Rosie Wilby on menopause in a same-sex relationship

What happens when a same-sex couple go through perimenopause and menopause together? Can it be helpful to have an understanding partner who is experiencing some of the same symptoms… or is it double trouble, the hormonal upheaval amplified rather than alleviated?

While many of my friends find it a positive to have an immediate and readymade support network in their own home, others report a rollercoaster of raging arguments. I have typically been of this latter school of thought, somewhat jokingly comparing a midlife lesbian relationship to a treacherous game of Russian roulette. Whether or not you have a good day is almost entirely governed by where you are in your cycle and where your partner is in hers. My wife and I nervously mark one another’s increasingly erratic periods in our diaries, counting down the days until we might next need to tiptoe cautiously around one another’s mood swings.

At 48 and 52, we are both perimenopausal. We have always had a very honest relationship. But now it feels a little bit too honest. All these peculiar feelings we have about becoming less visible, less attractive, less relevant as women in the world often get taken out on each other. As my straight friend Miranda Sawyer once said, when she guested on my podcast The Breakup Monologues, ‘perimenopause and menopause can mess with your head and can make you want to smash your relationship up into bits. One of the things that sometimes happens is you get a strong rush of sexual hormones and you might fancy someone completely inappropriate like a teacher at your kid’s school.

But mostly what you want to do is break up with your old self.’ Perhaps it’s no accident then that the largest increase in divorce rates in recent years has been among menopausal and post menopausal women.

The expectation in a partnership between two women is that you will experience the same symptoms and can compare notes. So it’s been a bit bewildering for me to be most debilitated of all by a menopause symptom that neither of us had heard nearly so much about as the classics like hot flushes and night sweats.

I was driving my wife’s car one Sunday afternoon when it suddenly felt like someone was blasting a foghorn inside my left ear.

‘What’s that noise?’ I asked in a panic, not realising that I had slowed to about ten miles per hour.

A car whizzed past.

‘This is dangerous. Pull over!’

We stopped the car in a side road and my wife drove us home in silence. Or not silence as it turned out. Even once the foghorn noise faded, I was left with a buzzing sound in my ears that made me feel like electrical cables were passing through my brain. I was experiencing tinnitus.

‘I just don’t feel like me any more,’ I said wistfully, as I retreated to bed in the spare room.

The next day I asked my GP if I could start HRT. The instructions seemed complicated and hard to remember – a little ironic given that another symptom of perimenopause is brain fog and poor memory. Slathering gel onto alternate thighs each day does seem to have eased the annoying ringing in my ears. On the advice of friends, I have also found great relief in acupuncture.

Yet my wife and I are aware that we might still have lots of challenging times ahead.

Other friends have described having ‘no libido whatsoever’, a feeling of having ‘no femininity left’, itchy skin and welts. Some have also found that perimenopause has highlighted other pre-existing conditions that they’d previously been unaware of, such as ADHD and depression.

Lesbian and queer women largely seem to enjoy forming their own support networks via social media in order to bypass the mainstream heteronormative advice which uses language that assumes that you have a ‘husband’ and children or offers help on how to discuss symptoms such as vaginal dryness with ‘your man’.

My friend Jo even felt that she had to lie and fabricate a heterosexual backstory when she wanted to request to have a Merina coil fitted. She says, ‘in my area, no sexual health clinic or surgery will fit one to help perimenopausal women. However they will fit one for contraceptive purposes.’

On a more positive note, a cabaret performer friend recently collated responses to the word menopause from a diverse group of women. And the comments about challenging physiological and psychological symptoms seemed far outweighed by a more spiritual sense of ‘freedom’, ‘relief’, ‘power’, ‘transformation’, ‘regeneration’, ‘reawakening’, ‘new chapter’ and my favourite, ‘autumn queen’.

This new life phase, while tricky to navigate, is full of opportunity for growth and healing and can ultimately be a hopeful thing. Once my wife and I get through this, I have no doubt that we will be stronger than ever.

Rosie Wilby is a comedian and the author of The Breakup Monologues, published by Bloomsbury.

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We understand there’s a lot of information out there on the menopause. You can read through the NICE guidance on menopause management, as well as the NHS overview on the menopause.