How can I best communicate with my wife about our monthly arguments?
January 23, 2021 10:06 PM   Subscribe

1. Is it possible that our regular arguments are in some way influenced by my wife's cycle, or is that just misogynistic and wrong mindset? 2. and details below the fold

I've written and rewritten this askmi 2+ times to try to phrase everything correctly.

The reason I'm posting this here, is because I would like to learn. I know I have some wrong misconceptions about what living with a monthly cycle is like, and I would like to learn more. AND, I would like to learn how to communicate this topic best with my wife.

My background: My wife (28) and I (30) dated for 5+ years and are married around 4. In the last two years or so, I've noticed emotional changes in my wife that I think are tied to her cycle.

What I have observed is that, for weeks at a time, my wife and I get along perfectly, we communicate well, we laugh, we watch movies and play games and cook together. But then, one day it feels like I do everything wrong. I tell a joke that she doesn't appreciate. I have to finish up a project that takes a few minutes after work. We have an argument about something stupid. And then, that day, or a few days later, I see the tampon wrappers in the rubbish bin.

While it's not a completely taboo subject between us, it's not something we talk about very often. She has said she doesn't have very painful periods. She is on a hormonal IUD for the last few years, but that didn't influence her cycle very much. She does not "feel sexy" during her periods, and so we abstain on those days (with no pressure from me! the conversation usually goes "Do you want to have sex tonight?" "No" "Just curious, is it because you're on your period?" "Yes" "No problem! let's read instead!")

Again - that is what I've observed and what I believe to be true. I'm obviously perceiving this through the bias of someone without a uterus and only understand what she's told me.

I think one thing influencing me to write this question is that growing up, my Mom would have terrible mood swings around her cycle. And she would often "take ownership" of that - saying things like "I'm sorry - I think I'm just feeling angry because of my period, not because of (dad)". I'm not sure if that's also just misogyny being present in my parents relationship or a mature response to an external factor.

So, the reason I'm writing is to ask these specific questions:

1. Is it possible that our regular arguments are in some way influenced by my wife's cycle, or is that just misogynistic and wrong mindset?

2. If you do think this does play a part in our arguments, what would you suggest I do about it? Should I approach the subject with her in a kind, respectful way? Should I keep track and try to be extra-nice to her a certain time after the previous argument?

3. In your life, with partners or on your own, are you self-aware about cycles and take ownership like my mom did? Is that a normal expectation of an adult? Or was that misogyny and really not necessary? How are cycles handled in your relationship?

Last, if you have a suggestion like "talk to her about it" the reason I haven't yet is because I want to be respectful of her feelings and fair to her. I honestly don't know the appropriate words to express this topic in a fair way. I've written down the script that expresses my feelings, but I don't think it's right. I would really appreciate any feedback. Again, why I'm here is because I want to treat my wife with the respect she deserves while not fully understanding her point of view.

"Mrs Anon - 15 days ago we had an argument over these 3 topics. I don't want to argue more about it, but I wanted to talk about the possible detrimental effect monthly hormones had on that conversation. Just like how we get hangry before dinner if we skip lunch, I think it's important to contextualize any emotional feelings about situations with the awareness that while your feelings are real, they could be amplified by hormones from your cycle. Do you think that was a factor in the last argument?"

The problem I have with the above is that I think it would make her defensive. After all, I'm telling her something that I think "we" should change, but I don't have a cycle. Again, the reason I'm coming here is because I know something is not right about the above, and I would genuinely like feedback in how to approach the situation from a different perspective.

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (65 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I opened this thread expecting to be frustrated because there is no easy way to navigate this. Some people who menstruate find that their emotions are affected by their cycle. This is exaggerated and weaponized against them in a lot of awful misogynistic ways.

At the same time, I felt some empathy because this is complicated and it's important for partners to understand where they each are coming from. There is no answer that is true for all people who menstruate.

All that empathy abruptly shriveled up and died when I got to this:

Mrs Anon - 15 days ago we had an argument over these 3 topics. I don't want to argue more about it, but I wanted to talk about the possible detrimental effect monthly hormones had on that conversation. Just like how we get hangry before dinner if we skip lunch, I think it's important to contextualize any emotional feelings about situations with the awareness that while your feelings are real, they could be amplified by hormones from your cycle. Do you think that was a factor in the last argument?"

If this is how you approach the issue then of course she's going to be on the defensive. It's absolutely dripping with condescension. It belongs in the mansplaining hall of fame. The fact that you ended it with a question doesn't disguise that it's a lecture.

If you're going to ever successfully talk about this, you're going to have to start from the assumption that your wife is an adult human being who knows that moods can be influenced by hormones. She does not need to be told how bodies work. She has probably considered the possibility that her own moods are influenced by hormones.

How about if she seems to be in an unusually bad mood, just asking her if she's in a bad mood, and if the answer is yes, asking her why.

But you're going to have to be open to her not giving you the answer you expect. If she doesn't think that it has to do with her menstrual cycles, trust her. If she doesn't offer it as an explanation, let it drop. It's not your place to inform her of how her cycles work or how they affect her. She knows better than you.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:28 PM on January 23 [82 favorites]

I would question whether it is actually relevant whether hormones are making her more irritable.... presumably the arguments are still about something. If she is feeling less flexible or easy going once a month it doesn't really change the substance of whatever you are arguing about. I reckon your parents arguments were also probably actually about stuff and not just about mood, right?

What are you hoping to achieve by determining whether or not her mood is affected by hormones? The idea of 'taking ownership' of her mood seems to suggest that you want to sidestep the actual dispute, which you also characterise as being about her 'feelings'. Surely you are arguing about particular things?

I would address the arguments as they come up- treat the reasonable ones as reasonable and the others you can decry as unreasonable as it occurs. I do not advise a blanket dismissal of arguments once a month because of hormones.....
posted by jojobobo at 10:41 PM on January 23 [53 favorites]

To add to this (after some more thought): if she is grumpy around her period, I think you could query that, though I wonder, still, what you hope to achieve. But I would separate it from the arguments you have because linking them implies that the agents are simply because of her hormones, which is very dismissive of whatever you argued about.

As a data point, I do not experience any mood alteration around my cycle, so it is not universal, fwiw.
posted by jojobobo at 10:47 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

The best i can describe is that when I get irritable, there is always a good reason for it. So if someone suggested I was angry because of my cycle, I would be very offended since it overlooks the actual trigger. I think it would be more fair to say that thing that would ordinarily be small annoyance get to me more.

So the more helpful approach with me would be to wait until you notice it again (do NOT bring up something from weeks ago) and say something like "I notice usually when I get something wrong, you {typical mild reaction} but now, it seemed like the same thing is really bugging you, What's going on?" Depending on her answer, then ask if there is something she wants you to do when this comes up. Notice no mention of cycles unless she brings it up.

Also, some people more aware of the impact that hormones may be having on their mood than others. So, if your wife's period isn't bad and she isn't particularly tuned into her body and her mood, she may not be aware of what the correlation that you see. (I'm trusting that your observations are accurate and extensive enough to be trusted) If that's the case, you could have the conversation above and then wait a month and if it happens again share that you noticed it is the same time of month. If you do this very sensitively, it might open up the conversation you want. On the other hand this may make her very angry at you. You then have a choice how much you want her to recognize that this might not all be your fault vs how much harmony you want at home. I know of many men through out history who kept track of their wives cycles and knew when to give her extra patience when needed. They didn't get the recognition that you want - if that is important to you and she doesn't see it your way, you may need marriage counseling to get the kind of open communication that you are looking for.
posted by metahawk at 10:48 PM on January 23 [17 favorites]

This happened a lot more when I was a teen/early 20s but sometimes I would be incredibly upset about something and my mom would dismissively say, "are you on your period?" Sometimes I was and sometimes I wasn't but it always felt like my actual feelings about the situation were being ignored. Yes, the hormones did make my feelings more intense but that doesn't mean I wouldn't have been upset about it if I wasn't on my period. And all her questions did was make me angry at her and didn't resolve whatever the situation was.

[Now with the caveat that I don't really have the kind of necessary relationship knowledge to guide my advice, but as a menstruating person, I have at least some perspective, maybe?]

Maybe she is feeling more moody and irritated because of it. And I'm not suggesting that you should be on eggshells around her. But definitely do not bring up that subject during that time. If you need to have a conversation, then it should be during a peaceful time. And ask what she might prefer if you notice she's being extra irritatble. Does she want you to just give her more space? Help her find an outlet?

At the very least you can start a conversation about the fact that the two of you have been arguing at regular intervals for quite some time and you can do that without bringing up the topic of hormones. See what your wife thinks about the situation and she may even mention it, herself if she feels that's part of the problem.

"Over the past couple years, it seems we've been getting into an argument about something or other every month. I'd really love for us to just sit down and talk about that because that didn't use to happen and I'd really like to work out what's going on because I want to keep having a healthy relationship with you. What are your thoughts?"
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 11:07 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

I'm going to preface this with a few things and it's going to be long so bear with me. I've ... got a lot of experience here.

