Impact of early menopause on relationships: Women’s experiences

The women we interviewed described the impact of early menopause (EM) on a range of personal relationships – with partners, children, parents, other family members, and friends. As Jacqueline, who experienced medically-induced EM as a result of endometriosis treatment said, ‘You think, ‘Oh, it’s just happening to me.’ But it’s also happening to the family unit, or the extended family and friends.’

Intimate relationships

About two thirds of the women we spoke with were in intimate relationships, or had been previously. They described EM as affecting their partnerships in several ways, including through symptoms (e.g. ‘mood swings’, hot flushes, night sweats), loss of fertility (see Emotional impact of early menopause and fertility loss), and loss of interest in and enjoyment of intimacy (see Intimacy, sex and dating after early menopause). Women who had experienced cancer described the dual impact of both cancer and EM on their relationships.

Kirsty shared the kinds of pressures that spontaneous EM and learning she carried the BRCA2 gene mutation had placed on her relationship with her husband, and how they had responded. 

Many women described feeling well-supported by their partners. Ways in which partners helped women included attending appointments with them, helping them make decisions about their health, taking responsibility for housework and childcare when women were unwell, affirming the importance of the relationship over having children (for couples who did not have children), adjusting to different sleeping arrangements, helping them with ‘anxieties’ about physical changes such as weight gain or surgeries, providing financial support, and not ‘pressuring’ them for sex.

Fiona described her husband’s support while she was going through breast cancer treatment and surgical menopause. 

Some women expressed concerns about the burden on their partners of caring for them while they were unwell, or of having to adjust to the implications of EM such as changes to their sex lives or not being able to have children. Those in new relationships felt particularly vulnerable and were uncertain if their partners would want to continue the relationship.

For a time Maddy felt ‘depressed’ and ‘anxious’ in relation to spontaneous EM, which she felt was ‘very difficult’ for her partner. 

Vicki, who had Turner Syndrome, described sometimes feeling as though her partner would not ‘want’ her because of her health issues and potentially not being able to have children.

Several women expressed appreciation for the support available to their partners, through friends, family members or even employers. At the time of her risk-reducing oophorectomy, Lydia said, ‘[my husband’s] workplace were fantastic. They were just like, “Yep, if you need to take time off, or just work half days for a little while that’s fine.”’ Others described partners as having little support for themselves. Eden’s partner decided not to attend a support group for men whose partners had breast cancer, because, she explained, ‘he just thought, ‘It will all be men 20 years older [than him].’

Julia was ‘eternally grateful’ to two of her partner’s friends for the support they provided to him during her experience of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and medically-induced early menopause.

A couple of women described their partners as not emotionally supportive. Mary described EM as contributing to the breakdown of her previous marriage, in part because her former partner was ‘dismissive’ and ‘not understanding.’ Nancy’s husband supported her financially and practically through cancer and EM, but was ‘no good to talk’ with. Instead, her friends provided her with emotional support.

Relationships with children, parents and other family members

Children

Women who had children discussed the impact of EM on their relationship with their children. A few spoke about concerns about EM, cancer, or other conditions such as ovarian cysts being hereditary and the challenge of discussing this with their children, particularly daughters (see Emotional impact of early menopause and fertility loss).

Others commented that EM symptoms had affected their parenting, making them more irritable, anxious, or short-tempered, or shared how they had explained EM and its implications to their children.

Mary described the impact of EM on her relationship with her children.

 Jacqueline described the kinds of conversations she’d had with her child about medically-induced EM. 

Parents

Women’s relationships with their parents were also shaped by their experience of EM. A few women felt they had ‘disappointed’ their parents by being unable to ‘give them’ grandchildren, and appreciated it when their parents made it clear this did not matter (see Emotional impact of early menopause and fertility loss). Others reflected that not having children themselves freed them up to care for elderly or ill parents.

Natalie described having more time to care for her parents as the ‘silver lining’ of not being able to have her own children as a result of EM. 

Several women described asking or wanting to talk with their mothers about their experiences of menopause. Some women’s mothers were happy to discuss these matters. Jenni said that because her mother went through natural menopause while Jenni was experiencing EM, she was ‘compassionate’ about menopausal symptoms. Others were less ‘forthcoming,’ as Anna described her mother, or seemed to lack empathy.

Yen-Yi was close to her mother but recalled feeling ‘resentful’ over the fact that she didn’t seem to ‘understand’ her experience of menopausal symptoms as a result of ovarian suppression therapy.

A couple of women reflected on experiencing EM after their mother had passed away. Jacqueline said her elder sister was her ‘source of information about menopause’ as their mother had died many years earlier.

Joanna, who experienced medically-induced EM after treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, shared what it was like not having her mother around to ‘bounce stuff off’.

For many women, parents were an important source of practical, financial, and emotional support during the experience of EM, particularly younger or single women, or those who experienced cancer. Some described moving back in with their parents, or having one or both parents travel from overseas or interstate to care for them.

Sylvia’s mother travelled from interstate to support her during her treatment for uterine cancer and surgical menopause.

Having to become dependent again on parents was bittersweet for some women. Alex said, ‘I’m now closer to my mum and dad but not in a nice way, you know – in a way that I’m so dependent upon them and they have to look after their sick daughter who’s meant to be out enjoying life at this age. So that’s kind of a sad closeness that’s come about from [ovarian cancer and EM].’ Not all women felt emotionally closer to their parents as a result of EM and/or cancer. Kate said her parents were ‘more the “I’ll make you some lasagne and put it in the freezer” type people, which I appreciate, but I’m a bit of a talker now.’

EM also impacted on relationships with other family members, including siblings, aunts or grandparents. A few women had other family members who had also experienced cancer or EM, while a couple mentioned discussing egg donation with their sisters.

Lydia, who experienced EM following a risk-reducing bilateral oophorectomy, described the support she had from her sisters who also carried the BRCA gene mutation or who had experienced cancer.

Friendships

Many women described EM as challenging in terms of their friendships with other women. After EM they felt they had ‘less in common’ with certain friends or that friends could not ‘relate’ to their experiences, or found it difficult to maintain certain friendships due to fatigue, different interests, or different lifestyles (particularly if women with EM did not have children) (see also Early menopause and identity, social connection and future plans).

Sonia described the impact of being diagnosed with spontaneous EM on her friendships.

A few women, however, commented that some friendships became closer, or that through EM they had made new friendships.

Julia reflected on the way her old and new friendships had evolved during the course of cancer, EM, and her friends’ life experiences.

Further information:

Talking Points (Women)

Talking Points (Health Practitioners)

Other Resources