Guest blog from ‘Paul’ – a man whose marriage ended because of his wife’s menopause.
Sadly there is no research about depression and suicide in men at this life stage (there’s little enough about women). More must be done. I invite you to read ‘Paul’s’ story (not his real name). You may recognise a similar situation in your own relationship. Get advice, talk to us or other experienced menopause/relationship counsellor – Kathryn Colas
25 years together
17 years married
Without question, my marriage breakdown was the single most painful period of my life and it has taken many years to rebuild.
We always think it can’t happen to us. Like many people, I imagined divorced couples to be the kind of people I wasn’t or could never be.
I thought ‘the others’ must have drifted apart or simply that they did not have similar values to mine.
Time has been a great healer for me and our daughter, now in her early twenties. It has enabled me to see what happened to my marriage.
And early menopause was the trigger – it impacted everything. It may sound to some that I am blaming the menopause outright all too quickly for my divorce. Whilst it’s true that there were other life challenges to contend with, like losing a parent and not being able to have more children, there is no doubt in my mind that our struggle to deal with menopause was ultimately what destroyed everything. I say it was ‘our’ struggle because it was. At the time I had no ability to fully understand what was going on, how to help or what to do about it.
Love’s young dream
We met as teenagers. The girl I knew was full of energy, always rushing around with many activities going, enjoyed with a very wide group of friends. At times she was so effervescent it was hard to calm her down! The attraction was instant. My moods could be lower and people remarked how we seemed to balance each other out in many ways. We married in our twenties and our daughter arrived three years later, but she was to be our first and last because although the birth went well, we were told that she couldn’t have any more children due to low ‘FSH’. Early menopause had arrived really early.
This was a shock and we both entered a period of mourning for the large family we couldn’t have, despite being gifted a beautiful daughter and a new life to look forward to. After three rounds of IVF treatment, we decided enough was enough.
Menopause and HRT
Everything started to accelerate some years later when my ex was in her late thirties. She threw herself into her work and started to spend more time away. Whilst she had always had many different balls in the air and a whole series of activities on the go with friends, family and at our daughter’s school, some were dropped quite suddenly. She became distant, less interested in our home and the intimacy in our marriage waned until it almost completely disappeared. I felt I was becoming sidelined.
Then she started HRT and it was as if there was a completely negative downward spiral in character. She became not just irritable or snappy but confrontational and aggressive. I remember putting our 12-year-old daughter to bed one night and she asked me if Mummy had been abducted by aliens! The false accusations began and arguments could get out of control. It felt like I was being goaded into making a serious mistake. I could be backed into a corner by an angry pointing finger one minute and the next I was trying to console a heaving mountain of tears or a quietly sobbing soul curled up in a chair. This was a completely different person to the one I had known before. I soon discovered that my ex had entered a relationship with another man. I was crushed.
Her new partner had been a boyfriend when she was just sixteen at school. She began to spend weekends away from home before eventually she pulled the ejector seat and left completely. My darkest days began. I had to take sleeping pills at night and my doctor told me I was suffering from extreme anxiety – I had thoughts of self-harm. I went to Relate on my own and received some counselling but neither the doctor or counsellor spoke to me about the menopause. My ex had an affair – that’s why I was feeling like I was…right?!
To regain control of my life I petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery. My ex is now living alone with her dog and recently told our daughter that she believes she went mad.
Life after menopause
Time does heal but my scars are deep. I believe now that there is no coincidence that divorce rates are high during the menopause. It’s not always ‘because he ran away with the Au Pair’, although this does happen too! I’ve read that like in my situation, separation is more often instigated by women.
One thing I know for sure is that hormones are extremely powerful. I also think that HRT may only make things worse not better for some from a psychological point of view. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ therapy. Some women I’ve spoken to since have told me that it just made them feel ‘very strange’!
If I had been given some advice and guidance that some women do actually appear to go mad and that the menopause can cause extreme behaviours and outcomes, I believe my journey might not have been so traumatic.
I would have appreciated some help from other men too and I believe we should be included in the conversation.
That’s what I’d like to see – a couple’s approach to menopause so that the woman has the support and help she needs to get through it and also the partner is given the support they need to understand and help where they can. Emotionally, it can be very traumatic and damaging but the right education, preparation, understanding and of course more conversation in general about menopause would be very beneficial.