I'm 30. My husband is 33. We've been together over a decade. (Shit, weird to say that now.) I'm chronically ill and disabled. I've also have hormonal issues, endometriosis, and now a total hysterectomy and am newly figuring out hormone replacement. So I have a LOT of experience being irritable as fuck because I don't feel well, or hormones can mess up my brain.

1) It is absolutely real that hormones can affect mood and irritability. Yes, just blaming things on a period without actually knowing what is going on or acknowledging those feelings as real is an issue. But that doesn't seem to be what you're doing.

At the same time, I think we often DON'T talk about how absolutely fucked hormones can make you feel. We sometimes push it off because it's our "normal" or we don't want to face it. Through the course of my issues, being on certain hormone pills, menopause, whatever - there have been times my brain literally told me to drive my car off an overpass. It was hormones. And it was terrifying. And then I got off those pills and it went away. I mean, endo has sent me to the hospital and multiple painful surgeries and menopause. This shit is no joke. There have been more mild times where every little fucking thing is irritating and my god my husband better not ask me where the big bowl goes after he empties the dishwasher because I may snap. Or the smell of the trash that wasn't taken out makes me want to rip my hair out because I can smell EVERYTHING when I'm hormonal.

Even after my uterus was out (I still had an ovary at the time) I got horrible mood swings and depression and irritability even though I didn't menstruate. My body was still going through the same swings until I got a better medication for that time.

Those feelings are still valid and real, and that have a real cause. And I think it's useful for you on your own to do some research into what symptoms can come with hormone changes. Like, really get into the grit about it. It's likely a lot more than you think. But don't use that against her. Do it solely for your own empathy.

That being said, if you still think this is a hormone issue, and trying to be extra sensitive isn't resolving it than please discuss it. Both for your communication and marriage and for her mental and physical health.

I've had to learn to try not to let my pain/illness turn me into a raging asshole. It's an ongoing process. And there have been times I've totally snapped at my spouse (and he has sometimes too) because I REALLY DON'T FEEL WELL and I just.. can't deal with anything, ya know? But I've worked really hard to try to know what I'm feeling, communicate that.

Like, "hey, I'm really not okay. I'm sorry if I sound short. It's not you, I'm in a lot of pain." (This can be extra hard when I'm having trouble speaking, so we're still working out shorthand for that with hand motions or text. Because sometimes I've just had to rudely blurt something out to get my point across - not so eloquently.)

I ALSO want to say that estrogen especially, well, it can really fuck with your brain. I'm actually not on estrogen for menopause at the moment, only testosterone. Because for various reasons, including mental health it's likely not safe for me to be on it anymore. My doctor has told me that many people she treats do much better in terms of mood after eliminating estrogen to treat menopause.

I would also wonder if you know when her IUD was placed and if it's hormonal. They often need to be replaced every few years, and sometimes they just aren't the best for managing mood. For example, I started taking lo loestrin on a continuous dose (no breaks.) It evened out my moods a lot before my surgical menopause.

2) YES! TALK ABOUT IT. If you can't avoid an argument by being a little extra aware during these times, then that's an issue. "In sickness and in health" often means unpleasant conversations about health, bodily function, and mental health. Both my spouse and and I have had to say things like "Hey, what the hell is going on here? Cause xyz isn't cool!" We've been able to communicate better and grow.

No matter what, DO NOT MAKE THIS ABOUT YOU! Of course, your feelings are valid. But focus on your care for her. Just a general idea of points:

"This is difficult to bring up, but could we talk for a second? I love you, and care about you, and want the best for you. I've noticed sometimes it seems you're having a hard time emotionally and it may correspond with changes in hormones. That's a common thing that happens. I want to understand. Is there something I'm not doing and should be doing that is upsetting you? Is there something I can do to help, maybe with things around the house? How much is this upsetting you and your mood? Is this something you have noticed? Do you think we should look into this to see what we can do to make sure you're feeling well? I'm here to support you in whatever you want to do and just want to be able to communicate with you and be a loving partner."

This is best to discuss when things are settled. After I've calmed down or had meds adjusted my husband and I have often talked about these things (from both sides). But not talking about it would build resentment and frustration. And if it's something that can't be helped or she doesn't want to seek help, then you have that answer and can go from there in terms of how you want to respond to that.

I want you to know that the answer might be BOTH that she is extra irritable, and that you're being an inconsiderate ass sometimes. Women often in hetero relationships hold SO MUCH of the emotional labor and household responsibilities. And it could be that when she isn't feeling well her filter for dealing with bullshit is gone. Or her frustrations are more readily expressed.

3) I hope the answer is clear that yes, EACH of us in our partnership have been learning to understand our own needs and moods, regulate them, and communicate about them. I won't lie, it's really hard for me, especially when I'm in pain or hormones make everything annoying. But it's on me to try to work on that, communicate how I'm feeling, and not just put it on all my spouse to deal with.

tl;dr: Examine your behavior and communication. Do some research, but don't use it against her. Approach gently with HER in mind, not you. Understand it could be multiple issues at play. Understand a marriage is a long-haul and sometimes includes difficult conversations and self examination and a whole fuck ton of team building and support.

Perfect doesn't happen but better is always an option.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:08 PM on January 23 [35 favorites]

The thing about being grumpy on your period is that for loads of us you don't get grumpy because you're on your period. You're just in pain and thus less able to tolerate people being stupid, annoying, selfish or otherwise a drain. Just like you'd be with any flare up of pain.

If she seems fine in between, but seems to get super annoyed at you during her period, it may mean she's generally tolerating the described behaviours from you rather than enjoying them.

If I were you, I'd use it her anger as important information. Instead of your script, I would take note of what things she blows up at you for. Then ask her about these things a few days later. "I've noticed that when I did X recently, you got super annoyed. But normally you don't seem to mind, so it confused me. Do you want me to stop?"

No need to bring periods into it. The topic is way too loaded with the condescension of men who came before you.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:28 AM on January 24 [124 favorites]

you're going to have to start from the assumption that your wife is an adult human being who knows that moods can be influenced by hormones

Most adults understand that this is technically possible, but they may or may not understand all the specific mechanics of their own feelings and biology. At least, that's my experience having had new realizations about the way my own moods work into my 30s and 40s. Given the variety in the human experience, I imagine there could be some people who have found their own feelings and their causes mostly legible for their entire adult life. But I'd guess that's rarer than not.

The problem is, though, even reasonable thoughtful adults have to be in a particular place in order to confront to possibility that their feelings might be miscalibrated. That's the thing with feelings, there is often no magic perspective wand that makes the feeling go away even in cases where you might understand it's out of whack, and it doesn't help that in many cases that understanding does not come easily.

There are indeed people (including women) who will take seriously the idea that hormones, sleep habits, what they ate, whether they're getting exercise, and other mundane thanks-mom suggestions might be factors in various conflicts seriously. But most people don't want told that their feelings don't matter by the people they're closest to.

There might not be anything wrong with the words you've chosen just because there may be friction in this conversation. But if there is anything wrong with it *that's probably it*. Make sure you're on the right side of the fine line between "something's out of whack here, maybe we need to talk about possibilities because I care about us and want this to work better" vs "your feelings are broken and can be dismissed."

And then do what you can to make sure they feel it. Especially outside of this conversation, but when necessary inside it.

Also, I'm not sure advice about "I statements" is any guarantee difficult conversations will go smoothly, but it's probably situationally helpful, and might even be one way to approach this kind of discussion: "When you say X in 3arguments, that doesn't feel fair to me. Is there something else going on? I want to find a way to do better in these conversations."
posted by wildblueyonder at 12:37 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]

I tried to come up with some way for you to have this conversation with your wife where it wouldn't result in more bad feelings. I was unable to do so. Even if The Conversation appears to go well initially, the next time she's upset about something during her period, she's going to face an impossible choice between bottling it up and feeling resentful towards you, and expressing it and feeling like she has to defend its validity.

I totally agree with Omnomnom that the underlying issues are likely there all the time, but she may be less able to tolerate them when she's on her period. So maybe you should address these valid issues instead of focusing in the timing of when she expressed them.

Also, you say she's on a hormonal IUD for the last few years. That means she has shouldered 100% of the labor of birth control. Maybe you could even things out a bit by tolerating what you perceive as her emotionalism during her period.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 12:49 AM on January 24 [32 favorites]

The difference between arguments (for me), was the premenstrually, I stopped walking on eggshells to protect the ex-ratbastard's feeble ego and likely sulking afterwards, abd told him the truth. Non-premenstrually, I knew life would be less unpleasant if I didn't call him out. I was not less angry, just more pragmatic.
posted by b33j at 1:34 AM on January 24 [40 favorites]

I haven't read the other answers so I don't know if I'm going against the grain, but here's my honest answers to your questions as a person around your wife's age who menstruates:

1. Is it possible that our regular arguments are in some way influenced by my wife's cycle, or is that just misogynistic and wrong mindset?

In my experience, yes, it is possible. When I'm pre-menstrual, I find my emotions tend towards being "negative"- I get more irritated more easily, I feel anger more often, it is harder for me to experience joy. Even though I (usually) can recognise why this might be the case, that does not give me the ability to change how reality feels to me at that time. All I can do is know it will pass, be kind to myself, and try my best not to act out with others. Just from my own opinion, I don't think it's misogynistic to acknowledge that hormones are part of human experience. I often find thinking about differing testosterone levels in men as helpful in understanding behaviour in male people that I find confusing or hard to comprehend.

