How to Not Let PMS Ruin Your Relationships
Ever wish you could just drop a cheat sheet in the lap of your coworker, or text a link to your partner, that would communicate literally everything you’ve ever wanted to say, wanted them to know, and everything you need while you’re suffering from PMS?
Good news: we spoke with real women, sexual health professionals, and therapists to put together something you can pass along anytime someone accuses you of “Being a pain in butt because it’s your time of the month” or when you can’t find the words to express what you need because you’re too busy crying at that pit bull adoption video (it’s not cliche, it’s real life).
Some of this may surprise you, some may not, and some may seem a little cliche, but there is truth to creature comforts and emotional support and reactions we have during this time.
My Top Five Relationship Requests When I’m Having PMS Symptoms
1. If I’m a woman in the workplace, I’d love it if you’d please ask me if I’m doing okay today, don’t ask me if it’s that time of the month, but, ask if I’ve had easier days and what you might be able to do to help the day go more smoothly. Ask around the office about my favorite kind of coffee or juice and make it magically appear.
2. If you see that I am on a rapid-fire rant at home about you hanging your coat on the chair instead of a hanger, take my hands, look in my eyes, and gently ask me if we can take a few deep breaths and calm down.
3. I know you are only human, so if I am angry and shouting, please try to refrain from doing the same. However, if you shout back, I still love you, I just want you to know that if I could help myself from shouting, I would. You have an unfair advantage.
4. I’m going to give you a head’s up: Hey, today I am going to be a bit more irritable, I’m going to get a migraine, I’m going to feel bad about myself, sex might be affected because of how I feel about my own body, and I may feel like I should just throw my laptop out the window because I sent someone an email using the wrong version of “their” as “there.” Let me know the best way to try and communicate with you about what I need as well. Inventing the first sugar-free, carb-free donut for me is a promising start.
5. I need you to know that I love you and I am doing my best and am never, ever using these very real chemical changes, mood swings and feelings as an “excuse” or a reason to act out. If anything, I probably feel guilty that I am not my best self for you right now, and I want to be. I will keep trying to do better every month, and I would also like rose petals everywhere, if that’s not too much to ask.
Real Women Chime In On What They Wish Everyone Knew
“I feel especially gross and insecure about my body, and wish I felt more secure in my own natural bodily process. I want them to help me normalize it. Please comfort me, and don’t joke about anything about my body, my mood, or especially bloating.” —Gabby
“It’s okay to have sex with me. In fact, I probably want it. I was in a relationship for seven years before my boyfriend discovered we could actually have intercourse while I had my period. He was under the impression it was something that physically could not or should not be done. I had no idea he thought that. I spent all that time thinking he was just grossed out by it. We’d never really spoken about it in depth. In the beginning, the first few times it came around, I’d give him a head’s up and he wouldn’t touch me for a week. I assumed that meant he wasn’t into it. I never pushed the topic because I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable. I had hang ups about my sexual appetite, so I had these weird fears of coming off like a “sex beast” or being too aggressive. Seven years in, it came up organically and I found out he had been told by a previous partner that it wasn’t an option and thought that meant for everyone, always. His mind was blown. We gave it a shot and he was shocked. Needless to say, I spoke openly and honestly about it in my next relationship.” —Carla
“Please bring home one of my favorite chocolate bars. I could buy it myself on the way home from work, but it just taste better when you buy it- but only if you do it without me asking! Just something about you taking the time to think about me and remember a small detail actually helps me mentally, which is a BIG deal during this time.”— Sam
“Recognize that I’m experiencing real pain. If he was experiencing that level of pain he would call out sick from work, but I can’t do that because it happens too frequently. So just be sympathetic, just because it happens frequently doesn’t mean that it isn’t severe pain. I guarantee I’m more tired of it than he is.” —Jillian
“Every month, for an entire week, I turn into psycho-woman. I’m angry, I cry, I laugh, I scream. All within a 10 minute conversation. What I would like my boyfriend to do is accept it. He can rub my back and say ” I know” or “It’s okay” and feed me grilled cheese or scoops of ice cream or eat an entire bag of Veggie Straws with me while I cry and watch This is Us.” What I want him to stop doing is asking me when I’m angry if “it’s that time of the month” and starting an argument for no reason just so I can have the bed to myself then the next day trying to snuggle like nothing happened.” —Chelsea
The Experts Spell It Out
Prudence Hall, MD, author of Radiant Again.com:
There are no set do’s and don’ts about how to approach a woman on her period. For her it may be nothing, or it may be a time of fatigue, pain, irritability, sadness or profuse bleeding. It’s best to ask how she’s feeling, as you would in many other situations. It’s always nice to hear a partner ask if there is anything they can do to help:
- A massage to ease back pain?
