By the time couples come to me for therapy, the wives are often beyond frustrated with how maintaining a close relationship seems to fall on their shoulders. While the years of emotional distance works against them, the fact that they are often at least in their 40s provides an unseen opportunity.
As Lisa Friedman Bloch and Kathy Kirtland Silverman point out in their book Manopause, midlife provides an opportunity for growth in relationships because of the hormonal changes that men experience. During this time in their lives, men lose testosterone, which can affect them physically with changes such as a loss of muscle tone, libido, and energy. They might also struggle emotionally. Not only can these feelings be distressing in and of themselves, but they also challenge the cultural expectation that men be strong and hide vulnerable emotions. Some men respond to these changes by doubling down on their efforts to be strong, but these changes also open the door for men to be more empathic and compassionate. Couples often benefit from working together to help the men transition to relating in a more connected way to their own emotions and to others.
However, Bloch and Silverman point out that midlife changes are often happening to women at the same time they are happening to men, and that this can create a “Manopause/Menopause” dilemma. When men are slowing down and focusing more on their relationships, women are often just becoming free of intense childcare responsibilities, experiencing the effects of lower estrogen levels, and beginning to try to “find themselves” again. This does not necessarily mean that these couples are at odds with each other, but they do need to communicate well as they work to get comfortable with their “new selves” and renegotiate their relationship.
If you are a wife in such a situation, you can help support your husband and nurture your relationship through this critical time in your marriage. The following suggestions – including ones offered by Bloch and Silverman – can guide you in doing this:
- Attend to your feelings about the changes you see in yourself and him
- Express your feelings about what you are seeing in a constructive way
- If you are exploring more interests outside the home, balance it with continuing to nurture your relationship and ask for any support you need
- Offer your husband a safe haven to reveal himself as he considers and re-defines his definition of manhood
- Help your husband express what he is feeling in general, about changes in himself, and you
- Nurture physical and emotional intimacy
- Encourage him to develop close friendships with other men
While being supportive of each other is essential in all relationships, it often holds a special place in the midlife years – especially for men who tend to be less emotionally connected. So, it’s very important to actively support each other through this time. Though it takes commitment and effort, if you work through the midlife changes together you may discover an emotional closeness that you might have only dreamed about.
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Entries for the Relationships blog are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.