2. If you do think this does play a part in our arguments, what would you suggest I do about it? Should I approach the subject with her in a kind, respectful way? Should I keep track and try to be extra-nice to her a certain time after the previous argument?

You haven't really specified what kinds of arguments you are having. Are these huge, shouting screaming throwing things bust-ups? Or is your wife just more picky about certain things? As you obviously know, arguments take two people to happen. I think it is probably very possible that you are not as in control of your own emotions as you think you are. So my answer kind of also answers your third question, too: we can only be in control of our own emotions. It is not possible to change someone else's emotions, and any attempts to normally backfire. I think you know this and it is why you are asking your question. So, all you can do is do what you are already doing, noting your own reactions to her, and doing your best to maintain your own equanimity and accepting that this is a chemical thing that she has little control over. You make the comparison with "hanger", which on the surface seems like a similar thing, but it's not really. With hanger as an adult one has the capacity to track one's own experience and make sensible eating choices to avoid getting hangry. With pre-menstrual changes there is no executive choice she can make to not have the chemicals in her brain and body do what they are doing.

If you're finding these arguments are really not acceptable to you, then I would raise it with her but NOT in reference to her periods, because, again, she really can't change how they effect her. But if it's framed more as a general communication thing, having those conversations in times when she is not effected may cause her to find other ways of communicating when she is feeling the effects. Love her, accept her, accept within yourself that it's ok for her to be irritable sometimes and she doesn't have to be perfect. Then she might be able to just say "I feel irritable and terrible because I'm pre-menstrual", rather than reacting to those feelings.
posted by Balthamos at 2:14 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]

n-thing that the shit you get snapped at about around period-time is shit that is annoying your wife every other day of the month, but she uses (valuable) emotional energy to •not snap•’at you then because who can fight every day and also who wants to be a nagging bitch. Consider these periodic truths as a secret key to improving yourself as a partner in general, and then reap the rewards of a partner who isn’t going around secretly irritated 25 days of the month and openly irritated the other 5.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 2:42 AM on January 24 [88 favorites]

Another menstruating person with awful to debilitating periods chiming in to say that I just lose the patience to tolerate shit I usually would try to shrug off/talk out calmly. Your wife says her periods aren't that bad, but they're still never fun and she probably loses the mental energy/spoons to compensate for things.

If I found my husband telling people I was mad because I was hormonal when was being a jerk, I'd be even angrier, so I agree with the people saying to try to take note of the things your wife complains about and attempt to avoid them.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 2:48 AM on January 24 [23 favorites]

It can and does happen, like being hangry, as you say. But it's irrelevant to the real issue. If you're having actual arguments, you're also playing a role in that. One or the other of you might snipe about trivial nothings, some of us are like that at times, but it takes two to tango. You can just not, whatever the cause behind it. You don't have to get defensive or respond with anger. At the same time, being dismissive will not help things in the least. There is a fine line between that and simply not engaging in an argument.

All that said, one must be very careful not to miscategorize meaningful complaints about things you have control over as trivial nothings about which your only response should be sympathy or whatever other supportive response is appropriate to the situation.
posted by wierdo at 4:00 AM on January 24

The last time I was premenstrual, I couldn’t get the dispenser to depress on a new bottle of hand soap. I became so enraged, I looked up where it was made and swore I was going to make those people pay. I took the time to envision myself going to the Ohio industrial park where they fucked up making that bottle. I threw it away and felt like ripping all the doors off the kitchen cabinets. A few days later, I got my period and forgot all about those people. YMMV.
posted by dianeF at 4:10 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

1. Sure, it’s possible. It’s also possible that your views on this are somewhat influenced by living in a misogynistic culture. Likely some of both.

2. I think you should do what you would do if you didn’t have this in mind as an explanation. If you’ve contributed to the situation, apologize. If you don’t want to fight about it, take a time out from the discussion. If you want to come back to it later when things have cooled down, do that. You don’t have to treat her like some weird delicate unknowable creature, and the only way to know what she personally is experiencing is by asking her.

3. I think I’m pretty self aware and open about my cycle, but it turned out my partner just realized very recently that my migraines are often tied to my hormone cycle, something I thought he already knew. So, who knows what happened there - maybe he forgot something I told him, maybe at some point I assumed it was obvious when it wasn’t? Anyway, it’s something we discuss openly and easily when relevant, mostly in the context of “we need to order cheeseburgers for dinner because my uterus is telling me that it wants me to eat an entire cow.”. I would think it deeply weird if my partner felt he had to walk on eggshells and pre plan how to talk to me about a question he had about my menstrual cycle.

I will say that reading your “just like we are hangry....” sentence made me see red and I would not recommend saying that to your wife. It sounds like someone lecturing a child, not someone having a conversation between equals. Don’t go into this conversation with a pre planned speech asking her to confirm what you’ve already decided is a factor. I would approach it as a “hey, I’m wondering about this, what do you think?” conversation and figure it out together, like partners and equals.
posted by Stacey at 4:14 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]

I have absolutely had this conversation with my partner before. Sometimes I'll snap at him and he'll gently remind me to check in with my body to see if anything's going on to influence my mood (for me it's chronic pain, not hormones, but it's similar), and I'll laugh and rethink what I'm really upset about.

HOWEVER. This only works because he's always approached it with the attitude of, "R is having a hard time, what can I do to make it better?" So he's more patient, more affectionate, more likely to be the first one to apologize, and puts in the effort to manage his own emotions so that I don't have to. He's not doing it with the expectation of getting credit or thanks for it later, or because he thinks he needs to "walk on eggshells" around me. He just does it because at these times, he sees I have less capacity for emotional labour, so he tries to make up the difference by putting more in, and he doesn't like seeing me stressed out or sad. And he recognizes that we're on equal footing because when he's the one in a mood, I do the same for him.

Also, my partner would never dismiss a problem I bring up, even in the worst of moods. +1 to what everyone's said: it's triggered by a problem that really is there. The tolerance threshold might be lower at certain times, but they're still problems that deserve a careful conversation at some point.

Your instinct is correct — there's something that's not right about how you're phrasing this. Your script has this attitude of, "This is something my wife is doing to me that's unfair, and I want her to stop." Don't think of it as her "taking ownership," as if it's her problem to deal with and she isn't dealing with it properly. Honestly, that comes off as kind of condescending. If you really want this problem to stop so that you two can just be happy together, which it sounds like you truly do, don't think of it as "what she should be doing," think of what you can do, when she has less capacity to.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 4:15 AM on January 24 [32 favorites]

One option to consider starting with is to ask her (at a time when she's in a good mood) whether she experiences PMS symptoms, as part of a general conversation rather than a Big Deal Let's Talk conversation. You don't need to say that you think you've observed it; one issue with how you frame this in your question is that you are focused on how it affects YOU rather than how it affects HER. She might be aware of it and you'll be able to talk about some ways you can help her feel better. She might not be aware of it, in which case you can take note of that and bring it up at some future point in a different way after you've gathered enough data to be pretty confident about it.
posted by metasarah at 5:39 AM on January 24

Another approach might be to take the whole argument thing out of the equation. If your wife is experiencing significant pre menstrual tention, it might be worth looking into treatment. There might be things she can do to alleviate the symptoms. If that results in fewer arguments, that's a bonus, but it shouldn't be the goal.
posted by Zumbador at 5:55 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

As someone who seems to get in arguments with his wife at similar intervals, let me throw out the possibility that it might not be the hormones necessarily. It could be the fact that menstruation is something that’s physically demanding and takes a lot of time and energy to manage, thereby leaving her with less mental bandwidth to deal with things the way she would when she doesn’t need to spend so much time on something. I’m not an expert but it at least seems plausible.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:59 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

I mean, PMDD is a real thing. One of the symptoms is lasting irritability or anger that may affect other people. It isn't just about her, and it is treatable, generally with a low dose of Sertraline or similar.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

N-thing that from my perspective, PMS simply reduces my capacity to filter my reactions. It doesn’t actually change my feelings on a topic. At other times I might tell myself, “This isn’t worth an argument.”

I’ll suggest that the fact that you and she consistently argue during this time suggests that she is usually doing that a lot. And maybe you could look at whether you could be the one to de-escalate more often. I mean, if she doesn’t appreciate a joke you told, why does that need to become an *argument?*
posted by Kriesa at 6:10 AM on January 24 [20 favorites]

Most of your post is thoughtful and balanced and enquiring and kind, but then I got to your script and hooo could have thrown the computer at the wall just reading it. You obviously know it's not quite right - and you're right that it will put her on the defensive.

The tone is honestly incredibly condescending. It's also weirdly formal. It feels like a university lecturer sitting down to deliver some kind of formal notification to a young student, that they don't understand a complicated subject in the way that you, the expert, do. Can you rewrite it in the same tone of voice you used in the rest of your post? Just use normal language. None of this "I think it's important to contextualize any emotional feelings about situations..." Just: "Do you feel like you have bad days sometimes as a result of your monthly cycle? I get the impression you do sometimes, but I don't want to jump to conclusions, can we talk about it?"

