Menopause, Relationships, and the Holidays

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


The holidays are a crucible for relationship meltdowns. Loved ones with differing expectations, familial patterns, and needs get together to create a “Hallmark moment.” Even in the best of circumstances, this can be a set up for dysfunction and stress. At midlife, it can be even tougher. I wrote about this in the newly revised edition of The Wisdom of Menopause, which will be available in January 2012.

“It is no secret that relationship crises are a common side effect of menopause. Usually this is attributed to the crazy-making effects of the hormonal shifts occurring in a woman’s body at this time of transition. What is rarely acknowledged or understood is that as these hormone-driven changes affect the brain, they give a woman a sharper eye for inequity and injustice, and a voice that insists on speaking up about them. In other words, they uncover hidden wisdom—and the courage to voice it. As the vision-obscuring veil created by the hormones of reproduction begins to lift, a woman’s youthful fire and spirit are often rekindled, together with long-sublimated desires and creative drives. Midlife fuels those drives with a volcanic energy that demands an outlet.

“If it does not find an outlet—if the woman remains silent for the sake of keeping the peace at home or work, or if she holds herself back from pursuing her creative urges and desires—the result is equivalent to plugging the vent on a pressure cooker: Something has to give. Very often what gives is the woman’s health, and the result will be one or more of the “big three” diseases of postmenopausal women: heart disease, depression, and breast cancer. On the other hand, for those of us who choose to honor the body’s wisdom and to express what lies within us, it’s a good idea to get ready for some boat rocking, which may put long-established relationships in upheaval. Marriage is not immune to this effect.”

And neither are your relationships with other family members.

Your family and friends are bound to respond differently to you as you grow and change. When it comes to these dynamics, change makes people uncomfortable—how will your newly adopted lifestyle affect them? Even changing your hairstyle is enough to stir the pot, sometimes.

So what can you do? Here are some ideas:

  1. See it for the Petri dish it is. Expect resistance!
  2. Remind yourself that it’s OK not to be the good girl who sees to everyone’s needs except her own. This goes for any pattern you’re trying to break.
  3. As you end or update some relationships, you may feel a little sad. That’s OK. Grieve and let go. By doing so, you’ll be protecting your health for years to come.
  4. Laugh. Bringing humor into a situation almost always eases tension.
  5. Distance yourself—even if it means skipping the traditional family get together—so you don’t become emotional or stressed by others’ behavior.

I would love to hear about how you’ve established new boundaries as you have grown through the years. Please leave a comment below! Note: Comments are not posted immediately, but often show up in 24 hours or less.

Last Updated: November 1, 2011

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Barb
    5 years ago

    I am 52 years old and just starting to have erratic periods. I think I tolerate too much stress, both at work and at home (from my husband). I am a therapist and truly enjoy the work but tend to take on too much and then resent it. My husband can be very critical and believes “there’s a right way to do everything.” Living with him at times can be exhausting, even though I still love him. I can’t help thinking that perhaps I’d be happier moving forward in life without him. It’s very hard for me to know what to do. The holidays, especially, are horrid. I want to see to my own needs yet still enjoy the holidays and he wants to cram as much activity into the holidays as possible, cooking all morning, then the clean-up, you know, everything that makes it exhausting. We need to talk about expectations before the holidays this year because I’m just done with it.

  2. Kimber
    10 years ago

    I resonated with this article. I have allowed status quo before now. Last year “The Aunts” came for dinner. My husband’s family has never accepted me. I have been polite in order to make things easier. I attended dinner but did not stay longer. It created waves, but was very freeing. I am now in the process of changing some dynamics in my family life. My sweet<3 is very supportive. I am sure he is a bit confused with a normally very compromising wife who is standing her ground more.

  3. margherite
    10 years ago

    Amen! Ladies I applaud your courage to change what you can in order to feel sane in an insane
    invironment. It takes courage and faith to break free of the chains that bind us when we allow
    people, places and things to control and block our natural journey in life. I’m 64 years young
    and getting healthier and freer. I’ve been there and done that. That people pleasing and for
    peace sake is a futule exhausting effort. Free to be me is my God given right and gift.

  4. Rene
    10 years ago

    At 59 after the death of my mother I realized how freeing it was not having to attend a family member’s Christmas Eve celebration. Never enjoying being there and feeling like an outsider my life is finally my own for Holidays now. Life is good.

