Excerpt from The Wisdom of Menopause
It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause. Usually this is attributed to the crazy-making effects of the hormonal shifts occurring in a woman's body at this time of transition. What is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them. In other words, they give her a kind of wisdom—and the courage to voice it. As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begins to lift, a woman's youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.
If it does not find an outlet—if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home and/or work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges—the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: Something has to give. Very often what gives is the woman's health, and the result will be one or more of the "big three" diseases of postmenopausal women: heart disease, depression, and breast cancer. On the other hand, for those of us who choose to honor the body's wisdom and to express what lies within us, it's a good idea to get ready for some boat rocking, which may put long-established relationships in upheaval. Marriage is not immune to this effect.
Every marriage, even a very good one, must undergo change in order to keep up with the hormone-driven rewiring of a woman's brain during the years leading up to and including menopause. Not all marriages are able to survive these changes. Mine wasn't, and nobody was more surprised about that than I. If this makes you want to hide your head in the sand, believe me, I do understand. But for the sake of being true to yourself and protecting your emotional and physical health in the second half of your life—likely a full forty years or more—then I submit to you that forging ahead and taking a good hard look at all aspects of your relationship (including some previously untouchable corners of your marriage) may be the only choice that will work in your best interest in the long run, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
From the standpoint of physical health, for example, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the increase in life-threatening illnesses after midlife, which cannot be accounted for by aging alone, is partly rooted in the stresses and unresolved relationship problems that simmered beneath the surface during the childbearing years of a woman's life, then bubbled up and boiled over at perimenopause, only to be damped down in the name of maintaining the status quo. The health of your significant other is also at stake. Remaining in a relationship that was tailor-made for a couple of twenty-somethings without making the necessary adjustments for who you both have become at midlife can be just as big a health risk for him as it is for you.
This is not to say that your only options are divorce or heart attack. Rather, in order to bring your relationship into alignment with your rewired brain, you and your significant other must be willing to take the time, and spend the energy, to resolve old issues and set new ground rules for the years that lie ahead. If you can do this, then your relationship will help you to thrive in the second half of your life. If one or both of you cannot or will not, then both health and happiness may be at risk if you stay together.