How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship When You Have PMDD
A Few Disclaimers Before We Begin
If you're wondering what PMDD is, feel free to read my other articles which go into a lot of detail about my experience with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. A google search on the term will also yield some helpful information.
Also, once you start reading through what I've learned, you may think "Oh, she seems to have it sorted out." Hahaha, no, stop! It's absolutely not true. Yes, I have a better handle on things than I used to, but I still slip up and am always learning.
Lastly, this advice is intended for people who are in a healthy and supportive relationship. This means mutual respect, a general feeling of stability, and shared happiness. These tips are not intended to make women feel like they ought to tiptoe around a potentially unhealthy or unsuitable partner. If this sounds like you, then maybe it's your relationship that is the problem, not you or your PMDD.
Lesson 1: Your Partner Faces Their Own Problems Too
When you're drowning in your own anxiety and fluctuating moods, it's easy to forget that your partner may be experiencing their own inner turmoil.
If they say something like "I'm so tired" or "I feel so stressed" it's quite tempting to respond with "Yeah, me too!" since that's how you feel for half of the month or more. Instead, let your partner know that they have been heard by responding with something like "I'm sorry you feel that way, can I do anything to help?" and give them a nice hug.
If it's about you all the time, then there will be no room for the other person to feel like they are free to have their own ups and downs too. Get to know what they need when they're down. Do they need space or extra affection? See if you can find this out when they're in a good mood since it's hard to know what you want when you're feeling down.
Lesson 2: Your Partner Can't Always Respond the Way You Want Them to
If you're anything like me, talking about a problem or how you're feeling is part of healing and feeling better. By discussing what's going on and hearing it out loud, it can be easier to make sense of a situation or your array of emotions.
The thing is though, when we vent to our partner during severe PMDD times, it really isn't just about talking it out. We crave a supportive, understanding, and comforting response to what we have just said. We want to be heard and understood, maybe even have them agree with us, even if it doesn't make sense to them. And when we don't get a response that we feel we so desperately need, it can wreak havoc. Perhaps they make light of your situation by joking around or act a little distant and distracted.
This happened to me today. I was opening up about an emotional issue that was bothering me. My partner kept giving me short, to-the-point responses. But what I needed at that moment was something like "Oh that must be so hard! Oh, I don't blame you for feeling that way! Blah, blah, blah, mushy feelings." Because I didn't receive that response, I felt hurt and misunderstood. I expressed this, which then made him feel like he was responsible for making me feel better and that he always had to say exactly the right things. Instead of pressuring him, I realised that I had slipped up, and apologised straight away for being unreasonable in my expectations of him. Now I'm giving him some needed space (more on that later).
Of course, there are times when he does respond in a supportive and comforting way, and this is wonderful! We just have to remember that our partner can't always respond how we "need" them to. It's far too much to expect that of someone. This is where catching up with a girlfriend or socialising outside of the relationship can help a great deal. Make the time for friends and relieve some of the pressure from your partner.
What to Say When It Comes Up:
If you're having one of those conversations with your partner where you feel like they don't understand or aren't responding in a way that you "need", just take a pause in the conversation. I don't mean ignore your partner—just pause. Notice how you're feeling. I often notice that my heart rate has increased and I have a hot, angry feeling in my forehead.
Take a few relaxing (not dramatic!) deep breaths and tell yourself that you will think about this problem later. That way, you can think about this feeling or problem by yourself and work out why it means so much for you to feel comforted about this. Know that you are all the comfort you need and that no one else is responsible for how you feel.
Then, you can say something to your partner along the lines of "Sorry, I don't know why this problem is getting to me so much. Thank you for listening, but I should probably just leave it for now before I get upset. So, how about that dog wearing a hat over there?"
Lesson 3: Your Partner Can't Always Be There for You
Just like it's helpful to understand that your partner may not always respond in a way that you "need," it's also important to realise when your love is in their own rut and can't be there for you at that moment.
I'm still working on it, but I've gotten better at recognising when my partner just doesn't have room for all the extra emotion and anxiety I tend to throw around each month. He may become distant, or even let me know that he isn't feeling great either. So during these times, I know not to bring up anything too heavy with him or expect him to be overly affectionate and comforting.
The times where I've forgotten this lesson and dumped my own problems on him while he wasn't feeling great either haven't gone so well. However, when he is feeling lighter and has more room to give support, he is incredibly open and comforting to all that my glorious hormones have to offer.
If your sweetheart is feeling like crap, try to be there for them as best you can. In turn, they will be there for you too, in time. If it feels like they can't ever be there for you, then that could be a problem you may need to think over at a time of the month where you feel most levelheaded.
What to Say When It Comes Up:
A good indication that your partner isn't in a good place to be there for you is if they seem distant or uneasy in your company. Or even worse, they may have recently told you that they aren't feeling good yet you're still opening up to them about something you're upset about.
When you make either of those realisations, just pause the conversation like in the suggestion in Lesson Two. Take a few, quiet, deep breaths and say something like "Sorry, this probably isn't the best time—you might have enough on your mind as it is." Then, either change the topic or lovingly give them some space. By lovingly I mean showing genuine patience, not just huffing and storming out of the room.
Lesson 4: Not Everything is About You
Harsh! Sorry, but it's true. When we feel as terrible as we do, we assume that the world is out to get us. Like each little stumble walking up the stairs is a sign from the universe that it hates us very, very much. The same can be said for thinking that each grumble or bad mood from our partner is caused by us.
It used to be that any time my partner was agitated or stressed, my mind instantly went "Oh no, I've done something wrong again" and I would pester him to tell me what I had done. Occasionally, I had indeed frustrated him in some way, but most of the time he was dealing with something outside the relationship. I've gotten much better at not instantly taking a bad mood personally and forcing an explanation out of him, but there are still times I slip up. I'm only human.
What to Say When It Comes Up:
Some great advice from my therapist: "The next time they are in an obviously bad mood, you can open communication with a general offer like 'I feel like you might be stressed, can I help in any way?' which lets them know that you see them. It also gives them a chance to tell you what the problem is or if you can help.
If you're with someone who has a lot of masculine energy, the most likely response will be "I'm fine" which is a sign that this is something they need to deal with on their own terms. This is when keeping busy and giving them time to breathe will benefit both of you. On the other hand, they may open up about the problem, so be prepared to actively listen without thinking too much about the "right" things to say.
What someone thinks of me is none of my business.— Anonymous
Lesson 5: Both You and Your Partner Need Space
Just like all of my lessons learned, this can be applied to any relationship. However, with PMDD, it just becomes all the more important.
Space. It's simple. Space for you and space for them. If they want to catch up with friends or do something without you, then see that as an opportunity to treat yourself. I said treat yo self! Try your best not to feel hurt by their desire for a little alone time. See it as a way to feel more connected when you reunite, even if the space is only for a couple of hours.
Be sure to make your own plans too. Have lunch with a pal or take yourself to an art exhibition that your partner would yawn over. Doing your own thing gives each of you room to breathe and be your own person.
What to Say When It Comes Up:
Even if you think you're the type of person who likes to spend most of your time with your partner, think again. If you're like me, there may be times where you may feel as though you're just going along with the things they want to do. Get to know your likes and dislikes. For example, if your partner asks "Do you want to watch this movie full of cars exploding?" and your heart thinks "no, thanks" but the desire to spend time with them and a sense of obligation takes over, then try to listen to that inner "no, thanks" and actually say it, but with a little more love and warmth.
I don't mean you should suddenly start saying no to every suggestion they make. It's more about doing your own thing sometimes. If your partner doesn't feel guilty for being honest about what they would like to do, why should you?
You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.— Thich Nhat Hanh
Lesson 6: Your Idea of Reality May Be Skewed
This can be the hardest part of having PMDD. Your feelings and emotions are real, of course. However, your reality may be skewed, causing you to react to situations in destructive ways.
Here's a situation I'm sure we've all experienced.
Blurred PMDD Perspective: Your partner is avoiding you, you can feel it. They get up and leave the room when you enter. Spending time with you just isn't something they seem to want to do lately. In fact, when was the last time you went and did something nice together? They don't love you, do they? They're losing interest fast. This needs to stop. I must bring this up with them right now!
Reality: Perhaps they have been a little distant, but it's quite likely that they have something on their mind. It's really only been a day or two of them seeming a bit "out at sea", no biggie. We had spent a lot of time together last week—it was really nice actually. Maybe they just need some time alone.
If you can't get in touch with reality outside your PMDD perspective, you may feel panicked and start spiraling into a place where you are desperate to fix things immediately.
What to Do When It Comes Up:
That's it—you just have to wait out that urgent and frightened feeling. Let it pass. The best thing you can do is keep a little journal handy and write down anything that's upsetting you. This can be done all month long too, even when you feel more level and not so affected by hormones.
If there are any issues you have with your relationship, you can open up your journal when you are feeling better and see if you still feel as strongly about the problem that you wrote down earlier. If you still feel like there is something to talk about with your partner, at least you are in a much better state of mind to do so. But more often than not, you will think "hmmm, glad I didn't open up that can of worms at the time, I'm not really sure what that was about!"
This too shall pass.
Lesson 7: It's Always Important to Think Before You Speak
I used to have a tendency during PMDD to be nit-picky and a bit snippy, saying things I didn't really mean but were hurtful all the same. This still happens sometimes, but I feel like this is where I have gained most control.
Thinking before you speak is vital. It may seem strange to censor yourself or it may feel like conversations are slower, but it works.
For example, my partner may say something like "Oh, I put the garbage bins out today" and my PMDD monkey instantly wants to screech "Was I supposed to do it for you or something??" but I catch that response before I let it slip through my lips. Saying something snippy may make you feel good for one second, but I promise you it will feel terrible another second later.
So, just try catching yourself before you say those (not so) little things because they can add up quickly. And as always, practice makes perfect.
What also helps is trying to complain less in general. It's so easy to feel overwhelmed, as if our world has gone to crap. But, it can be tiresome for someone else to hear this kind of negativity every five minutes. This is where your old friend, your journal, comes in handy. By writing down your feelings, you're still able to release the negative energy without draining someone else. By all means, don't become some fake goof who never has a bad word to say, but reducing the whining can be beneficial for both of you.
What to Say When It Comes Up:
If you blurt something hurtful to your partner, don't feel like it's too late. Just offer a simple apology. Let them know that you're sorry for saying something so mean and that you wish you hadn't said it in the first place. Explain that hurting your partner's feeling wasn't your intention—you're just not feeling like your usual self.
Lesson 8: Don't Make Any Decisions About Your Relationship During Bad PMDD Days
One of PMDD's most common symptoms is the feeling of depression. Depression sucks the life and lustre out of all the things you would usually otherwise love and appreciate. This includes your partner.
Thankfully this doesn't happen much anymore for me, but when it did, I would start to question my relationship. Would I be better off single? Are we really that good together?
I have never let him know these moments of severe doubt, but I've come close. If you have voiced these concerns with your partner, don't beat yourself up about it. Just learn from it and move forward.
What to Do When It Comes Up:
Again, write your feelings down in your journal! Just make sure it's kept in a place where your partner won't be tempted to flip through it. Write down all your doubts and be as negative and critical as you want. Ask yourself all the questions you need answers to. Make a deal with yourself that you will revisit these doubts at a time of the month when you are feeling more level-headed to make a proper judgment.
Until then, wait for these feelings to pass. Don't allow them to take over and trick you into thinking that you have to act on them and make a decision right at that moment. Because chances are that when you get to your "normal" part of the month, you will look back and feel relieved that you rode out those murky feelings.
It can also help to muster up happy memories of your partner. Think about the last time they made you laugh, or how the other night they cooked your favourite meal for dinner. It might be hard to find these positives at first, but if you search, then you may find something that helps you feel a little lighter.
Lesson 9: Seek Support from Outside of the Relationship
Relying on one person alone for support during our PMDD times has many disadvantages. The first is obviously that it's not fair on your partner. Just as our moods and needs can be tiresome for us, it can be just as draining for them.
Another disadvantage is that you're missing out on an array of opinions, ideas and experiences from other people. I find that you can't really beat catching up with a girlfriend for that feeling of connection and understanding between two women.
So, try your best to keep in touch with friends all month long. I find it especially important to meet up with a friend during times when I feel like I need to talk out my woes. It's also grounding to hear your friend talk about her own troubles too, not that I enjoy hearing about struggles. It's just comforting to share your experiences and know that you aren't alone.
There are also many online support groups for women with PMDD. If you do a search for PMDD on facebook or google, you will see what I mean! There, you can gripe and moan all you like—it's quite wonderful, really. You will find that the women in these groups are very supportive and reassuring during crappy times. It's great that you can also be a source of comfort to others too.
Lesson 10: Connecting with Yourself Is Key
Connecting with yourself is important for everyone. Though, I feel that for women, this notion is especially important due to our tendencies of being eager to please and feeling guilty all too easily.
What does this have to do with PMDD? Well, think of PMDD as a scared, tired, lonely, anxious and sad "little girl" version of yourself. I know many of our problems are hormonal, but I have found that a lot of it can be managed through practicing my suggestions above and also by connecting with yourself. When you truly know yourself and love who you are, you are much better equipped to soothe that manic little PMDD girl who shows up unannounced.
There are times where I envision splitting myself into two. The little girl expresses how upset and scared she is. Then, the grown-up, calm version of myself can tell her that everything will be okay. I wouldn't be able to access my inner grown-up voice without first connecting with myself.
Here are many ways I have connected with myself and grown to love who I am even more. Of course, these are just suggestions, and I'm sure you can come up with ideas which suit you best.
- See a therapist. This has helped me in so many ways. It allows me to speak my mind, no matter how "crazed" my thoughts and actions may seem. It has helped me sort through very painful issues from my past. I have gained a lot of wisdom from the different therapists I've seen.
- Have a healthy lifestyle. Eating fresh and nourishing food makes me feel much more level. When I stray too far from eating healthily, I pay for it. Exercise is just as important as it gives you that instant rush of endorphins. Feeling fit and strong can also boost your confidence and feelings of self-worth.
- Have meaningful friendships and nurture them often. Remember that the quality of your friendships is more important than quantity.
- Spend more time by yourself. Take yourself out to a cafe or restaurant, read a book in your local park, or see a movie on your own. Keep doing these things until it feels natural, that you actually enjoy this time to yourself. Never feel guilty for it.
- Treat yourself. A similar sentiment to above, this is more to do with self-care. Things like having a relaxing bath, buying tea or healthy foods you enjoy, having a massage, doing yoga or something relaxing, taking lessons in something you've always wanted to learn, or eating something indulgent that you may generally eat less of.
- Listen to your body. If you're tired, have a rest. If you feel pent-up, anxious energy, go for a walk or jog. Feeling overwhelmed? Sit somewhere quiet and be with your thoughts. I understand there are many factors that can get in the way of this, but try to make the time, even if it's only for five minutes.
- Learn your likes and dislikes. I know this may seem silly. As an adult, you would think you know what you do or don't like by now. Or similarly, what you agree or disagree with. But alas, sometimes I have gone along with an opinion because that's what a friend or someone close to me felt strongly about, but then later in life, I have realised "Hang on, I actually don't believe that." The same goes for something as simple as not buying a grocery item that you like simply because your partner doesn't. Just buy it and enjoy it! You are you, and they are them.
- Do more of the things you enjoy. I'm a very creative person, so I try to keep up these hobbies as much as I can. When I start to feel like I'm losing myself, I do something creative and start to feel more like my own person again.
- Feel your emotions and feelings—don't censor them. A lot of my suggestions may seem like I'm telling you to censor yourself. This isn't true at all; it's more so about recognising your feelings and dealing with them in a healthy way. I find that the more I allow myself to simply feel something and give it time to pass, I end up being more level-headed in the end. Enjoy laughing, appreciate the slowness of feeling down knowing that you will feel "up" again. Sit with anger, but don't allow it to take over. You don't have to act on a feeling, even when it feels immediate. Forcing a "bad" feeling to go away will only make it feel more intense, so let it be, and it will eventually pass like waves on a beach.
- Be your own cheerleader. I don't miss the nights I used to spend wallowing in self-pity, crying for hours on end about what a horrible person I am and thinking over and over about what I had messed up recently. Thankfully, this hasn't happened for a long time because I have become much more gentle with myself. If I slip up, I may feel frustrated at first, but I don't allow myself to spiral into darkness. I just think "Oh well, I will do it differently next time." It's also important to feel pride in the things you achieve. You couldn't have done it without you after all!
- Learn to meditate or simply sit quietly. I have been making an effort to sit by a window in my house and just watch the outside scenery. I try not to think about anything in particular since it's about just observing and being. I very much enjoy this practice.
- Know that you are all you need. It's a beautiful thing to be in love, to yearn for someone and be longed for in return, to finish each other's sentences (or sandwiches). But to experience true fulfillment in your life, it must come from within. That little gap inside, that wavering feeling of loss, doesn't need to be filled by someone else. It's been waiting for you all along.
Find ecstasy within yourself. It is not out there. It is in your innermost flowering. The one you are looking for is you.— Osho
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.