Starting with "15 days ago we had an argument over these 3 topics" is an incredible level of grudge counting, and sounds like you're pulling out the clipboard you've been secretly using to keep a detailed list of all the times you feel she's overreacted, and you've decided today is the day she must answer to the clipboard. It's hard to express how completely undermining and gaslighty it can feel to have someone suggest that your feelings are hormonally-driven, and I think this effect is made worse when it's related to a specific incident. There's a difference between: "Do you think you feel better and worse at different times of the month?" and "That time you shouted at me for working late on the 20th of last month, it wasn't genuine anger, it was 'just' hormones, and I'm the only one wise enough to see it, you were too swept away from reality by the flood of your crazy moon chemicals to know you were being crazy." (obvs that's not what you'd say but that's how it would sound).

It'll go better if you don't frame it as: "I have more insight into why you shout at me than you do yourself." or "Why do you shout at me? How do I stop you shouting at me?" I think it's sound advice above to make it a discussion of how she feels her cycle affects her, and not go into it as a discussion of how she shouts at you sometimes.

I think it's worth you sitting down and thinking honestly to yourself about what the outcome is you're hoping for - there's not really a wrong answer, but it might help you decide whether that's realistic/useful/fair and how to approach it. Is it: "I want to get her to admit I was right and she was wrong when she shouted at me on 20th", or is it "The arguments don't bother me that much but I've got a clever idea as to what the explanation is and I want to try and find out if I'm right" or "I honestly can't deal with this any more because I feel like I'm constantly on eggshells and it's really affecting my own mental health," or "Because I want to support her better on the tough days of her cycle", (if the latter, you already have the information you need to start doing that, you don't need her to rubber stamp it).
posted by penguin pie at 6:19 AM on January 24 [34 favorites]

Maybe she gets annoyed all the time, but occasionally she doesn't have the patience to pretend otherwise. This is a gift.
posted by amtho at 6:33 AM on January 24 [13 favorites]

Can we have a secret signal for each other when we are feeling cranky and need extra care/love/alone time?

“Remember the other day when I came home from work and had a bad day and ended up being cranky at you? I wish I’d just told you I was feeling cranky and then hid in the bedroom and watched YouTube for an hour.

Or the time when you had a fight with your mom and needed extra hugs?”
posted by sciencegeek at 6:43 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I wonder if it would be helpful to get a calendar that displays a month at a time and just note down every time you guys have a fight or an argument and the severity or reasons. Then you have data about patterns, timing and also about both of your behaviors and/or triggers? It might be interesting if both of you kept a calendar.
posted by gt2 at 7:16 AM on January 24

It’s completely clear that you want to handle this sensitively and that you know you don’t have your proposed approach right. You’re right, you don’t, so it’s great that you know that and are asking these questions.

Something that stands out to me is that you’re observing and noticing and tracking like this is an intellectual nut to crack. You mention that your proposed approach expresses your feelings, but I don’t see your feelings anywhere in there or in your post. I’m guessing that if you didn’t have feelings about this, you wouldn’t be spending a lot of energy on it. Do you know what your feelings are? Are you angry when she sees you as dong something wrong? Are you scared when she pulls away from your usual connection? Are you sad when her idea of you isn’t so positive?

I ask because I think that’s the key to finding a better approach. I don’t agree with others that you can’t bring up the possible PMDD — if it were me, I’d want to know if you noticed something like that, and it’s pretty likely that I wouldn’t have noticed it myself. It’s all in how you do it, and leading with your feelings is the way to go. The “I statements” that wildblueyonder mentions are classically stricter than that link conveys in that they start “I feel x,” where x is a pure emotion word, not a thought. To use them, first figure out what you’re feeling. Then you can say some accurate-for-you version of, “I’m upset that we’re arguing so much. When things I do bug you, I feel scared that you might not like to be with me. I have this idea that I’m nervous to say because I know it’s used against women way too much. It’s that I’ve noticed we argue more when you’re getting your period. That doesn’t mean the arguments aren’t justified — maybe that’s just when you let out the stuff that bothers you in the background anyway. Or I may be seeing a pattern that doesn’t exist. But I miss our long stretches of feeling like we’re in good harmony with each other, and I’m on edge waiting for the next argument. What do you think?”

That’s too long as one continuous statement, but I think that kind of tone focused on your feelings, broken up into a conversation, would have better odds of getting somewhere productive than your detached observations of patterns would.
posted by daisyace at 7:16 AM on January 24 [16 favorites]

I think it is great you are thinking about this-- it shows you care. But from what you are describing, you are the mistreated victim. Your possible discussion script comes across as condescending at best.

I'd say stop partaking in stupid arguments in general. If she doesn't like a joke or a comment, accept it and move on. If you are late to something, apologize and move on. Since those are your examples, that is the best I can offer.

I have to say I’ve always disliked "hangry" as a description/excuse. It drives me crazy. I believe adults should generally be able to feed themselves, and govern their own their behavior, not act like a baby who hasn't had their afternoon feeding. But you need to understand that even periods that are not severe can be messy, uncomfortable, and just a hassle. Some women get diarrhea, acne, bloating, breasts swelling and hurting, underwear gets stained, etc...

It seems you have been together since your early twenties? You both probably have done some growing up over the years, this can be an opportunity to strengthen the relationship as full-fledged adults.

Look at the overall relationship, and how you are fulfilling your role as a partner. The description about her declining sex during her period seems a little off to me. I could be reading too much into it, but do you offer affection and intimacy that doesn't have to/ need to lead to intercourse? You report her birth control as if it is her taking allergy meds, and has nothing to do w/ you. Have you ever explored other options, or have you just been, well it’s her decision? It is her decision, of course, but a caring, committed relationship would include open and honest fertility management.

I don’t know how much of this is applicable but hope some of it is helpful.
posted by rhonzo at 7:29 AM on January 24 [6 favorites]

The thing about being grumpy on your period is that for loads of us you don't get grumpy because you're on your period. You're just in pain and thus less able to tolerate people being stupid, annoying, selfish or otherwise a drain. Just like you'd be with any flare up of pain.

If she seems fine in between, but seems to get super annoyed at you during her period, it may mean she's generally tolerating the described behaviours from you rather than enjoying them.
This this this this, I cannot echo this enough. You need to approach this is What behaviors am i doing that my wife is tolerating most of the time and how can I make it so she's not in constant-leniency mode rather than a few days a month my wife doesn't let me get away with things, how can i make it so I can always get away with them
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:50 AM on January 24 [33 favorites]

When I had periods, there was usually a day right when they started that I was highly emotional, irritable. I got irritated at things that were genuinely annoying, just a much stronger reaction. Took me a long time to see the correlation. Approaching this? Not gonna be a walk in the park. Maybe a day or 2 after, ask her to talk, and explain that you think she might have some PMS irritability that contributes to stress. Ask her to consider it, don't over-engage/ argue it too hard, and ask how you can work with her to make life happier. If I were you, I'd probably statrt doing some tracking, not hide it from her, but be especially non-reactive and at the start of her period.

Listen really hard for whatever it is that you do, how you are, that could use change or adaptation. Be prepared for this to be a thing that may take time to discuss.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 AM on January 24

Nth-ing that for me, when I am irritable it's not that I'm imagining things out of the blue to get annoyed by, it's that things that always annoy me but aren't worth an argument and normally I just shrug off, I can't shrug off. Sometimes I can almost literally feel the words coming out of my mouth unbidden despite knowing I normally would stop them.

The other thing I want to suggest is to let go of the assumption that things will be happy go lucky all the time? Like, assuming these aren't knock-down drag-out arguments that last for hours and have ripple effects on the stable and healthy foundation of your relationship, is it the end of the world if she snaps at you for a stupid joke, and you say you're sorry? And maybe later you come back and re-iterate it with a thoughtful apology and a request if she needs anything like some tea or a back rub? I say this from the perspective of someone who avoids conflict like the plague to the detriment of my mental health and my relationships (see first paragraph) and has realized that those bad mood snaps can actually start some good conversation and lead to change for the better. Not all conflict is bad and I don't see it as major red flags if sometimes (within reason) coming to consensus starts with a "seriously, can you not???" rather than some well-planned sit down conversation where everyone is talking in rehearsed "I" statements.
posted by misskaz at 8:20 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]

I think that a really great Plan A is to sit with the things you "fight" about once a month for a while and see if you can try to make them better all the months and if the fights reduce in intensity and frequency.

I absolutely was a person who was prone to losing her temper during PMS week, and like others have said it was because my ability to put up with shit (shit that I have been socialized and trained to put up with from men since birth) dissolved. And of course that's not the best solution to that problem, just snapping, but I think you should take it as a sign that there is a dam there where cracks sometimes are showing and something needs to be done.

By you. Don't stand around waiting for someone else to give a shit. You need to size up to your part in this first and blame her period somewhere around line item 35.

