It's that time of the month that some women dread - and when some men take cover. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) encompasses a group of physical, psychological and behavioral symptoms linked to a woman's menstrual cycle. These symptoms usually appear about two weeks before a woman's menstruation.
The time just before a woman's period can be an awkward one for men. Many find themselves treading lightly around issues, watching more TV, staying out of the house or just "being scared."
Persistent symptoms of PMS or its more severe cousin, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), have been linked to strains on relationships and marriage, as well as alcoholism. Women say that the psychological and behavioral symptoms are more worrisome than the physical ones.
Bad for women, but how do men cope?
PMS and PMDD create monthly stress. About 85 percent of menstruating women have at least one of the following:
- Being extra-sensitive to rejection
- Increased appetite
- Weight gain
- Breast tenderness or swelling
In a study of men's responses to their mate's "time of the month," positive and negative coping strategies were observed.
On the positive side, many men:
- Tried to learn more about symptoms
- Gave her reassurance and support
- Remembered it was only temporary
- Saw it as "normal"
- Understood it wasn't "directed at me"
- Took on more household or child-rearing tasks
On the negative side, especially among men with partners who have severe symptoms, some men:
- Got angry, yelled or ignored their wives
- Became short tempered/intolerant
- Became afraid
- Did more things away from home
- Drank, slept, ate or smoked more
- Were abusive
So what can men do?
Men can learn to anticipate, predict and adapt. PMS and PMDD symptoms occur monthly, yet their onset still surprises some men. That's because many don't monitor their partner's menstrual cycle.
Knowing a partner's cycle and symptoms can help men to develop coping strategies.
- Note in a calendar when your partner's PMS symptoms typically start. There are also Web sites that can send you reminders.
- Work together to determine her pattern of symptoms. She can then predict her difficult days and plan for less stress.
- Exercise with your wife. Aerobic activity promotes endorphin release, which may help mood and relaxation. That exercise should increase during the later part of PMS, especially for women who are tired, tense, anxious or depressed. You should both check with your doctor before you increase your activity level.
- Help her to get enough sleep each night.
- Help fix healthy meals in the two weeks prior to her period. Tips include to:
- Reduce salt, especially in a cycle's later phase. This can lessen bloating and fluid retention.
- Eat a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diets prior to menstruation. Some research shows that this may lead to less depression after meals, plus reduced tension, anger, confusion and fatigue.
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can affect mood and sleep.
- Eliminate caffeine. This may cut down on irritability, anxiety and breast pain.
- Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement and get enough calcium. Some evidence indicates that this may help ease PMS symptoms in some women.
More research is needed to see what lifestyle changes or supplements can be most effective.
By using these coping tips, you may be able to lessen marital strain. Men can also learn more about PMS to help their partner. Ask your doctor for resources, including information on PMS support groups.