  5. vicky
    10 years ago

    I don’t weigh myself because I can tell when I gain weigh by the way my clothes fit and my body looks. Instead I focus on loving myself and my body the way it is. I look for ways to move…sitting on a ball instead of a chair, dancing, walking, yoga for 5 to 10 minutes during several times a day.
    I also practice infinite love and gratitude and am very aware of self talk. love, light, and laughter

  6. vicky
    10 years ago

    I don’t weigh everyday. I know by body well enough to know when I gain weight. I do little things to increase calories burned—sitting on a excerise ball instead of a chair, small breaks during the day to be active—dancing, walking , yoga. Read positive affirmations. Infinite love and gratitude.

  7. Paual
    10 years ago

    I am 55 years old I don’t know why the world is obsessed with being younger, I am happy for each and every year as I’ve worked hard for each one and I own them. For the past 5 years, I spend time with family because I want to, not out of duty or loyalty. I can honestly say this is the best (so far) and my husband of 20 years agrees. Thank you Dr Northrup, your wisdom and deep understanding of what it is to be a woman, gives a voice to us all.

  8. Victoria
    10 years ago

    I have just started a program called “Beyond Kegels” with a physical therapist & learned that kegels alone do not do the trick. I have had great results & avoided a rectocil repair by repairing myself. What I would like to learn, is how to strengthen the skin in the vaginal area. My skin is super sensitive and a bit too thin. Any ideas? This could make a great show topic!

  9. Kristin
    10 years ago

    Thank you Dr Northrup……
    This Christmas I would like to have Santa bring me back my vaginal tone so I can sexually sing for another 50 years!. Would you do a radio show on this topic?. I could sure use some tips and exercises and I know others could use them as well. Frankly I’m not sure anyone is kegelling correctly – (Is that a word?)

    Big love,

  10. Nancy OFallon
    10 years ago

    I have learned to listen more, talk less and then respond, (or not). There are 2 reasons behind this: 1) I get more information and don’t just react, and 2) I use a LOT less energy interrupting and trying to “fix” someone else’s problems. I now have the wisdom to know that I can’t fix other’s depression or sadness, I can only demonstrate how I deal with them in my own life.

  11. marlene
    10 years ago

    a million cheers for you christiane northrup, goddess hero of us all… to relieve pending holyday stress, and the ‘why do i go?’ pattern, my partner and i are going away for thanksgiving… my ‘change of life’ is gifting me this, with dr northup wyse womb-one words… i ask ‘how does this serve me?’ frequently… i own my opinions, voice them with compassion, and journal the rest; it keeps me centered… along with walking, biking and ‘yoga-dance-breathe’… blessed be…

  12. Leslie Moise
    10 years ago

    The deck of the boat has been rocking beneath my feet and I’ve continued to steer my course. Thank you for being the sign that all of this is healthy.

  13. Evelyn
    10 years ago

    Thank you. Fifty two is only a few months away and I feel the changes and the resistance within myself. I’ve started a new venture in my life that is helping me break out of my comfort zone. It has been uncomfortable but moving forward is exciting and a wonderful rebirth for the next phase of my life. The aches and pains are subsiding and I feel I’m doing the right thing for myself. My family has been supportive and understanding. I feel blessed in so many ways.

  14. Maria
    10 years ago

    Hello everybody I am soon 48, swedish woman and I have just started the pre-menopause journey, with getting warm at night and with the temper rising up and down but with a strong firmness to be able to show my stand in an convincing way. It is so uplifting to read dr. Chritstane, you are such and inspriation and full of fun and love about women in progress..Just dwelling in what you said you unfold you inner! 🙂

  15. Roberta
    10 years ago

    Dr. Christiane = all your books and videos have been very helpful to me. Now 55 years old and a year menopausal, learning that the changes occuring in my brain and body have brought on all these mood swings and emotional “feelings” has helped me get through this passage without thinking – or worrying – I’m going insane! Holidays are still sticky but I’m finding more peace by letting go of my Ego-Ego being the way I “think” holidays should be spent = and instead, enjoy what happens!

