How to Talk to Your Man About Your Hormones

Awkward? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.
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Monica Gabriel Marshall
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Awkward? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.
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Art Credit: Nima Salimi

The phrase “It’s that time of the month” has different implications for every woman, but if you suffer from PMS, these words are filled with some level of foreboding. “That time of the month” means we have to spend at least one week feeling, well, kind of off kilter. It's one thing to power through and act unaffected to nail your work presentation, but what do you do when you are with your man and having a hard time holding it together?

Keeping up pretenses when you are feeling 20 pounds heavier than usual, your T-zone has freaked out, your bra is suddenly too small (there are worse things), and you feel sure that any minute you might cry, scream, growl, or all three at once, is a tricky business. But imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to pretend, if the person you spent the most time with could be in on your secret. Sounds pretty awesome, right?

The truth is, at one point or another, your guy ends up finding out what’s going on–usually the hard way. And no matter how attentive and understanding the guy, he just doesn't know the experience. Rather than tiptoeing around the subject, why not be preemptive and give your guy the 411 on your hormones on your own terms. I teamed up with Christina Maiale, a registered nurse specializing in gynecology and fertility counseling, to come up with the 6 most important messages to get across when you talk to your guy about PMS.

Before we get started, there are two ground rules that it would behoove you to heed before giving your guy the scoop. First, avoid having this conversation while you are currently experiencing the joys of PMS. Second, hold off until things are pretty serious with your guy before you give him all this information–it can be a lot for a guy to absorb, especially if your relationship is still budding.

01. It’s not a crazy thing—it’s a chemical thing.
Many women, including myself, like to joke about PMS making them feel “crazy.” But, despite how we might feel, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are not crazy—but we do have an amazing amount of shifting hormones to deal with. It can be tempting for men to just write off this important part of our natural biology as that “crazy time,” but this doesn’t make PMS easier for them and certainly doesn’t make it easier for you. Rather than just describing how you feel, arm yourself with some of the science—and a visual.

MenstCycle

This chart may look like a rollercoaster ride—and it very well may be—but what it is really showing is how premenstrual syndrome happens primarily due to significant hormone shifts  during several stages of the menstrual cycle.The estrogen, shown here in blue, rises as the body prepares to ovulate, and quickly drops just before ovulation occurs. The rise in estrogen helps to thicken the uterine lining,which was shed during the period. After ovulation, the progesterone rises. This helps to keep the lining stable and thick, so that if conception were to occur there would be a nice thick uterine lining in which the embryo could implant. Once the progesterone drops all the way back down at the end of the cycle, the lining is no longer stable and the next period starts.

As you know, PMS involves a variety of symptoms, such as irritability, depression, anxiety, crying easily, insomnia, and exhaustion. These are typically most noticeable during the last few days of the cycle, when both of the major hormones, estrogen and progesterone, are plummeting. Some women will notice these symptoms continuing into the next cycle (during their period), and occasionally even around the time of ovulation (notice the significant hormone changes happening at this time as well).

A tip for presentation: Have this chart up on your phone before you bring up the conversation. Casually pull out your phone when you get to the “it’s chemical” part. This way you don’t send him into a panic attack when you ask him to “hold on a minute while you find this really helpful visual of my hormones…”

02. The hormones are not the problem; they irritate a problem that’s already there.

Nothing is more infuriating than coming to a man with a problem—maybe with a few tears brimming—and having him ask you if it’s “that time of the month.” Just thinking about it makes my mouth twitch.

The second most important point to get across is that hormones are irritants; they exacerbate a problem that is already there. Your boss is driving you crazy, your boyfriend is being insensitive, and that date was really disappointing—but it's always a whole lot worse when you are hormonal. How these changing hormones alter mood is not entirely understood, but one leading thought is that they interact with chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, which play a major role in mood. Higher levels of serotonin make us feel happier, so a reduction in serotonin caused by these changing hormones can lead to this sense of depression.

03. This is normal for women.

Women who suffer from PMS are not werewolves—although I do have some strong suspicions about where this mythical creature got its inspiration. More than 85 percent of women report some kind of symptom the week before they get their period. One psychologist says that many of her female patients who deal with anxiety, anger, depression, grief, self-esteem issues, or a breakup say, “Oh, and it’s a lot worse when I’m PMSing. I feel like I’m going crazy. And I usually start a terrible fight with my partner.”

It may feel a little awkward talking about it with your guy, but too many women suffer through PMS alone and ashamed. While severe symptoms of PMS can be an indication of a health problem (ask your gynecologist, especially if these symptoms last for more than 3 to 4 days), most of the time, the miseries of PMS are just part of being a woman. Your guy probably already knows this, but it won’t hurt to remind him and yourself. If he wants a relationship with a woman, this comes with the package.

04. It’s temporary and there is an end in sight!

For many women, PMS can be downright miserable. Many of us pray and beg that mother nature puts us out of our misery, and if your boyfriend is a sensitive guy, he may understandably be feeling a little helpless during this time. Be sure to remind him that this is a temporary situation. This is also a good time to whip out that chart. It’s especially helpful if you have a rough idea of where you are in your cycle (there are many great apps for tracking this!) so that you can say at any point, “Look, this is where I’m at in my cycle, so I should be back to my normal self in just a couple of days.”

05. I am still in control.

This is the second part of the great PMS lie that we are told and that we often tell ourselves. Just like we are not crazy, we are also not out of control. During this time of our cycle we may need to use a lot more mental energy staying focused or thinking positively, but we are not slaves to our hormones. It’s important to let your man know that you do your best to keep PMS in check. Let him know that during this time you try to get more sleep, workout, and eat healthy, as these things can often help alleviate PMS symptoms. Assure him that most of the time you are aware when you are PMSing and try to put these symptoms in the correct perspective, but it is still hard.

06. During this time it would be helpful for me if…

Which brings us to our final and most important point. Do not attempt to give your guy the 411 on your hormones unless you are prepared to give him crystal clear directives on what he is expected to do with them. Ask yourself why you feel the need to have this conversation. If your answer is “to vent” or so that he can commiserate, skip this conversation and talk to your girlfriends instead. Your guy is guaranteed to see PMS as a problem in need of a solution and will most likely be incapable of commiserating with you. If you need him to be more sensitive during that time of the month or maybe give you a little space, let him know and be clear. For example: “During this time it would be helpful if…

a.) We spent a little more low-key quality time together, like watching a movie.
b.) You are aware that I can be more anxious than usual and administer lots of hugs.
c.) Plan to see me on the weekends, but know that the weekdays will be important for me to get lots of sleep.

This conversation might be a little awkward, but it can also be a quick one. Simply focus the conversation on these six points and move on, no need to dwell on the miseries of cramps. He will probably be very grateful the conversation is over, but he will also be in the loop and hopefully empowered knowing"what to do in case of an emergency," and that's always a good thing.