Ignorance isn’t bliss when it comes to men and PMS.
“Is that the gremlin talking, babe?” my boyfriend sympathetically asks at least once a month. I know this "gremlin" he speaks of well; it’s also known as good, old-fashioned premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—and it can get nasty. The gremlin is the reason I may snap at an Uber driver who goes the wrong way. It’s the reason I may suddenly feel like a failure in life. It’s the reason why I may cancel plans last-minute in favour of sweatpants, solidarity and a five-topping pizza. It’s the reason the equilibrium of my relationship is thrown off every 28 days.
The gremlin was my boyfriend’s creation, inspired by the popular Netflix series Big Mouth, where the "Hormone Monsters" are the main characters. He literally envisions an angry little gremlin inside of me who will lose it if it’s disturbed or under stress. Of course, the whole thing sounds ridiculous and is a bit of a joke, but it’s our way to address the often-uncomfortable topic of PMS—something that can wreak havoc on otherwise healthy relationships and something that is actually no joke at all.
While PMS has been called a myth or a cultural syndrome—thanks in part to the fact that scientific research surrounding PMS is shockingly lacking, with the exact cause unknown—women who experience it know how real it is. Finally, in early 2017, scientists released evidence that women with severe PMS (premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD) may have a genetic mutation. This marks a step toward proving that PMS isn’t in fact “in our heads.”
Not surprisingly, many men I’ve encountered are clueless about PMS and periods. They may think the accompanying moods are something we can readily “snap out of,” that we’re exaggerating our symptoms, or that we’re making excuses for so-called “crazy” behavior. I’ve tried to explain it to past partners, drawing comparisons like “it’s like being the hangriest you’ve ever been,” or “it’s like being in a traffic jam on one hour’s sleep.” But how do you accurately describe the rage, sudden mood swings, and sadness that can engulf you completely?
My girlfriends joke that we need a PMS simulator for men, so they can finally understand it in all of its hormone-shifting glory. In the meantime—and in all seriousness—it’s time for men to start learning about and maturely discussing periods. Historically, menstruation hasn’t exactly been a hot topic with men, but they need to appreciate the effects of PMS to understand their female partners. “I see many clients who suffer from PMS; they feel depressed, anxious, less interested in things they used to enjoy, and often have to deal with physical pain,” says Nicole McCance, a Toronto-based psychologist and leading relationship specialist. “This is a real issue and the quicker men acknowledge it, the easier their relationships will be.”
PMS symptoms—like irritability, anxiety, depression, bloating, loss of libido, and exhaustion—aren’t exactly welcome additions to your relationship. It’s important to remember that those pesky PMS hormones are irritants, so any little disagreement, sensitivity, or disappointment is felt about a hundred times harder when they’re involved. So, this isn’t the best time to bring up a grievance or touchy subject—save it.
“It’s important for your partner not to take PMS personally, because it’s not about them,” says McCance. “A lot of the irritability and emotional instability that comes with PMS is out of the woman’s control. It’s a hormone issue, and hormones impact our mood. If your partner takes it less personally and embraces that you are doing your best every month to get through this challenging time, it will lead to less arguments.”
Once our partners understand PMS and its effects—something that should be a joint effort—they can learn what we need during those precious few days before our monthly visitor arrives, whether it’s a sounding board, a hug, or a tub of ice cream. A study published in the journal PloS ONE found that a woman’s partner can help improve her PMS symptoms, rather than amplify them.
It’s important to be cognizant of the timing and recognize PMS when it creeps up. If you have a consistent menstrual cycle, it’s simple to track thanks to a handful of apps and online period trackers. Aside from addressing their partner’s PMS symptoms, men may need a separate strategy to deal with it themselves, whether this means practicing more patience, an additional workout, or indulging in a guilty pleasure.
What women don’t need is to be avoided, made to feel “irrational” or “crazy,” or argued with over seemingly trivial things. The only thing worse than suffering through PMS is getting shamed for it.