Over 60 percent of divorces are initiated by women in their 40s, 50s or 60s — the menopause years — according to a recent survey conducted by AARP Magazine. Kate Vetrano, chair of the ABA's Elder Law Committee, commented this statistical data: "They're shedding their marriages in the quest for happiness."
So, why are women running away from marriage? In many cases, that was not light and temporary relationship, but a steady more or less successful family partnership with mutual interests, mutual children, and shared memories. Why women make their minds to leave the know territory in favor of unknown and scary, potentially jeopardizing their emotional, physical, and financial well-being?
There are multiple examples, when after years of marriage many couples find their relationship growing stronger and more wonderful after the children have grown and their life settles down to a more comfortable less hectic pace. Why this trend does not work for other couples?
Menopausal Changes in Women
While this entire site is devoted to the menopausal changes and on how to deal with them efficiently to minimize negative impact, let’s review in brief the main menopause symptoms which may affect the family relationship and marriage.
Decreased libido has an adverse effect on marriage. According to Denise A. Donnelly, an expert on sexless marriages – couples who have more sex are happier than others. During menopause, low sex drive can take away the intimacy from your relationship and increase the probability of conflicts.
Physical changes during menopause can lower the self-esteem of women and alter the way their partner perceives them. Weight gain and thinning hair are the two side effects of menopause that can hamper the self-confidence of any lady. Marriages that are based only on physical attraction are much likely to suffer due to physical changes during menopause.
Another menopause symptom that has a telling effect on marriages is mood swings. Couples find it difficult to deal with this moodiness. Mood swings are the resultant factor of hormonal changes during menopause. A woman's mood may frequently fluctuate from being depressed, irritated, and sad to extremely peaceful and calm.
Soul changes may be the least discussed but one of the most important sides of female menopause. Often during mid-life women experience a new sense of strength and awareness. As a woman approaches the second half of her life, many of the issues she has repressed, ignored, or denied come to the fore. Some women become more aware of their own needs and desire; they may become less willing to hold onto that which is destructive or hurtful. While the child-bearing years are often filled with sacrifice, parenting, and giving one’s life to children and family, with the numerous hormonal and physical changes of mid-life come a new realization and awareness of the self.
Obviously, entering this new phase of life can impact a woman's relationships, along with virtually all other areas of life. “The menopause ... puts an end to the fluctuating hormone levels and with it comes a much more stable brain and a less maternal woman. A woman who, says Louanne Brizendine in her book "The Female Brain", is less worried about pleasing others and now wants to please herself and that may mean taking on new challenges or a new job and leaving the old life, including her husband, behind”. Dr. Brizendine says that during menopause there is a hormonal shift that occurs actually “rewires a woman’s brain” in such a way that she becomes less nurturing, less motherly, less willing to put herself second to the needs of others and much more apt to decide that she’s had enough of many things that heretofore, she may have happily accepted with no fuss whatsoever.
Dr. Wendy Klein, co-author of The Menopause Makeover and leading menopause expert, adds that “If a woman is taking medications, such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, contraceptive drugs, antihistamines, sedatives, antihypertensives and/or medications for blood pressure, this can also decrease sexual desire” and contribute to the menopause-related changes, leading to the decision to abandon marriage relationship as a natural solution to the situation, as her only salvation.
Two for Tango
You can sail in a ship by yourself,
Take a nap or a nip by yourself.
You can get into debt on your own.
There are lots of things that you can do alone.
Takes two to tango ...
Comedian George Carlin noticed that this well-known idiomatic expression is not strictly accurate: "It takes two to tango. Sounds good, but simple reasoning will reveal that it only takes one to tango. It takes two to tango together, maybe, but one person is certainly capable of tangoing on his own."
Here we go, woman can live through menopause by herself, but marriage relationships are based on partnership, communication, and cooperation. And, while woman experiences a complicated transition in her life, her male partner is also deep in his own physical and emotional changes, triggered by andropause (male menopause) and midlife crisis. Thus, two dysfunctional individuals may be struggling hard to preserve the dysfunctional relationship, which is quite complicated as you understand.
Empty Nest Syndrome
Usually menopause strikes at the same period when your grown-up kids leave home for their own life, education, and employment. During this period, many parents develop what is called empty nest syndrome. They suddenly realize that their children kept them together, and there is nothing common left between them, except for worrying for their kids, who do not need them so much anymore. This is not a surprising consequence when more and more in the last 10 or 12 years couples are focusing all their energy on the children’s activities to the detriment of their own couple relationship. And that is one of the reasons of a steady increase in the number of divorces among couples married 30 or more years. Other couples divorce during the empty nest years because they can't handle the health issues and the sense of an uncertain future along with being overwhelmed by too much togetherness.
Is there a hope?
Yes, there is a hope! As far as you know, that your emotional changes are strongly triggered by menopause and midlife crisis, you can look on what is going on in your marriage from slightly different perspectives. Sit down, and assess carefully your inner self. Do you experience the feeling listed below?
- Unhappiness with life and the lifestyle that may have provided you with happiness for many years.
- Boredom with people and things that may have been of interest to you before.
- Feeling a need for adventure and change.
- Questioning the choices, you have made in your life and the validity of decisions you made years before.
- Confusion about who you are and where you are going.
- Anger at your spouse and feeling tied down.
- Unable to make decisions about where you want to go with your life.
- Doubt that you ever loved your spouse and resentment over the marriage.
- A desire for a new and passionate, intimate relationship.
If you do, you are not alone. Millions of women (and men as a matter of fact) experience the same, some once-a-while, other – all the time during this period of the hormonal changes. Is divorce is inevitable for all those people? NO. At the moment when you understand, that sometimes it is not you who is talking, but your menopause, and it is not your husband who is harshly responding, but his andropause, you can get your family crisis in true perspectives.
As in every medical and life situations, preventing is easier and less painful, than treating conditions of collapsing family.
There are several advices on how to keep your marriage healthy through the menopause:
- Keep communicating. Keep the channels of communication open at all levels. This makes it possible to resolve problems early on and keep spouses up to speed on changing needs. Each spouse must be part of the decision making process and share in the risks and rewards so they can make adjustments and tradeoffs when necessary for the good of the marriage.
- Make it a relationship of equals. A marriage in which the spouses feel entitled to make suggestions and the suggestions will be listened to. That builds a marriage where both spouses have power. That doesn't mean you always agree. But you work it out.
- Develop common interests. While kids are leaving the house, some of the couples find out that there is not much in common: no common interests, friends, and activities. Do your best to find out something, other than kids, that brings you both happiness and satisfaction. Keep friendship and interest in each other as part of your relationship. If you still love your spouse, don't be afraid to show it. Remember what brought the two of you together in the first place, and then love your partner selflessly. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that more than two-thirds of the couples surveyed who put the other partner first rated their marriages as being very happy.
- Keep the other person's needs in mind. Fairness is critical: If an agreement somehow shortchanges one spouse, the spouses will find themselves working toward different goals and undermining the benefits of the marriage.
- Be ready for change. Rather than expect things to stay the same you should expect things to shift and change. Make sure you have the emotional mechanisms needed for dealing with change. You have to be willing to constantly monitor your relationship and renegotiate when a shift happens. Talk to your spouse about the things that you are willing to change in order to make things work. Explain that you want to deal with the issues straight on. Listen to what your spouse has to say as you look for ways to solve the problems between you. Make an effort to understand the other's viewpoint even if it differs from your own. Rather than allowing things to get blown out of proportion when emotions run high, try to keep any issues in perspective as you examine your problems.
- Get professional advice. The safe emotional environment in marriage therapy enables you to express your concerns and have them understood within your relationship. This understanding leads to planning the next step to enhancing communication and developing methods for conflict resolution to help save your marriage and prevent divorce.
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