- Cooking dinner if she is tired?
- Be more attentive to her non verbal clues.
- Does she need some space?
- Does she want more closeness?
- In a new relationship, it is usually reassuring to have a partner reassure the woman that he loves her blood and making love while her on her cycle; that she looks especially beautiful.
- A woman’s estrogen levels fall before and during a period, which is the cause of PMS. Low estrogen can cause a loss of confidence, so a bit more reassurance is helpful.
- Many women feel their partner may be less attracted to them while they are bleeding, but other women tell me it’s a time of more attraction.
- It is usually not a good time to give a woman “constructive criticism” or unsolicited advice– in fact it is rarely a good time to do this.
Sarah Noble, DO, a psychiatrist with Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia:
“Especially when it comes to PMDD, the first thing I would say is that it’s very important not to blame a woman’s bad mood on hormones. That feels both sexist and demeaning.”
- On the other hand, acknowledging that your loved one feels less like themselves and perhaps less in control of their responses to stress at certain times of the month is appropriate.
- Helping her to remember that the intensity of her feelings will pass is very supportive and will help to de-escalate any tough moments.
- Suggesting that stressful conversations be tabled until another day in a non-judgmental way can be helpful as well.
What We Need to Communicate
Paul L. Hokemeyer, J.D., Ph.D., says that it’s crucial for us as women to accept the fact that their mates cannot read their minds. On some level we all know this, but when we are flooded with emotions and are feeling hurt it’s hard to recall. Therefore, always ask in a gentle, kind and non demanding way exactly what you need. If your partner doesn’t take heed let it go. Accept the fact that you’re in a relationship with an imperfect human being. Couples need to acknowledge the fact that there are fundamental differences between them that can never be bridged, but that can be accepted in a supporting, loving and non judgmental way.”
- Men mistakenly believe women have control over their reactions. They fail to realize menstruating women are responding to very basic and very human physical manifestations. Because men are not biologically primed the same way as women, they have no way of fully understanding the intensity of the emotions that emanate from their physical condition. As a result, they take their partner’s reactions personally and allow their feelings to get hurt.
- The best way for a partner to handle a mate’s mood swings is to just hold the reactions without feeling the need to respond to the affect. This of course takes practice. We never want to see the people we love in what we perceive as distress and are compelled to change them. But rather than changing them, a mate is well advised to just empathize for their situation and feel compassion for what they are going through.
- It’s important for the non PMSing partner to have a strategy to ground them. Because they care for their mate, they find it very destabilizing when they go into fits of irrationality, anger and other intense emotions. Grounding can take the form of leaving the room, counting to 100, and looking at ones feet.
- Empathy is the ability to perceive the other’s personal experiences as best as you can from their perspective. Its critically important to cultivate in our lives and in particular our intimate relationships. To do this, shift your focus from yourself and the injury you feel from your partner’s actions to what it must be like to live in their skin in that particular moment. It will get you out of yourself and connect you to your mate in a shared relational experience.
“The most important piece of intel I can give partners of woman who are in or around their menstrual cycle is ‘easy does it’. Too often, partners take their mates emotional reactions too personally. This is especially true when the emotions are more intense than normal because they are triggered by a woman’s physiology rather than her will. In these time frames, it’s important to step back, not take her reactions personally and give her plenty of room to be.”
Self Care and Managing PMS Symptoms
GiGi Engle, writer and sex educator, says that the following are also vital.
- If you suffer from PMS or PMDD, explain it to your partner. If you have a good boyfriend/girlfriend etc., they should be understanding.
- Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Ask for what you need. If you need extra attention and loving, say so. if you truly need to be left alone to cope, explain that it isn’t personal, it’s just what you need to get through it.
- Don’t even let anyone invalidate your feelings. If someone tries to tell you what you’re experiencing isn’t real or you’re being dramatic. Kindly explain that this is not helpful in any way. If your partner doesn’t know how to be compassionate and tries to make you feel crazy, you may want to consider getting a new partner.