It does not sound like you have great communication skills (tip: you don't tell your partner you "don't want to fight about this again", which translates to "stfu about your problems with me, I don't care") but that you also are realizing it. Therapy - alone for now - is a great way to improve that. She probably doesn't have great skills either and eventually will need to tackle that herself, but how refreshing if you just took this on yourself as an issue you've identified with you and set about working on it with a minimum of fuss.

If you spend some months or a year on reflection (and attempts at your own corrective actions) about this and still decide that no, it's definitely just her period, you can try telling her that. You think you've stumbled on the perfect explanation here, but really you should work through that for at least as long as she's been menstruating before you think you've solved PMS.

The other thing is that fights take two people. If she's snapping at you about something, instead of rising up to meet to her anxiety and lack of patience maybe engage with the content instead. "I'm sorry, I should have let you know I would be late as soon as I realized, I will be better about that." (And then do that.) "Ah, sorry, my joke skills are off the mark tonight, I am sorry I hurt your feelings." (And then actually be sorry.) Maybe just be nicer to your wife when you recognize she's not having the best day? Maybe if she's telling you something's wrong, even if she doesn't do it perfectly, try to make it better?

Obviously you don't have to tolerate verbal abuse or name-calling or anything like that, but someone being irritated at you is not a betrayal that demands guns drawn at dawn. It's an opportunity to level up.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:55 AM on January 24 [12 favorites]

I had huge hormone swings, I quit jobs, ended relationships, moved across country and across the world, I've started businesses & ended them all on the same stage of my cycle. I have burnt more bridges then than at any other stage, it took me years to realized I wasn't being a moody bitch picking fights for no reason. It was at that stage of my cycle I no longer had any filters, all the things I had wanted to say & to bring up etc but didn't because I was "being nice" went away because I was out of fucks to give. Funnily looking back now on the far side of menopause at all the fuck yous and burnt bridges and I've not regretted one of them. It is a wonderfully liberating feeling, but a shock to people who suddenly get a months worth of repressed feelings thrown at them all in one go. Maybe look at why she doesn't feel she can tell you negative things at other times of the month, because every relationship has negative issues, things that need to be talked about & discusses. They may seem less in your face if you're discussing them as they come up instead of them coming out in one big surge.
posted by wwax at 9:06 AM on January 24 [15 favorites]

In addition to what others have mentioned about not having the bandwidth to deal with things because of pain, I want to add that as someone with periods, there were weeks where I was just more open to my existing feelings, regardless of any physical pain. My relationships with men have been very out of whack in terms of contribution level (and if you're in the US, this is almost certainly true even if you think your relationship is equitable). So for three weeks a month maybe I juggle all the stuff, but for that one week, honestly, I'm just more open to my fatigue, my time's devaluation by someone who says they love me, my growing resentment at the imbalance. And so I say something. And it often results in an argument. Dinging your partner for speaking up is a sure way to further erode your relationship. Focus on the issues that are becoming arguments.

"I tell a joke she doesn't appreciate" - Ok, what's going on there? Is the joke insensitive? Poorly timed? Is she exhausted and feels like you're just looking for an audience? Ask, explore.

"I have to finish up a project" - Are you frequently ignoring time meant to be spent together? Do you save your best self for work and rarely have energy at home?

The part about her being responsible for 100% of your birth control efforts also stands out to me. Consider getting a vasectomy until you decide you want to have kids.
posted by cocoagirl at 9:19 AM on January 24 [15 favorites]

People have already covered a lot in terms of having a cycle (and I can add myself as one more data point of someone who merely has my regular emotions heightened a bit). And as the above answers demonstrate, this is a touchy subject, and asking your wife "is this PMS?" is likely to backfire.

It sounds like what might be better is if you figure out a script/plan for when a stupid argument arises - because some arguments between couples are just stupid. While this doesn't prevent the argument, when my partner and I get into what seems to me to be a stupid argument I just say "Hey, why are we arguing about this? I certainly don't want to argue about this." And he either agrees with me and we hug it out, or he articulates something I missed and then the argument is no longer "stupid" but a substantive conversation.
posted by coffeecat at 9:32 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

It's definitely possible that your arguments are influenced by her cycle, but it's also none of your business if it is and does not change how you should react, which is simply just de-escalation, the same as you would do for literally any other human being.

Do you sincerely apologize in the moment or do you suddenly feel attacked and get your own defenses up? That is the source of the conflict, not the joke. You don't have to be "extra nice", you just have to be the normal every day level of nice.
posted by bleep at 9:57 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Yeah there are kind of two maybe three parts to this

1. does your wife have a thing that should be addressed medically, or is this just normal people's cyclical stuff that happens?
2. can you talk to her about it in some way that works for both of you?
3. in a general sense: it takes two to argue, so maybe just stop your part of it if you feel like you have some insight into why it's happening

If you feel aggrieved about the unfairness of your wife's irritation at you, talk to other people about it (I mean, don't complain about your wife and talk about her business, but that's what friends are for, if you know other people in relationships with women who you can maybe talk to, that might help).

I'm the same as what many people have reported in this thread.... the level of my reaction to whatever is bugging me is a little higher than usual, but the thing that is a problem is still a problem, I'm just better at not reacting most of the time. And for me, it's not "I'm grumpy because I'm in pain" (that I am aware of) it's literally "I'm grumpy because I am grumpy. Please stop doing that super-annoying thing."

With my partner we've gotten decent at "Hey let's put a bookmark on this issue and get back to it later" (if it's a bigger relationship issue that could use attention) or just "Hey, sorry I ruffled your feathers, here's a hug" (from him, if appropriate). I feel like some of this is emotional intelligence. If you know your wife is having her period, and you know you've just annoyed her for some reason, maybe just back off whatever that thing is and accept that as part of your role in the relationship? Obviously there are some cases where there may be a medical thing that can help, but my experience has been that if that's the case, there are a whole host of irritants that would be setting her off during that time (in which case you could look at it as a team), and if it's just you, well you have all the tools you need to fix that problem.
posted by jessamyn at 10:08 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]

I think you may need to spend more time sifting through the nature of the fights and the emotionality you observe to have a better understanding of what's happening for your wife. Women react to hormonal changes differently, and one woman's PMS may be a lowered threshold for daily annoyances while another can have intense emotional storms. Some women even have stretches that fluctuate between the two, along with other rounds of almost no symptoms at all, over time and age (*raises hand*).

What sort of emotionality are you seeing? Is she getting snippy with you or is she yelling and staying huffy for hours? Is she having crying spells? Is she expressing that you hurt her feelings over things that seem strange? Severity of reaction is probably your best bet to identify what's going on and the best response. If the behavior is mild irritability, I wouldn't bring hormones into the conversation, but if she's suddenly crying because you drank the last Dr. Pepper (yes, I did this), that's worthy of addressing because it's outsized and abnormal.

Either way, when you DO talk, just start first by asking her about her feelings because you feel bad that you two have been fighting and you want to understand how your behavior may be affecting her. She may have a very simple explanation that unlocks the path forward for you completely separately from the hormonal element. In addition, try to be kinder and more loving than your may feel like being if you are ramping into a conflict. No matter the reason, this is a good way to diffuse or at least lower the intensity of a disagreement, especially with someone feeling vulnerable and raw. Blink first and see if that softens your interactions.
posted by amycup at 10:19 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

You certainly ask her if she’s happy in the relationship and okay in general without referencing specific arguments (unless you want to rehash the arguments) or her monthly cycle (unless you want to come across as a patronizing asshole.) You should be checking in with her on those things anyway. “No fights” doesn’t equal “perfect relationship/happy partner.”

Definitely don’t say anything close to what your last paragraph does! You seem to think your issue can be solved by wording something a certain way, but you’re asking the same reductive thing no matter how carefully you word it. In fact this is one of those cases that the more therapy-speak, business-speak, internet progressive phrasing you use, the more condescending it comes off.

Came here to make a point that’s already been made but I think you need to hear it from a variety of people. A real-life example: one of my direct reports at work constantly explains things to me that he knows I know. I usually let it slide otherwise it’d be a constant argument. It makes me absolutely LIVID. My period does not MAKE me any more livid. The last time he did this, explaining the basics of a program I have used longer than he, I said “I know” without softening it. I just didn’t have the energy to put up with it that day.

Yes, hormones affect emotions. You have hormones and they affect yours as well. If she’s suffering the best thing to do is find out how you can help her, not make mental notes on tampon wrappers in the trash.
posted by kapers at 10:22 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

As an actual strategy: You might try tuning in to when you suspect she may be experiencing PMS symptoms, and as an experiment, back off things like jokes or dismissing her as you finish a project, things that have upset her in the past—these are the things I would do for a male partner if I knew he was feeling bad for whatever reason so I don’t think it’s too much to ask a male partner to do for a female partner. See if that helps next month?
posted by kapers at 10:35 AM on January 24 [10 favorites]

There was a short story I came across years ago that rang really true for me. It talked about a woman in the author's family, an aunt I believe who was setting the table and preparing a festive dinner for her large family who were all either relaxing or fooling around and being disruptive, and suddenly she started throwing the dishes out the window and yelling. And everyone said she had gone crazy. But wasn't the crazy thing really to have tolerated that behavior and let herself be treated like a servant for so long? Maybe, the author asked, she had really gone suddenly sane.

My experience of negative emotions around PMS is closely tied to how stressed I am and how supportive & loving my relationship is. If we're communicating easily and it's clear to me that he really cares about my own happiness and I'm comfortable talking to him and asking for things, if I know he'll take care of me and step in, then there isn't much for any rage hormones to seize on and they just fizzle out.

Even if he makes a mistake or misses something or does something that upsets me, we put in the time and communication over the last few years that I can really be comfortable that if I ask him to do things for me, he will and will be happy to. So there's no point getting mad at him for not anticipating my needs or for making a mistake - I can just ask in the moment when I realize, and it'll be fine. And so resentment doesn't really have a chance to build up.
posted by Lady Li at 10:36 AM on January 24 [11 favorites]

Also, don’t compare your mom and your partner—hopefully you’re too smart to do this to her face—but even in your own mind. No two women experience the same period or relationship. Nobody knows if her approach was the “right” one and it has no bearing on your relationship. It sounds like you think your mom was “the adult” here and by deduction your wife is not.
posted by kapers at 10:42 AM on January 24 [9 favorites]

Regardless of whether these are hormonal, it sounds like you two need to find a way to say "We're having a hard time today. Let's put off this conversation until we're feeling better."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:43 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

The timing is really valuable information for you.

Insisting that she is the one to fix it is where the misogyny lies.

You may be able to solve this the way wives have for generations dealt with their husbands' coming home stressed or whatever mood swings men have. You can ease her way!

Now that you know which days are likely to be days where your wife's normal coping skills are diminished, choose the day before those days to contribute more to chores, do an increased amount of the emotional labour, whatever small things you can do to make your marriage and your home operate smoothly.

Don't assume that emotions exist to be stamped out and that the "best wife" is the one that is never cranky or never makes demands on you that you don't want to meet.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:59 AM on January 24 [30 favorites]

I can get really irritable/sad/catastrophizing before my period. Unlike many of the other people in this thread, for me it feels like a period of "negativefilter," not a period of "uncensoredfilter." It can be like a miniature depression, and I'm aware of it and talk about it like your mom used to.

I wasn't always aware of it, though, and it isn't the same from year to year (or month to month).

If I were in your shoes, I wouldn't be so eggshelley about it when I talked to her about it. (Having someone eggshell around something always make me feel worse than direct conversation.) I'd just say, far from the time that you usually argue, "Hey, I've noticed that sometimes we argue and then the next day it seems like you get your period. Have you noticed that?" If she doesn't agree that it's a pattern, or sees it differently, that's fine.

I might also get an app like Clue, track her period, and just quietly be a little more gentle and attentive on the days in question.
posted by hungrytiger at 1:03 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]

PLEASE do not track your wife's periods. I am a cis woman who doesn't get too hormonal/moody/irritated around her period, but I HAVE been switching through lots of antidepressants and my boyfriend's take on what my moods are like is pretty key to me figuring out what works. I'm awful at tracking my own moods without journaling or something. So coming from someone who would actually probably appreciate hearing if I was acting way different before my period: you tracking my period would enrage me regardless of how helpful the info was. Agh. Don't make your wife feel like a zoo animal even if you're trying to be helpful!!! Anyway, I know this wasn't your plan, OP...but I think it is bad advice.

(Also, my boyfriend only tells me how different antidepressants have compared when I ask, and that's a medical thing I'm in control of: I could quit them tomorrow if I really needed to. So there's probably a way to have this convo but tread carefully).
posted by clarinet at 1:36 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]

I think you've been given some good advice and a lot of things to think about, but I also always think about something my very awesome high school biology teacher told us (a bunch of like 15-16 year-olds) -- in effect, just because your hormones may influence your emotions, it doesn't mean your emotions aren't real." I think about that a lot.

Do you think even if you pointed out "hey, we tend to get into fights when you're experiencing PMS?" and that went over well, that she'd be able to do anything about it? I know that even when I knew I was maybe overreacting because of hormones or whatever, it wasn't something I could stop. I could only feel how I feel. I would sometimes apologize later (but not blame PMS or my period!) but sometimes -- usually --- it was because the whole thing had been simmering for a while and on top of everything else, I was done with it. (Other people have brought that up.)

(Also, I would 100% drop the "is it because you're on your period?" when she says no to sex during that time. She said no and that's enough, anyway, but you already knew the reason. Why are calling attention to it?)
posted by edencosmic at 1:45 PM on January 24 [13 favorites]

I haven't read the other comments but as someone who is really affected by her menstrual cycle, I have to say I don't get angered by random things. I am angered by things that ordinarily do upset me but that I usually have less of a drive or less "angry confidence" to do something about. Some people are not good at speaking up for themselves but when they get angry they get a driving confidence that comes with it. I am one of those people. Normally I can talk myself out of standing up for my "rights". Menstraution is like a pissed off mother who drags her reluctant child to the person who need to be confronted and tells them what needs to be said.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 1:45 PM on January 24 [7 favorites]

While, as I put in my response, you may be doing something that is annoying her all the time and she just isn't filtering her response... I don't think these answers are giving you a solution on how to fix that.

Let's say you ARE not doing something right and she is mad about something all the time or mildly annoyed all the time and she snaps about it when she is feeling unwell. The answer isn't just to take that and deal. It doesn't resolve anything to both feel upset.

It's still something you need to talk about, in a calm way, to figure out the best path. It's worse to just guess at what needs to be done if you're really unclear. If she is snapping about the same thing every time, like you didn't take the trash out, then be proactive about taking the trash out.

But all of this still boils down to communication. It's just not productive to let this all hang unresolved. And I don't think it's okay to just assume it's fine to be yelled at or argued with if you genuinely don't know what to fix. Approach this as a TEAM. You each want the same thing - a calmer life and a calm mind. So, what can you EACH do?

It's not fair to assume just because you may not be doing something that it's okay to feel upset either. Everyone's feelings here are valid and it's about finding the balance to resolve that as best as possible.

In my over 10 years together, letting this stuff sit around isn't great nor is it good to just keep arguing. We have learned to talk about things in a calm way to really get to a solution. And we have yelled at each other about dishes in the past. Now we don't, because we had calm conversations about what we each needed to do. The same thing when I've been extra irritable. It didn't fix the thing when I snapped at him about it. And it didn't calm he down if he said how upset he was WHILE I was upset. It took discussion and building a plan.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:48 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

“Hey honey I’ve been wondering. Is having your period anything like being hangry?” And then listen.
posted by bigbigdog at 3:51 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

I know I can get stressed out and can be more likely to pick a fight about something I might otherwise let go when I'm in a better mood. Sometimes the thing I'm complaining about could be perfectly reasonable, but other times I'm probably being too harsh on my husband, complaining to him about something I'm just as apt to do myself.

Regardless, I think knowing that I'm feeling stressed out and snippy can help me moderate a little bit, but not entirely. Bringing it up gently ("Hey, I feel like you get a little extra-sensitive a few days before your period, have you noticed that?") may help your wife stop and think about it a little bit if she doesn't already realize, but if she's already aware, there's probably not much left to improve.

I think the thing I'd like from my husband is for him to be the level-headed one when I'm feeling over-sensitive and picky, and be able to de-escalate the arguments instead of making them bigger. Say "Ahh, sorry" about the joke she didn't like, and remember that she didn't like that kind of joke. Work out if you can finish up that project a little later and not right at dinner time or whatever.
posted by that girl at 3:57 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Starting with "15 days ago we had an argument over these 3 topics" is an incredible level of grudge counting.

Just one further reflection on this comment of mine above and why that approach is problematic: That whole phrase, and the "I don't want to argue more about it" that comes after it, has a strong whiff of you saying: "I'm the calm, rational man who is able to analyse our relationship in numbers, while you are the crazy emotion-riddled woman who is buffeted by the unstoppable forces of nature to which you are prey. I am too calm and controlled to enter these arguments once more, but let me provide you my analysis of the situation in the hope it might reach you through the hormone haze in which you live..."

I know that's not how you want to come across, but there's a definite aura of it, and she's probably lived through a whole world of women's experience where men are depicted as calm, controlled, clear-seeing and rational, and women as irrational beings who are both mysterious and unable to control themselves. None of which will set the discussion off on the right foot.
posted by penguin pie at 4:41 PM on January 24 [15 favorites]

I believe that you want to respectfully get to the bottom of this conflict cycle with your spouse, but I think you're going about it from the wrong angle entirely. Your wife may or may not be more sensitive to her emotions (especially irritation) during her menstrual cycle, but I truly believe at this stage in this situation, just plain doesn't matter. What matters is you feel like the two of you are in conflict more often than seems healthy and makes you happy. There's your issue.

I'd start with something like, "Wife, I feel like we're fighting a more than we used to/than I'd like to. Have you noticed that? I feel like sometimes I'm irritating to you in a way I don't intend, and I'd like to work out what to do about this."

Her answer will inform where you do next. If she doesn't agree that you are fighting too much, that gives you a lot to think about. She could be person who is comfortable with a higher level of conflict than you are, that's a valuable thing to know.

