don’t Downplay a Woman’s Situation
Menopause is more than a phase a woman goes through; it’s a physically assaulting experience with no definitive timeline. Imagine being awakened nightly by hot flashes or suddenly sweating through your clothes at your desk. Either of those would easily take an emotional toll on a person, so try to be sympathetic to your female companion’s plight.
Be Extra Sensitive About a Perimenopausal Woman’s Weight Gain
Remember the not-so-pleasant changes your body went through during puberty?
Menopause is like going through puberty a second time but with a whole new cast of characters. Perimenopause changes a woman’s body in noteworthy ways. Many women gain weight, particularly in the tummy. Gaining 10–15 pounds is more common than you think, and many women gain significantly more than that. Before you hide the cookies and carbs, know that food isn’t the only thing contributing to her changing shape. Declining estrogen levels contribute to a drop in metabolism that often leads to unwanted and unanticipated weight gain.
Try to Be Extra Accommodating
Many women experience perimenopause while still gainfully employed, and that can present challenges for employers. In fact, in an article published by Corporate Wellness Magazine.com, it was “estimated that the symptoms of menopause [would] affect more than 75 percent of working women in the United States” by 2020.
If you’re in charge of human resources, get educated about the different aspects of menopause and perimenopause accommodations preemptively by consulting with your local counsel or HR professional. According to Donna Faye Randall, a sexuality educator and the author of Menopause or Lunacy … That is the Question, “All supervisors should be educated as to the effects of menopause to avoid misunderstandings and reprimands.” If someone you work with needs to take an additional break to cool down or collect herself after either a hot flash or a sudden change in mood, grant it without question.”
Beware of the Reproductive Reaction
While some women react to menopause with joy, others mourn the loss of their ability to continue having children. Even women who are content with the lives they’ve lived and the choices they’ve made can be rocked by the sudden realization that their ability to bear children has ended. So, before you celebrate no longer needing to take precautions to prevent a pregnancy with the woman you love, be sensitive and choose your words carefully.
Talk About Intimate Changes with Compassion
From the outside looking in, it may seem like life will be better for your partner when her period goes away. In theory, that’s a freeing concept. No need to schedule intimacy or vacations around “that time of the month.” But in reality, perimenopause can cause changes in libido and sexual function.
Before panicking that your partner no longer finds you sexually attractive, have a candid discussion to find out what’s going on or schedule a joint session with a licensed sex therapist who specializes in menopause. Decreased estrogen production can cause vaginal dryness as well as a drop in sexual interest. And try not to take it personally if your lovely lady requests extra lubrication during intercourse. She’s probably as turned on as you are, but physical changes can cause a lack of natural lubrication.
Try Not to Personalize Someone Else’s Behavior
Mood swings can make a perimenopausal woman seem more agitated than normal, so try to recognize when there might be outside forces influencing her mood. And try to remember that most of the time a woman’s mood has nothing to do with you at all. Ultimately, personalizing someone else’s experience will only make it worse.
Be Sensitive to Heightened Emotions Without Being Invasive
Perimenopause is filled with uncertainty and can undermine the cool, calm exterior of any woman at any time. Anxiety can ebb and peak sporadically, so it’s important to lend a hand, or a shoulder, when asked. Just be mindful of her personal space and desired need for compassionate support. There’s a fine line between helping and hindering.