- Managing symptoms is a tricker set because not everyone responds the same to everything. There are a variety of ways to calm symptoms of PMS.
- Take a relaxing bath, light some candles, write in your journal.
- Watch a really girl-power movie. I’d suggest Wonder Woman. It always brightens me up when I’m anxious.
- Be aware of yourself. Keep track of your cycles using an app.
- If you know your period is coming, or PMDD is on its way, take note of it. Let your partner know it may be a rough few days.
- If you experience particularly rough bouts of depression or anxiety, have a game plan.
- Don’t load your week with a ton of stressful assignments at work
- Don’t overbook yourself
- Opt for yoga or kickboxing instead of sitting on a stationary bike.
- Don’t feel guilty about needing to do certain things to ensure your mental health.
How Your Partner Can Best Take Care of Both Themselves, and You
If you trust your partner, it’s important to tell them details you may not have told anyone before.
“One crucial point to understand is this: many women feel various degrees of embarrassment and even shame about this subject. I have met a number of women who simply are not comfortable talking about this with any man, even their married partner,” says s Dr. Gary Brown, psychologist. “I think that it’s vital that a man take the time to get to know what his partner experiences, needs, and does not need when she is experiencing the most uncomfortable parts of her cycle.”
He continued, “It may be that she is shy and can’t start the conversation. This is a good time to hack your courage, and ask her in the most non-judgmental way, what her experience is: e.g. bloating, mood swings, blood flow, menstrual cramps, where she is on the pain-scale (on a scale of 1 to 10 with “1” being the mildest of discomfort, and “10” meaning that she might very well need to go to her OB, urgent care, or the emergency department to help her manage the pain.)”
Dr. Brown says there are two very crucial questions that you should ask your partner when she is having her period.
The first question, he says, is to simply ask her what she needs. Would she like a hot towel, some Motrin, a cup of her favorite tea, some time alone, time together, silence, low light if she gets excruciating headaches, go to the pharmacy to get her prescription pain meds – basically anything that you can do to help support her and ease at least some of her suffering.
The second question, he says, is this: ask her, what don’t you need right now? What would not be helpful? The answers are going to vary from one woman to the next, and will likely vary during different phases of her cycle. Get to know what she likes and what she doesn’t like.Also, be prepared to hear what appear to be conflicting statements. Her needs may very well change from one moment to the next. Be a calm and as patient as you possible can. Remember, she is the one who is suffering, so her needs are the priority right now.
“First, and foremost, you need to understand that this is not about you. It’s about your partner. With that said, if things are really bad, you have every right to put some reasonable distance between you and her.
Of course, this is a tact you can take after you have asked your partner if there is anything that you can do to support her, and possible help to relieve some of her symptoms,” he says.
“Gently acknowledge to their suffering partner that they want to be supportive but right now, but when your partner is at the height of anger, that perhaps you need to go into another other room. I have seen so many couples enhance their trust of one another when they talk about this subject. Building another level of trust will lead to more vulnerability, and that leads to more empathy, and a deeper sense of love between you.”
This Woman’s Partner is Crushing It, Guys
“My partner is very good about comforting me during my dysmenorrhea symptoms: these include typical extreme cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and all that fun stuff. If I say “just got my period, can we modify plans?” he doesn’t ask twice, and we just do something low-key or end up staying in watching Hulu. If I’m in so much pain and am out in the world, he offers to get me a Lyft home or Postmate me vegan ice cream or soup. Acknowledging that canceling or changing plans is for the sake of my body and sanity feels really nice. Of course this should be done without a streak of resentment to the period-having partner, considering they can’t control their symptoms with the exception of painkillers that don’t always work.” —Veronica
Featured image by Núria Estremera
Author Bio Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, content strategist, and author of the memoir After 9/11. She has written for and worked with 50 publications including The New York Times, Salon, Glamour, Reader's Digest, Forbes, Women's Health, Newsweek, The Fix, and Teen Vogue. She is a native New Yorker, nonprofit enthusiast, rescue dog lover, and has eaten at approximately 500 million thousand restaurants. Visit her at HelainaHovitz.com or follow her @helainahovitz on Twitter and on Facebook at Helaina Hovitz Regal.