If she does agree that there is too much conflict, why does she think it's happening? Does she also feel like sometimes you get on her nerves? FWIW, in my (very long m/f) relationship, the only two times I've felt like we were fighting too often were:
1. When my spouse was having major bipolar mood swings. Good mental health care has helped here. Now we recognize that increased conflict is usually a warning sign that spouse's mental state isn't great.
2. When I felt like my spouse wasn't doing his share of domestic labor. I'd remind him, ignore stuff, do things myself, nag, ignore some more, and generally bottle up all my irritation until it overflowed like a shaken soda. I had to learn how to communicate better before I got overwhelmed and he had to learn how to take way more responsibility for the ongoing business of keeping our home and family running.

From time to time, everyone has physical and mental stuff that will make them more sensitive and more prone to conflict. But we are all still responsible for our own behaviors and for treating people with respect, even when we're going through something that makes that extra hard. Like many people in this thread, I get a strong vibe that when you fight, it's likely because she's generally irritated about a thing and it's just regularly spilling over. In that case, even if her menstrual cycle is effecting the intensity of her emotions, the issue you have to work together to solve is the thing that's vexing her so much to begin with.

If she says, "You know, I do feel like sometimes I'm more irritable and short with you. I don't know why. I'd like to figure out what's going on with my moods," then it's time to investigate physical and mental causes. For now, don't try to invalidate or explain away her feelings. It feels like you're looking for a straightforward solution that doesn't involve changing your behavior, and I don't think you're going to get very far with that.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:01 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

I feel like this old blog post might be helpful to you in reframing this.
posted by shadygrove at 5:06 PM on January 24

A PMS-ing woman’s words are a non-PMSing woman’s thoughts.

The annoyance is real. Once a month she just can’t anymore. Don’t you even start with it “it was just yerr hormones!” nonsense implied in the last comment.

For me, unlike your mom I own it but I don’t bury it - I will tell him I’m angry at something and that it is something that’s been on my mind for a while, let’s talk about it in a few days when I have more patience for the conversation.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:12 PM on January 24 [12 favorites]

Also... your wife could be the type to subjugate herself and then explode, so start sorting this stuff out now before it get worse.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:14 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I get a little more touchy around my period, but like others have said it’s stuff that normally bugs me but is easy to sweep under the rug. I think most relationships require a certain degree of under rug sweeping, so it’s true that the relationship can be more bumpy at those times. Our relationship can also be more bumpy when my boyfriend’s boss is treating him poorly and he brings that home with him, or when his parents are being pushy, or when he’s stressed out in general. So I certainly do my share of “ah, I see that bothered you more than usual and I’ll back off,” despite the fact that he’s not PMSing.

In other words, it could be a factor, and thanks for realizing that controlling an emotional hormonal response is quite difficult (sometimes impossible). But I doubt because you don’t menstruate, that you never have intervals where you’re a bit more touchy than usual, and unfortunately for your partner they don’t follow a predictable cycle.

The answer is to develop the ability to respond to your partner’s conversational cues (and vice versa). If she’s being abusive, the answer is to tell her “I don’t like being treated this way” and make it clear it’s a serious problem. But outside of abuse— intervals where she’s just touchy, or doesn’t appreciate a joke, or is quieter than usual— it’s fine to just say, oops, and back off a bit. You can ask, “are you not feeling well?” since being hungry, tired or sick could equally be the cause.

My dad is a very cheerful outgoing guy and a nice parent and I still remember him snapping occasionally about completely random stuff he didn’t give a shit about two days later. Who knows if he was hormonal, or tired, or having a bad time at work. I don’t know either— sometimes I think, “ugh I’m upset, it must be my period!” and then find that I’m way off and have weeks to go until my “bad time.”

It’s really hard and probably unwise to treat this as a systematic problem from the outside. She might do that if she finds that she needs medical attention. But your job is to respect your own boundaries and stand up for yourself if she’s really being awful, and otherwise to just be a normally considerate person.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:42 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

She might have PMDD. An antidepressant like Celexa can help a lot.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:20 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

You've received lots of great advice here and are approaching the topic in a thoughtful, sensitive and gender aware way so I'll only add a small personal anecdote. The range of responses here show what a potentially difficult subject this can be, depending on how you approach it, since every woman and relationship and set of expectations is obviously different, but there's also a common theme of ensuring that you don't dismiss or negate your wife's feelings, desires, concerns and feedback to you as 'mere hormones' (which you already know you want to avoid doing) so perhaps that's the key foundational takeaway to work from. One suggestion that I'd add explicitly is to think through whether and (if so) why you need to raise this (as another poster mentioned earlier) and also to spend some more time contemplating the content and pattern of the monthly arguments, exploring a a wide range of reasons that they might recur and not just seeking out confirmation that this is related to menstrual cycle.

Until my late-twenties, I didn't suffer any emotional or mood related symptoms in the lead up to or during my period. However, I can confidently say that I've realized that in the present and for quite a long period of time stretching back, I do have very heightened emotional responses to things that ordinarily might only briefly bother or move me a little. In my case, it seems to be that my emotional responses (including sadness, melancholy, compassion, guilt, concern and anxiety, not just anger) become extremely intense, so that a mood which might have been, for instance, a 3 out of 10, becomes a 10. I tend to catastrophize and also feel an urgency about acting that is fairly disproportionate to the circumstances. I can now openly talk and laugh about this and even track my cycle myself because it's reassuring to know that there is one element of the cause that's at play beyond my control (although obviously my behavior is still my responsibility). It took me a while to notice and acknowledge this, because it was only later in life that it emerged and also because it made me just generally more susceptible to emotional responses across the whole spectrum (e.g. crying in films or over news stories) rather than appearing as straightforward anger or irritability.

I can tell you what won't work. In my late twenties, my partner at the time rolled his eyes and made a face when I said I didn't have PMS/PMT in terms of mood swings and later he flat out said that he thinks I do. I was a bit shocked and while I tried to take on board that possibility, most self-reflection was drowned out by a sense of indignation and fury that he wanted to casually dismiss my experiences and contributions and comments as effectively nothing but an irrational product of lady hormones. My knee-jerk reaction was to think "how sexist" that he'd smugly come to this conclusion all on his own and easily settled on a narrative that exculpated him from any responsibility in our arguments or issues and hinted at a "women be crazy" shrug that meant he didn't have to take any of them seriously either.

It also felt just off that he'd been noting and tracking my cycle and moods so personally I'd discourage you from gathering evidence and examples or tracking cycles unless she asks you to do this. I'd find it alienating and high-handed to act like a scientist recording your wife's cycles and moods and quite damaging to a shared intimacy as well.

Looking back, it's surely possible my cycles were influencing my moods quite significantly. On the other hand, I would say a much greater contributor to our periodic conflicts was that I felt I was bringing up issues, we'd talk but nothing would change, so eventually I'd snap over the same problems that I'd previously discussed with lots of equanimity, in good faith, with an open mind, and start to feel more confrontational and less cooperative as time marched forward and the pattern of not taking my concerns seriously or not following through or not enacting change also repeated. Or I'd try to tolerate or accept behaviors and attitudes, and sometimes even posited solutions to the issues, in our relationship that honestly really made me unhappy or anxious or insecure but the pressure of them would bubble up into a mini eruption because I'd been stifling myself and working too hard to accommodate someone who was quite selfish, avoidant and adept at evasion and excuses.

Guess which of these two issues guaranteed the end of our relationship?

All that said, what really helped me was being able to talk about my feelings openly and connect them to having my period in my own way at my own pace through sincere conversations with friends (some of whom also suffered similar issues).

So if you do decide to talk to your wife, I'd suggest you consider some of the following 'openings':

"I've noticed that we can get into regular arguments about Y and I'm a little sad and confused about why this happens and concerned about my contribution to and role in this dynamic. I want to be listening to you and validating your feelings and responding in a supportive and positive way, but I don't feel that I am there yet and I'd like to change that. Have you noticed this too? Does it bother you too/have you noticed the same thing? How do you feel when these happen? I'd like to own and change my role in it, would doing ABC instead be a better response? What do you feel and need in these situations when they arise? Is there something that I'm not grasping or understanding about this dynamic from your perspective? Can we work together to catch ourselves and avoid the momentum of that negative pattern when we start to argue?" [etc]


"It worries me that we seem to have regular arguments about X because I love you and I want to do better to communicate with you and I also want to be sure that I'm addressing your concerns and meeting your needs. Is there something I could be doing (or we could both be doing) either in the moment of having the argument, or more generally, in terms of acting on what we've discussed that would help? How can I best show you when this stuff comes up that I hear you and I value what you're saying and I want to support you?"

OR (very simply):

(Don't say this when she is on her period, I'd suggest!): Having periods must suck sometimes/be pretty miserable/get really draining. Is there anything I can do to support you better when you have yours?" (and then be open to practical suggestions, like doing way more housework, running a warm bath, preparing a hot water bottle, buying pads and tampons or pain meds, dealing with laundry to whisk away stained underwear, being sensitive to her need for more sleep, taking over more physically taxing house-hold jobs, as well as communication strategies like just letting her vent, not trying to solve things or talk her into feeling better or minimize issues, cheering her up with silly videos or dumb jokes -- if this would cheer her up and not make her feel more annoyed, obviously! -- and so on.