  16. Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Tired of spending the holidays with my dysfunctional family. Every holiday is pure misery. Horrific disagreements, fistfights, don’t feel safe in my sibling’s home, constantly walking on eggshells around my sibling’s spouse afraid to say anything as it will be taken the wrong way. If it were not for my elderly parent, I wouldn’t subject myself to this environment.

  17. I hate the holidays
    10 years ago

    I dread the holidays. My family is dysfunctional and my sibling married someone whose family is even more so. At every family event there’s always conflict, either yelling and stomping out in a huff, or having a fistfight. Even the pets don’t get along, which is dangerous when there are small children around. I hope they don’t invite us this year because I simply cannot stand the stress anymore. The only reason we go is to make my elderly parent happy. Once she’s gone, that’s it.

  18. Lori Robin Wilson
    10 years ago

    Wow! This really hit home! As a 54 year old woman I knew the veil had lifted and the changes were dramatic, what I didn’t know was that it was acceptable for me to really OWN and honor these intense changes in my psyche. I am choosing not to be the one who is always there for others and instead embrace this time as my time. Of course this causes great discomfort with my three grown children. I am happy to hear that the hurt is also understandable and grieving is natural.

  19. Sally
    10 years ago

    This article really spoke to me. I have had some negative things happen to me with my family in the last couple of years. I thought I was dealing well with them, but when things changed at work, that I thought were not fair, I went “kooky”. I am seeing a therapist and working through my feelings about this issues, but was feeling like I was always griping or finding fault. Now I have a positive spin to these reactions as being wisdom.

  20. Georgianne
    10 years ago

    This message is very important to me and I thank you for it! I turn 52 this month and I have attended so many family gatherings that are unhealthy for me, it makes me dread the holidays. “On the advice of my doctor!”, I will gracefully skip some of the “festivities.” Thank you for reminding me that I have reached the age where I can say it like it is. It is OK to cater to everyone’s needs but my own! It is exciting to think about what the holidays could be based on my own ideas…

  21. Karla Mortensen
    10 years ago

    I am honoring my boundaries and my health by not participating in the the family potluck Thanksgiving, or the Christmas Eve Chaos. We will have a peaceful and thanks-filled Thanksgiving and Christmas at home this year! We will have our kids and grandkids at our house on another day during the season to enjoy each other’s company and lots of laughs.

  22. Kelly
    10 years ago

    I use the reason: “I have a prior commitment” for avoiding uncomfortable gatherings….the prior commitment is to myself and my well being!

    I’ve also brought an extra vehicle to gatherings so I can leave early and others can stay if they so desire.

    Remembering Wayne Dyer’s quote: “Decline any invitation that does not inspire you.” helps!

  23. Carol
    10 years ago

    The information here is so true! When I read the part about having the courage to voice your opinions, I could feel the emotions welling-up inside of me because one very special person that did not have that chance in my life was my mother. She died at age 59.

  24. Lyndal
    10 years ago

    Omg you could have written this for me! My situation is exactly as you write. I’m only sorry that your book is published soon as I have THE story to tell!!! In fact the past few days have been just stressful working myself up about Xmas and how my voice won’t be heard. only today my sister told me I just have to wear the situation even though it is unfair. My voice is screaming to be heard, but once again must be quietened, because if I speak up the consequences will be hurled at me once again.

  25. Laurie
    10 years ago

    Close family, traditional pattern of holidays spent with family from the day I was married. 25 years later, there is a family riff with my husband and brother in law to the point that my husband will not be acknowledging the existence of brother in law. My parents are very old and know nothing of this problem. I was trying to avoid telling them the problem because they will be so upset and they are too old to have to deal with our problems. How do I handle the holidays? Help????

  26. Jane
    10 years ago

    When visiting Mom or relatives out of town I always stay at an inn or hotel nearby. It gives me breathing space and everyone is used to it now- my Mother often comes “home” with me for a few hours after a long day of family activities.

  27. Jamie
    10 years ago

    Wow thank you so much! I thought I had lost my mind completely. My pressure cooker blew at work. I feel very relieved to know that my need to leave a job that was unjust and thankless was the best thing I could do for myself. I look forward to reading the updated version of Wisdom of Menopause. The 5 ideas you suggest are exactly what I needed and have been doing without realizing. Thank you.

