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Male Menopause

Do You Know How to Tell if Your Husband is Going Through Menopause?

Medical research suggests his mid-life crisis – and the affair, sports car and divorce that come with it – may be the result of a condition called andropause, a.k.a. male menopause, which is easily treatable. But first you have to recognize the signs.

Several years ago, Barbara, a 48-year-old mother of three living in Guelph, Ont., started noticing changes in her husband to whom she had been married for 24 years. He became withdrawn and angry. “He was really mean, very dismissive of me and nasty,” she says. He also started drinking heavily; sometimes two bottles of wine in an evening.

Their sex life, which she had always found exciting, stopped completely. “That’s the point where you sit up and say something is changing here,” she says. When she asked why, he simply replied, “We’re too old,” even though they were both only in their 40s. He also complained that he was stressed by work. “I believed him at the time,” she recalls. However, a year later he announced he was leaving her for a younger woman.

Male menopause, or andropause, is a credible physical change that many men experience, but that has long been misdiagnosed by medical professionals and, not surprisingly, ignored by men, who are less likely than women to go to a doctor.

As the baby boom ages, this story is repeated time and again. Your husband starts acting moody, his sex drive diminishes; the next thing you know he’s gone and you’ve hired a divorce lawyer. In the past, society joked about men hitting middle age and suddenly panicking – it was referred to as “male menopause” in derogatory terms. It seemed that men simply couldn’t come to terms with aging, so they got a fancy new sports car or a glamorous young girlfriend to make themselves feel better.

But as researchers delve deeper into men’s health issues, it appears that male menopause, or andropause, is a credible physical change that many men experience, but that has long been misdiagnosed by medical professionals and, not surprisingly, ignored by men, who are less likely than women to go to a doctor. The greater tragedy is that it may be responsible for the breakdown of a number of marriages, leaving traumatized children, bewildered wives, and men who are more unhappy out of their marriages than they were in them.

Men begin to experience a drop in testosterone levels at age 30; for some it becomes significant enough that it gradually takes a physical and emotional toll, says Dr. Clement Williams, who runs the Men’s Health Clinic in Vancouver. “There’s a feeling of fatigue, depression, loss of concentration, decreased memory, loss of self-esteem and increased anxiety – and sometimes hot flashes. Men lose their libido, develop erectile dysfunction.

“They blame their wives, everybody but themselves,” adds Dr. Williams.

Jed Diamond, a California-based psychotherapist and the author of Surviving Male Menopause, A Guide for Women and Men, concurs. “I get literally hundreds of calls and letters from women saying the man will say, ‘I still love you, but I am not in love with you. There’s something that’s gone out of our marriage and I need to get away,’ ” Diamond says. “But the energy hasn’t so much drained out of the marriage as out of the man himself. The dissatisfaction really isn’t so much that his wife has changed, but he’s going through changes. He is having a very difficult time understanding or dealing with them, and very often the wife becomes the scapegoat.”

As a result, many men make a change in their lives that is sometimes irreversible. They figure, says Diamond, that “if the problem is her then what I need to do is leave, start a new life.” However, several months later some realize that the move has not made them any happier. In addition to dealing with symptoms of andropause, they are now dealing with a distraught wife and kids, a divorce lawyer and financial woes.

It’s difficult to draw from statistics how many divorces andropause might be responsible for – people don’t always acknowledge or even identify their reasons for getting divorced. However, lawyers and sociologists provide anecdotal evidence that more people talk about splitting because of a change in the man’s behaviour. Ottawa lawyer John E. Johnson says that while only about 20 per cent of the divorces he handles can potentially be attributed to andropause, he is noticing an increase. “This stuff was very rare and secretive when I first started practicing family law 25 years ago,” he says. In Toronto, sex therapist Joan Marsman says women are coming in with their male partners wondering why they are withdrawing instead of building intimacy now that they have more time and money.

Next: The causes.

Marsman says it’s very validating for women to know that there may be a physical cause to their partner’s attitude.

However, she cautions, not all middle-age malaise can be blamed on male menopause. “Is it because he doesn’t have enough testosterone and he tries to answer it with another lover, or is it really a change-of-life issue?” After all, hitting middle age often means that people with normal hormones take stock and wonder if what they have been doing for the past 25 years is what they want to continue to do for the next 25.

Traditionally, male menopause has been pooh-poohed mainly because technically men don’t lose their ability to reproduce, and their hormone levels don’t drop drastically. As well, consumer groups are wary of whether drug companies have a hand in manufacturing a disorder to sell more products.

Still, Dr. Malcolm Carruthers, a British pioneer in the field of andropause and author of Maximizing Manhood, has been analyzing the results of 1,500 patients for 10 years. His conclusions? At least 25 percent of 40-year-old men are going through andropause, and that number climbs to 70 per cent by the time men reach their 70s.

Because the changes are so gradual, most men don’t realize what’s happening. It’s when it hits one particular area that men start blaming their marriages, Dr. Williams says.

He believes that “in 80 percent of marriage breakdowns with symptoms of andropause and depression, if men saw a good andrologist and got treatment, they would be fine and their marriage would survive.” Even if men seek help from a family doctor, they are often treated in-correctly. (Despite growing research, doctors largely remain uninformed; the Canadian Andropause Society was formed in 1998 to inform health-care providers about current findings.) They are given an antidepressant to deal with their unhappiness and Viagra to deal with erectile dysfunction, which address the symptoms but not the problem.

John, 57, a Vancouver construction manager, started having symptoms of andropause in his early 50s. He had noticed gradual changes – everything from loss of muscle mass, weight gain, lack of concentration, falling asleep in evenings, loss of libido and grumpiness. “I thought my wife had gone potty and my children were whiners and complainers,” he says. He was initially given an antidepressant, but one of its side-effects is that it diminishes sex drive. “The antidepressant took it away totally for the first month,” he says.

Then he approached Dr. Williams, told him his symptoms and was given a blood test; his testosterone levels were low, and he started on testosterone replacement therapy – injections, in his case. After 12 weeks he noticed a huge change in the way he was feeling. “I felt like a new person,” he says. The grumpiness left me, my libido came back, and my erectile dysfunction is not there anymore.”

The grumpiness is a big factor, says Dr. Vincent DeMarco, the medical director of the Toronto Clinic for Optimal Health Rejuvenation. “They are grumpy old men. They don’t want to do anything, they are sitting on the couch, they have no sex drive.

“We have met men who have been divorced and they thought life would be better with another woman but they ended up by themselves,” he says. “The problem wasn’t their marriage, it was their own lack of energy and enthusiasm.”

Leo, a divorced business executive in Cornwall, Ont., believes he went through andropause when he was in his 40s. “After my marriage I went through a number of bad relationships, and that depresses you even more,” he says.

Dr. DeMarco tests men to check all of their hormone levels. As well, to obtain an accurate picture, he checks not just total testosterone, but testosterone in the blood that is not bound to protein, also known as free testosterone. He often uses a combination of progesterone and testosterone as treatment, and says that once a man is treated with hormones he usually feels more energetic and gets his sex drive back. But because the change is so significant, he suggests the man’s partner be treated with testosterone, too, albeit in a smaller dose, so that her sex drive will be able to keep up with his after what may have been years of sexual inactivity.

As with any treatment, Jed Diamond says the best time to help a man going through andropause is early on, but he gets a lot of calls where the guy’s on the verge of leaving. “At that stage I can help the woman understand what is going on [so she can] interact with the guy, and the result doesn’t have to go that way,” he says.

For Barbara, finding out now would be finding out too late. “The terrible thing is thinking that we threw away a 25-year marriage and the problem may have been the result of a medical condition that could have been fixed,” she says. “If we had tried to investigate this, we could have done something before he had an affair and left.”

Reprinted from HOMEMAKERS.COM
March 22, 2003
By Georgie Binks
(Georgie Binks is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)

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