When Relationships No Longer Work

It's OK to Let Go

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


The primary relationship that needs updating at midlife is the one you have with yourself. All other interpersonal crises that arise at this time are simply reflections of this.

What’s really going on is that the new self you’re becoming is no longer willing to accept less than she deserves or is capable of receiving from others. Although many attribute their relationship troubles at this time to the crazy-making effects of their hormonal shifts, we need to acknowledge that these changes affect both our brains and our hearts, giving us a sharper eye for inequity. Accompanying our sharper vision is the willingness to speak up about what we won’t tolerate anymore. Midlife gives us new wisdom and the courage to voice it.

Suddenly at menopause we find ourselves questioning the meaning and value of many of the relationships that we’d never dared look at too closely before. Although we all want to maintain the bonds that support us at the deepest levels, we often discover that our old ways of feeling or behaving with those closest to us—whether parents, children, spouses, friends, or bosses—need updating. Every devoted relationship, even a good marriage, must undergo change in order to keep up with the hormone-driven rewiring of a midlife woman’s brain.

For the sake of being true to yourself and protecting your emotional and physical health, be willing to forge ahead and take a good hard look at all aspects of your interactions with others. To bring everything into alignment with your rewired brain, you must take the time and spend the energy with yourself—and with those you love—to resolve old hurts and buried anger while setting new ground rules for the years ahead. Doing this skillfully requires that you take 100 percent responsibility for the part you’ve played in your relationships. For example, if you’ve allowed yourself to be a doormat, you’ll likely have some anger about how you’re being treated. How people deal with you “out there” will only change when you transform the part of you that has been afraid to stand up for yourself!

Learn to Read Your Body

As relationship issues surface, identify how your emotions affect your physical self by tuning in to your bodily sensations. When you feel the muscles in your temple tighten, for example, simply observe them and notice how they relax because of your focused attention. Step back and try to recognize the many ways in which each of your emotions manifests—the slump of your shoulders, the lump in your throat, the tension in your jaw muscles, the trembling weakness in your legs, the hollowness in the pit of your stomach, the congestion in your nasal passages as tears flow, and so on. Many midlife women experience itching and rashes on the chest and neck, often a sign that buried emotions are surfacing and being released!

Apply the healing power of your awareness to all of these sensations—the psychological and the physical. Your mindfulness first validates the emotions and then eventually clears away any blockage to your ability to be healthy and fully present in your life.

Excerpted with permission from The Wisdom of Menopause Journal.

Like what you read here? Tweet this: “The primary relationship that needs updating at midlife is the one you have with yourself.

Last Updated: August 19, 2014

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. lori chips
    10 years ago

    This article is on point, however, it is not so easy to get others (like a boss for instance) to recognize that one is evolving at all, let alone making a positive change. At a certain age it seems, one is locked or “typecast” into ones role. Others assume a certain response from you and even when you are working so hard to to break that mold, all they see is the response they were used to seeing. If I stand up for myself, well they see an upset woman, not someone strong trying to improve what exists. Any thoughts?

  2. Denise
    10 years ago

    Thanks for giving me some peace of mind. I thought it was wrong the way I was feeling lately after menopause. I don’t want the same things anymore and I don’t want to put up with people making me feel bad about who I am or becoming. I need the strength to end my relationships even with my spouse that is suffocating me.

  3. Jorunn Ninni
    10 years ago

    Thank you! It was all nourishing to read!

  4. Joanna
    10 years ago

    Love it dealing with this right now.

  5. CJ
    10 years ago

    This expresses clearly just what I have been experiencing in my relationships to family and long-time friends. I feel challenged and even tested by people who expect me to continue to be the loving, nurturing presence who expects nothing in return. Even therapists have said that I may be too smart and too forceful for a woman. I will not betray this self whom I love more every day.

  6. Anita
    10 years ago

    I have spent the last few years updating my relationship with myself, looking at the ways I didn’t honor myself in my friendships…I listened too much and found a real lack of reciprocity with others and I know I’m responsible for setting the pattern or allowing the pattern to continue…I’m starting fresh; the poem “The Invitation” speaks to my preferences in relationship.

  7. Marcia
    10 years ago

    Thank you for this article, Dr. Northrup. My biggest challenges lately have been working with the younger women in my division. I am a strong, healthy sixty years young woman who has learned how to say no, and I have learned how to stand up for myself, but that doesn’t fly with them. I have been told that they think I’m rude and a snob. So be it. Someday they too may learn that it doesn’t pay to be a door mat, and it doesn’t serve your higher good to be everyones best friend.

  8. Johanna
    10 years ago

    This is exactly what I needed to read today-thank you.

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