  28. Carol Scoville
    10 years ago

    Oh, how I have changed! I won’t go into detail. One statement I will make is that I am 71 and am often taken to be in my early 50’s by most people. Making healthy emotional, physical, spiritual changes has saved my life as has ending unhealthy relationships. Dr Northrup’s books have come along at these critical moments in my life and have served me well!

  29. sue
    10 years ago

    I agree with avoiding stressful family get togethers, my husband and i started a new tradition of eating a light meal and going to a beautiful wildlife refuge for Thanksgiving several years ago. Xmas i usually stay home and he travels to visit his family, always comes home almost catatonic, while i am cheerful and rested. I enjoy looking at his family photos and hearing his funny stories, you can’t make up that stuff. Life is suppose to be happy not torture, even during menapause.

  30. Shauna Hart
    10 years ago

    In establishing new boundaries, some by choice and those forced on me by my children, I have learned to rely on the age old axiom…what goes around comes around! And, my faith, study of the scriptures, and relationship with God has buoyed me up and helped me to come to terms with how I should and shouldn’t deal with people. I have had to shed relationships that I had for years, and learn to seek relationships with people that have no agenda…women and men whose words match their actions.

  31. Janet
    10 years ago

    Thank you! Dr. Northrup I feel like you are talking just to me. I have no problem speaking up and saying what I feel, however my husband of 38 years is resistant to this. It is not a new occurrence, but at times it is very tiring! Your words echo in my ear and help me to move along ! Thank you for honoring and validating the menopause woman! Blessings!

  32. Glenda
    10 years ago

    Yes, since I turned 55, I have new rules…

    I say what I truly feel…
    I do what I truly want…
    I live a life true to my beliefs…

    I avoid toxic people…
    I sleep as much I want or need…
    I tend to my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs daily…
    I have a joyful, peaceful existance…

    My only question…why did I wait ’til now?

  33. Now50
    10 years ago

    I find with pre-menopause (although, with no period for 3 months now, I wonder “is this it?) that I simply do not want to do anything I do not want to do anymore. NO MORE COMPROMISING. I want what I want, how I want, when I want it…that includes stating and getting my needs met. Not putting up with abusive employment situations or bad bosses or union reps who don’t file grievances.

  34. Olive
    10 years ago

    This year I got the courage to tell my parents that we would not be celebrating Thanksgiving with our drug addicted sibling. After years of not wanting to dissapoint and do the right thing, we decided that until our sibling gets sober we would not subject our children and ourselves to another holiday with him. We have spent years dealing with irratic, abusive and unpredictable behavior. I am happy to say that our parents support our decision.

  35. Pat
    10 years ago

    I took an early retirement at 57. I have made changes including my hair, it is now gray short and sassy. On my journey into the second half of my life I am remembering to be kind. I have given up the idea that I have to argue my opinion, I now just own it.

    Thank you for giving me permission to change.

  36. Dee
    10 years ago

    hidden wisdom indeed….clarity and voicing the inequities
    Firstly by grieving and feeling the pain
    Taking a stand on what & when was convenient for me knowing that I am not a bad person by finding new and better ways
    re-prioriziting, putting distance all while feeling the guilt
    and mostly not engaging in anyone’s else horseshit

  37. cheryl
    10 years ago

    Christmas never brings the joy it once did for me. I try to use as a day of reflection and not of commercialism. I was always stressed trying to be Martha Stewart and Paula dean. Whose houses look like they are from a magazine?

  38. Joanneee
    10 years ago

    I see a counselor trained in the Law of Attraction and we discuss positive ways to make changes in my approach to conflicts with loved ones and co-workers.
    Its wonderful to have positive reinforcement for making this changes and a sounding board other than close friends who are also experiencing these adjustments to their relationships!

  39. Joan Katsareas
    10 years ago

    Introduce game night during the holidays by collecting all the board, trivia, and other card games you can. Games can get everyone laughing and focusing on sharing good times and away from discussions, arguments, etc about something other than family “problems.”

  40. Linda Stoll
    10 years ago

    I talked to our local newspaper about this a few years ago. The peri-menopause period really hit me hard, colliding with loads of other things that were out of control at the time. As a pastoral counselor and life coach, I had been championing boundaries for years.

    And I got to the place where I had to do the same for myself!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *