There’s not a whole lot that’s fun about having your period, especially when premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms take over in the days leading up. PMS can bring mood swings, cramping, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and trouble concentrating. Most people who have ever had a period can relate to some of these symptoms, which can get totally unbearable at times. Heating pads, eating your favorite snacks, and trying to take it easy can make PMS a little easier to deal with, but it turns out the real solution to premenstrual woes may be couples therapy.
New research out of Western Sydney University found that women with severe PMS who are in relationships with men may have an easier time dealing with PMS after attending couples’ counseling.
The three-year study followed 83 women who either attended one-on-one therapy, couples’ therapy, or did not attend therapy at all. Only one of the women in the study was in a same-sex relationship; the rest were partnered with men. While one-on-one therapy was helpful for the women in the study, the most PMS relief came for women who attended couples counseling.
Co-author of the study and WSU researcher Jane Ussher explains in a press release that “Issues within a relationship can trigger PMS symptoms, just as ‘that time of the month’ can seemingly compound and worsen existing issues.” This helps to explain why couples therapy can be so effective for women with severe PMS: Much of what distresses women during severe PMS is already happening in their relationship.
In fact, Ussher and Perz published research in 2011 which found a link between PMS-related distress and gender roles that unfairly burden women. According to their research, inequalities in the home and within a male-female relationship make PMS worse for women, and can cause women to be unfairly judged for having PMS.
But, as Ussher tells Brit + Co, “Involving male partners [in PMS treatment] allows them to realize that women’s irritation and anger is often based on ongoing inequalities in the relationship and that if these are addressed, the woman is happier for the whole of the month.” When men attend couples therapy with their partner, it also helps close a knowledge gap: Ussher tells us that most men report they don’t understand much about PMS or what their partner is going through.
Notably, separate research has shown that women in same-sex relationships have a much easier time coping with their severe PMS than women in heterosexual relationships. Ussher published research in 2008 that found that many negative and harmful experiences surrounding PMS in heterosexual relationships (such as “lack of understanding or support, rejection, and pathologization”), were not present in lesbian relationships.
In fact, Ussher’s study found just the opposite in lesbian relationships: “recognition of premenstrual change, responsiveness to needs, open communication, and responsibility sharing.” Women partnered with women who have severe PMS were simply more open, caring, and communicative; no wonder PMS didn’t cause as many problems or as much stress in these relationships.
While this new study focuses on PMS, it really sheds light on much broader issues that exist in female-male partnerships. If men don’t understand PMS and are unaware of inequalities within the relationship that already cause stress for their partners, PMS is always going to be that much more difficult for the women they’re with. The fact that couples’ therapy was so much more effective in this study than solo therapy for women really goes to show how much men contribute to everyday stress, and the extra pains of PMS.
Has couples’ therapy helped your emotional well-being? Tell us about it @BritandCo!
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