Relationships between men and women are influenced by many things, but most fundamental, on a strictly physiological level, are the chemicals in our body called hormones. Our hormones are crucial to the functioning of the human body. They play a role in our physical growth, hunger cravings, our moods, activating our immune system, metabolism, fighting and fleeing, love, reproduction and sexual arousal, parenting instincts, menopause and much more.
For men, testosterone is the big player, especially between the ages of 15 and 50. Women are largely governed by oestrogen, progesterone and oxytocin which affects them in significant ways between the ages of 12 and 50 (approximately).
Let’s explore the effects of these hormones…
Testosterone is dominant in males and is 15 to 20 times stronger in teenage boys than in girls.
It has a stimulating influence on self-confidence, assertiveness, self-sufficiency and aggression, spatial orientation (the ability to find direction or to park a car), mathematical abilities and concentration.
Oestrogen is the female hormone that gives women the feeling of calmness, pleasure and general wellbeing, and their knack for communication. It also improves memory which explains why women after menopause experience ‘fogginess’. When a woman gives birth to her first baby her hair becomes darker because her oestrogen level gradually drops with the birth of each child.
Progesterone is the hormone that triggers the motherly, nurturing instinct in women.
Oxytocin in women is sometimes called the “tend and befriend” hormone. It’s what gives women the urge to reach out to people and to support them.
Having looked at the effect of each of these dominant hormones, it’s easy to understand the fundamental behavioural differences between men and women. However, as we age, the levels of these hormones in our bodies change, and so too then does our behaviour.
Let’s explore the effects of these hormonal changes…
Menopause and “Man-opause” (andropause)
When a woman reaches menopause at approximately 50 years of age, she goes through a range of physical, psychological, and emotional changes that can be attributed to the hormonal changes taking place in her body. The gradual loss of oestrogen means an increase in testosterone. This increase makes the woman more assertive, an asset which often becomes valuable should the woman, for example, lose her husband and needs to cope on her own. Unfortunately, this new asset also sometimes brings more stress, impatience and aggression along with it.
Men in their transitional years often experience an identity crisis. Many start to lose their hair, their muscles atrophy and the level of testosterone in their bodies decreases. Many men lose their assertiveness and become more sensitive. A loss in libido is also frequently reported.
How do hormonal changes affect relationships?
When men go through “man-opause”, they become more accommodating and tender which for their partner may be a welcome change. But coupled with the harsh transition into retirement, they could experience feelings of powerlessness. This often leads to the grumpy old men syndrome. This may manifest in neediness and attention-seeking tendencies. At this time of a man’s life it would be helpful for his partner to be sensitive and attentive and to show him as much support as he needs. It will also be hugely helpful for him to redirect his energies to productive and fulfilling activities that can replace the purpose that work brought to his life. The male libido may also decline. Sensitivity from his partner is once again crucial. And medical or therapeutic intervention may be necessary.
During menopause women begin to show signs of memory loss which might be irritating to her partner. But then again, men’s memory also gradually declines. Women often become more assertive which is a necessary development as the levels of testosterone in her husband decline. A women’s libido tends to increase as she gets older, so it will be essential that her partner finds ways to keep up. And because her nurturing qualities may start dissipate; she’ll have to make a concerted effort to be sensitive to her husbands need for support.
There is a definite shift in roles in relationships as we age. It is not only trying for you personally – on a physical and emotional level – but it will be trying for you as a couple as well. Communication and patience during these transitionary periods is so vital. And don’t be nervous to seek help either.