What going through the menopause at the same time as your partner is like

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6-min read
Same-sex couple Asha Clearwater and Taz Thornton hugging. (Supplied)
Asha Clearwater (left) and Taz Thornton (right) shed light on how hard the perimenopausal rollercoaster can be generally, and as a same-sex couple. (Supplied)

Taz Thornton had been with her wife Asha Clearwater for nearly two decades when she suddenly began to wonder if Asha’s feelings towards her had changed.

"I couldn’t understand why my loving, compassionate, beautiful wife was suddenly so angry, so frustrated, so full of self-hatred and swift to lash out," says Taz, 47, a business and empowerment coach and speaker.

"We could be on an even keel one moment and exchanging harsh words the next – and always over something so ridiculously innocuous. I wondered if maybe she’d met someone else or, perhaps she simply didn’t love me anymore and was trying to create a way out.

"But frequently, after an angry outburst, going round and round in circles over a disagreement that made no logical sense, I’d end up in tears and it was as if an invisible switch flicked in Asha’s heart and mind, and her caring, loving nature would shine through. I thought she must still love me if she hated seeing me so upset. None of it made sense."

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Asha, a content coach, book editor and publisher, agrees: ‘‘While, at my worst, I would get angry and sarcastic, then teary, Taz would cry a lot. I would get irritated by her crying, then feel guilty for having that emotion. We’d then both end up in tears and so the cycle would repeat. It was emotionally exhausting for both of us."

Asha Clearwater and Taz Thornton. (Supplied)
The pair will be celebrating 25 years together next year. (Supplied)

The couple, who live in Lincolnshire with their three dogs and two cats, were at a loss to explain what was going on but slowly began to put the pieces together.

At the age of 53, Asha, is six years older than Taz. The two women realised that her change of character was down to the menopause – and what’s more, they were going to have to navigate two lots of hormonal imbalances under one roof.

A study in 2018 found that menopause related symptoms led to disharmony within marriage and that 60 per cent of divorces are initiated by women in their 40s, 50s and 60s and gay couples can face double the struggles.

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"We interviewed same-sex couples when researching our book and you'd think that two women going through menopause would mean more mutual understanding than in heterosexual couples, but we were told that this isn't necessarily the case," says Alice Smellie, co-author of Cracking the Menopause (Bluebird, £20).

"Because every woman has a unique experience of menopause, there are two people going through it in the same relationship, but one may have an easy time and another have the full gamut of symptoms."

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Faced with double the problems, Taz and Asha devised a clever coping mechanism.

"When things began spiralling into the blame game and petty arguments, we knew something had to change," says Asha. "So, enter the Ladybird lifesaver. Every time we found ourselves falling into old, negative, patterns where we were unfairly treating the other, one of us would simply say ‘Ladybird’ to signal to the other we were in a menopausal ‘danger zone’.

"We surrounded ourselves with visual reminders. Ladybird fridge magnets, coasters and a great big cuddly ladybird cushion on hand to place in front of the other to pull us out of the behaviour."

However, when Taz’s symptoms hit, four years later, the couple were still taken by surprise.

"Mine started with panic attacks – something I had never experienced before and they were so different to Asha’s that we didn’t understand what was happening at first," says Taz. "Eventually, we realised I needed to avoid sugar, caffeine and alcohol in order to swerve them as much as possible.

"When my mood swings began, I didn’t get the bouts of anger Asha experienced – for me, it was a sense of hopelessness, anxiety, stress, feeling I wasn’t good enough, and endless tears."

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Two hands holding. (Getty Images)
Taz and Asha, who have come back stronger, want there to be more awareness of the tools available to help people through menopause. (Getty Images)

Taz followed Asha’s treatment regime at first, loading up on herbal supplements such as red clover and evening primrose as well as regular exercise. But when she reached a point where she was struggling to get up in the morning, she decided to seek help from her GP.

"After a rocky start, I found a doctor who listened and understood," she says. "After jumping through a few hoops with an up to date smear, I had to pay privately for a new Mirena coil because free clinics will only replace for contraception, and I need mine for a medical issue which is not so easy to fudge when married to someone of the same gender. I finally started HRT. I’ve been on oestrogen patches for about a month now and I am noticing a difference, though it’s early days and we might need to adjust the dose and try different things as my body begins to adjust."

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Today the couple are happier than ever.

"Asha and I will be celebrating 25 years together next year," says Taz. "So many people describe us as ‘couple goals’, and we’ve always had a really solid, loving relationship, but this could have broken us. Neither of us were prepared for the massively unpleasant perimenopausal rollercoaster. I’ve been through depression, burnout and breakdown, but this has been something else."

Asha agrees. "I’m just grateful we’ve been able to keep talking throughout. It makes me wonder how many other couples may have stayed together if they’d had more awareness of the tools available to help them through this pivotal moment in a woman’s life.

"If there’s love at the centre of a relationship, then it’s worth fighting for, even if you’re up against the mighty menopause. Keep talking, seek support and know things will get better."