There is considerable information about the physical aspects of perimenopause and menopause however, insights into the psychosocial aspects and how they impact women’s lives and their effect on women’s relationships is underrepresented in research literature.
The author Carol Caico, found in her clinical setting as a women’s health nurse with patients of natural perimenopause age, frequently complained about vasomotor symptoms, physical and emotional changes, and feelings of being overwhelmed. Many of these women also discussed the negative feelings around their marriages, and their desired preference to be alone and some spoke of leaving the relationship.
Menopause is a life transition that can affect women physically and emotionally. Your body is experiencing fluctuating hormones that can cause hot flashes, night sweats, itchy skin, headaches, breast tenderness, vaginal dryness and irregular periods. Eighty percent of women will experience uncomfortable symptoms, and most will struggle with weight gain. These various psychological and physiological complications can affect a marriage or long term relationships.
So if a woman is in an unsupported relationship while managing this collection of changes, leaving the marriage or relationship may appear like her only salvation.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether a relationship exists between perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms and the quality of marital relationship. Although the study does not address premature menopause directly, some of the finding may be extrapolated to women who experience menopause at any age.
These various psychological and physiological complications can affect a marriage or long term relationships.
To help put the author’s current research into a contextual framework Ciaco reviews the findings in a collection of research on the side effects of menopause symptoms on women:
In the author’s own practice she found many women are uncomfortable discussing their personal concerns and symptoms with their health care providers.
Several studies identified vasomotor symptoms are most common in perimenopause and include:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- poor memory
- difficulty sleeping
- head and shoulder aches
- vaginal dryness
- difficulty with sexual arousal
Several studies found hormonal influence of oestrogen on cognitive function. Memory changes and other symptoms are quite possibly due to decreasing levels of oestrogen and include:
- altered concentration
- high levels of forgetfulness
- loss of motivation
Depression is correlated with menopause, but there is a question regarding whether this is due to hormonal changes or psychosocial factors such as negative life stressors, history of depression, sexual abuse or history of postpartum blues.
Sexual issues associated with menopause and include:
- sexual responsiveness
- frequency of sexual activity
- vaginal pain
There is a strong correlation between sexual health and a woman’s feelings for her partner; the health of the relationship can be an important predictor of the presence or absence of sexual problems. Variables affecting the sexual relationship include:
- the importance of sex to the woman
- attitude toward aging
- vaginal dryness.
The study’s 110 participants were mostly older married women ages 45-60. The participants answered a questionnaire designed by the author to identify whether symptoms of the menopause transition lead to marital discord and if more marriages end during this period of life than in others.
Summary of study results
Frequency of sexual intimacy
- 4% no intimacy in last month
- 8% 1-3 times/month
- 23% 4-5 times/month
- 2% 6-15 times/month
- 18% 10-18 times/month
- High rate of sexual intimacy linked to positive feelings toward their partner
- Insomnia linked to depression and loss of sexual desire
- Longer term marriages linked to:
Vaginal dryness and loss of desire
Negatively affected the quality of life
Desire to live alone
Thoughts of leaving their partner
perhaps the “menopause phase” reveals cracks that are already there in a marriage or long term relationship
The study results did not support the hypothesis that there might be a correlation between perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms and the quality of marital relationship and higher divorce rates.
The author concludes that the results are contradictory and difficult to explain.
- Despite having reported a desire to live alone or having had thoughts of leaving their partner, women still reported feeling passionate love for their partner and regarded their partner as a companion and a friend.
- The study did not find a link between those married the longest, negative feelings and a significant impact on the marriage even though there were negative feelings present.
- The study did find the number of times the women were sexually intimate with their partner in the past month, reflected in a high correlation with positive feelings toward their partner.
- Whereas women in the longest marriage, reported to have more negative feelings as a result of decreased sexual activity.
- Divorced women did not experience anger and resentment toward their partners or have a decrease in sexual desire as their married counterparts.
- Instead new relationships offered greater emotional satisfaction, arousal, and frequency of intercourse and desire and is the reason why women in new relationships reported less loss of sexual desire, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and depression than their married counterparts.
- The surprising variable found in this study to trigger negative feelings is marriage, not menopausal symptoms.
What we can determine from this study and others with similar findings is perhaps the “menopause phase” reveals cracks that are already there in a marriage or long term relationship. So women, regardless of their age, who are in dissatisfying long term relationships, characterized by less support, less emotional depth and sexual dissatisfaction will report increased stress and more menopausal symptoms than their happier counterparts. Having a happy and fulfilling sex life regardless of age or life stage, is positively linked to relationship satisfaction.
Being in a loving relationship supported with good communication can strengthen your love life at any age or life stage.
C., Caico. Do perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms affect the marital relationship. Journal of Research in Nursing. 2011, 18(3) 204-215