I'm a bit iffy about this last one because it can seem a bit deceitful or tricksy, but for the sake of letting her speak openly and not having to immediately focus on her relationship with you, it might be worth taking a more indirect, impersonal approach like "Wow, my friend Karen says that when she's about to get her period she feels super anxious and stressed. I felt awful when I heard that. Do you ever get anything like that?" Or even just "I read this thread the other day and was struck how intense so many women's menstrual cycles are and how much, physically and emotionally, they have to go through on the regular. Is that what it's like for you too?"

Best of luck.
posted by The Rehearsal at 7:09 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]

I had no noticeable period-linked mood swings for most of my life, but as an adult I have changed my method of birth control multiple times, and after the most recent change I suddenly did start, like hungrytiger, catastrophizing and feeling really upset about problems which days later seemed much less catastrophic than they had at the time. This went on for a few months and eventually settled down to a much less dramatic level.

However, the things that I was getting upset about were also actual real, upsetting things. A lot of stressful things happened in my life at around the same time, and I would have been pretty upset for a lot of that time with or without the hormones.

Your wife may already know perfectly well that her cycle is affecting her emotions, and not appreciate being lectured about it. The underlying problem here is that you seem to believe that it's mostly or entirely your wife's responsibility to eliminate behaviours resulting from this possible hormonal influence which make you uncomfortable, and that it is within her power to do so. You assume that she can do this because your mom could do this. But your mom's experience could have been completely different to your wife's, and you can't expect them to feel the same feelings and respond to stimuli in exactly the same way.

It sounds as if you think that if your wife just knew that hormones are making her behave "abnormally", she would be able to control her feelings and behave "normally" all of the time. And clearly she can't possibly know already, because if she did, she would already have fixed it!

That is just not how it works, any more than you can cure a person who has depression by telling them that they're "just" depressed because of brain chemistry. We can't turn these feelings on and off. They're real feelings.

It did help me a little when I realised the correlation between my bizarre and out-of-character bouts of depression, anxiety and grief, and my cycle. The way it helped was not by neutralising the feelings and allowing me to go about my day normally. The way it helped was by allowing me to identify the problem clearly and take steps to change my plans in order to mitigate the problem. It meant that if I had plans to go to a party (ah, the before-times!) I cancelled them, because I'm an introvert, and when I'm feeling down the thought of being in a crowd of people makes my anxiety spike. It meant that if I was going to try do something that requires focus and concentration and causes stress, I would shelve it until a few days later and do something distracting instead like read a book or watch a movie or play a game, and not feel bad about it.

These are things which were 100% up to me to decide and which I had complete control over (absent certain unavoidable work responsibilities), because I live alone and don't share my life with anyone. I can do whatever I want. But your wife shares her life with you, which means that things that she does affect you, and vice versa. That means that it's up to both of you to change your behaviour during the time periods that she's feeling shitty, to hopefully help her feel less shitty.

Do have an honest conversation with her, but do not make that conversation "are you PMSing right now, otherwise what is up with you, and why is it PMS, because I'm pretty sure it's PMS; look at my colour-coded spreadsheet which proves that it's PMS."

Anticipate that she may express a level of frustration or sadness which is artificially elevated. Ask her what she needs from you in the moment, and try to give her that, whether it's more space, taking over a chore, a fun distraction, etc..

Engage in good faith when she expresses frustration about something. Assume that it's something that actually bothers her all the time, and she's normally not as bothered or is more diplomatic about it -- not that it's something that her hormone brain has manufactured out of nowhere.

Does it feel "not fair" for you to have to do this? I mean, it kind of is, but it's equally "not fair" for her to have this biological cycle during which brain chemicals make her feel worse about things and then later make her shed her uterine lining. Life is asymmetrical like that in various ways. We need different things from our life partners at different times for all kinds of reasons. And she may already be taking steps at her end to cope with these feelings as best she can.

The misogyny starts if we start believing that this is all somehow menstruating people's fault, and that they could make all of it go away if they just tried harder.
posted by confluency at 7:45 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure how you can bring up your wife's behavior in connection to her cycle without being horribly invalidating which will help you feel better but will be rather dehumanizing for your wife. Do not recommend.

Imagine if every time you were upset about something, your wife thought "hmm he's probably just hungry, therefore this isn't a real problem and I can dismiss it without any concern."

Start with the assumption that what she feels is valid and take it seriously, vs trying to write it off as hormones. Stop looking for reasons to dismiss her perspective. That's a toxic way to show up in a relationship.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:09 PM on January 24 [10 favorites]

Do you think it's appropriate to ask your partner, "You were crabby at me 15 days ago, could that be because you have unresolved daddy issues?"

Yeah. What you're trying to ask her is exactly as inappropriate as that. I hope you can see how utterly absurd and disrespectful it is for you to be thinking about her bodily functions in this way. The only possible scenario in which it would be justified is if, due to her symptoms being extremely serious, you were motivated 100% by a concern for her wellbeing, and you were saying this as a way to encourage her to get treatment.... the exact same metric you would use for bringing up her daddy issues.

The core problem here is likely that you're trying to avoid owning up to your own needs and feelings. You felt hurt when she was crabby at you. But saying so makes you feel too vulnerable, perhaps even too womanly. Probably you have an idea of yourself as a rational, reasonable, flexible man who is not bothered by minor moodiness. You are not a sensitive snowflake! So, to avoid admitting that you have sensitive feelings which she hurt by being crabby, you instead offer up a medical diagnosis of your wife's body as the supposed problem you are trying to address. In so doing, you protect your self image as the masculine ideal of invulnerable, rational person, and impose all the burden of emotionality on her - you reason that it is her genetic and hormonal destiny to carry all the emotions you are too scared to own up to.

Look, the solution is simple. Own your own needs and take responsibility for your own feelings. You feel hurt when she's crabby. You feel it would be nice if she would cut out the crabbiness. State your needs plainly - initiate the conversation by making it clear that your needs are driving it. It's okay to have these needs and feelings. It's okay to admit that your feelings are sensitive, and you would like your wife to know that she hurt you. This is fine, normal, and good. It will help you live better and improve your relationship.
posted by MiraK at 11:47 AM on January 25 [4 favorites]

A couple I know both have ongoing mental health issues aggravated by overstimulus. When they realised that either one of them was getting more uptight in a conversation than normal, they agreed to defer that particular conversation until they both felt they could handle it. Their gently-joking "safeword" was to say "how about them Broncos (local sportsteam)" which has now evolved to "can we bronco this?" which basically means - "I'm not handling our conversation well (or maybe you appear to be overly stressed -perhaps given the minor nature of the topic) and I want to be courteous and a good listener, rather than yell at each other" and later, one of them will say, "about that bronco last night - I do think it's important to resolve this issue - is now a good time for you?"

Quite often, tho, they decide it was too trivial to revisit, someone had had a bad day, and it really doesn't matter what species of palm tree is shown on the different cushions and they let the topic go.

If it is important to resolve, and both agree, there's no blaming for the previous behaviour. The argument is revisited as a conversation with each earnestly listening to the other's point of view, and letting each other finish their sentences without interruption, personal atttacks, or hyperbole (you always do that bad thing) more - when the kitchen is dirty and it's my turn to cook, I get really frustrated and upset and I would appreciate help when I ask for it, not in 15 minutes, or whenever you've finished watching that thing that can be paused. I feel like you don't value my time because I have to wait 15 minutes and I'm ready to start dinner, or unconsciously, you may have expectations that it's my job to clean up the mess - and you KNOW I'll clean it up, because it will take only 15 minutes, and then I feel like you don't care about my feelings. I know you do care about my feelings, and that you love me, but this is one of my hot button issues because family of origin, my personal way of being productive, whatever. Have I made sense?"

And the other one might say "oh shit, I didn't realise that was so important to you. For me, if you ask me to wait 15 minutes, I just check out Facebook. I'm sorry I didn't take you seriously before. I really didn't understand how much it meant to you. I'll do better, but can we compromise? If I'm on a raid, I feel like I'm letting down my team if I go offline, so if you could give me more notice, or maybe if we had a set time, or we could both clean up together when we get home from work, or we (I) could make more of an effort to clean-up after each meal. I love you so much, and I do value your feelings, and your contribution to our relationship. Does that work for you?"

Rinse and repeat.
posted by b33j at 8:05 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]

When I have a PMS-induced reaction, the things I'm reacting to are real.
PMS makes me more reactive... but the triggers for the reactions exist all month.
Without PMS, I have more self-control to do the emotional labour, to swallow the argument or tidy up the problem so it only affects me.
With PMS, I have less self-control so I'm more likely to let my emotions out so others are aware of what's actually going on.

PMS doesn't change my emotions, it just removes my filter.

I'm grateful for it and I see it as a really valuable source of accurate information about how my life is going. When I follow the arrow of PMS to make changes, my life gets better.

So my guess is that you're doing stuff that frustrates her all month, but there are a couple days when PMS makes her more likely to tell you.

I think you should listen carefully to what she's telling you on her "honest days", and make changes that last all month.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:41 PM on January 25 [3 favorites]

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