When I married my husband, I didn’t realize that I had Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD. In fact, I knew I had some kind of monthly dysphoria, but it was never as bad as it seemed to get once we were married. I won’t theorize about that for now because it could be the result of so many things…stress, change, age, etc…but I will say that for some time, my husband thought maybe he had brought it on, and to be perfectly honest, he wasn't helping!
About a year into our marriage, I stumbled upon the term PMDD. The light went on and I started reading about it. I started tracking my symptoms but didn't tell my husband until later, proof in hand, in my attempts to explain how I could be two totally different women every month…loving him one minute and absolutely detesting him the next. For both of us, it was a relief to know these flip-floppy personality changes were the result of hormones and not just "the way I was". I can’t say it did much to alleviate our monthly suffering, though.
If you are the partner of someone with PMDD, first off, I feel for you! This is not an easy disorder for anyone to live with, and while the women you love may be suffering enormously, that in no way should diminish the excruciating pain is can cause you as well. It’s been a bloody nightmare (no pun intended!) for my soon to be ex-husband, but I have to say, we both learned some important lessons along the way.
In some months, as I was in and out of hormonally-driven “episodes”, my husband sometimes coped better and that in turn helped me to recover quicker. It obviously wasn't sustainable for us, give the other challenges we had to face that had nothing to do with PMDD, but in those months when we did better, his behavior with me was so helpful that I wanted to know what he came to understand that he simply didn't get in the beginning. What is it that he'd realized? I asked thinking maybe it could help someone else. He and I sincerely hope this helps some of you men (and women partners) out there who are desperately trying to understand and cope with your loved one’s PMDD. Take heart. You’re not alone. But you are going to need an iron will.
So, with the hope of helping, here’s what he had to say:
PMDD teaches patience.
I always thought I was a patient person. Anyone else who knows me has considered me to have the patience of a saint. But living with a person who has PMDD has shown me that I had nowhere near enough. PMDD demands infinite patience. We’ve both made the same mistakes over and over. There have been many times this past year that I have wanted to divorce my wife (and she me). I've been on the edge of giving up and giving in a million times. But then this crazy dragon lady would suddenly become my adoring wife again. She would be quick to laugh, full of joy, and fun to be with. Up down, up down. The experience taught me to breathe through the down and trust in the up. But it takes time for lessons to be learned, for both parties to adapt, and unfortunately for us, we've run out of time. But that doesn't have to be your story. If you have developed lots of patience, your relationship might have a fighting chance.
PMDD teaches not to take anything personally…ever.
My wife would often tell me not to take anything personally, and I would just think she was nuts. She’d be standing there in front of me, calling me names or screaming at the top of her lungs, and I’d think, “Feels pretty personal to me.” It took me awhile to finally understand that it really wasn’t about me. Whatever was going on in that hormonal shit-storm of a mind of hers, it was distorting her perception and making her mind vicious toward everyone and everything. Sometimes, what she said would really cut because it contained a kernel of truth. That was mine to deal with. But how she expressed that to me, that was hers to deal with. When she was in the throes of PMDD, I knew she didn’t have a whole lot of control. So, I just had to remind myself I hadn’t done anything world-ending, horrifying, or unforgivable. That’s just how she saw everything at those times, and that surely sucked for her too.
PMDD teacher partners when to keep our mouths shut.
I admit, as I was learning, I really screwed up here. I would often antagonize my wife by daring to talk back when she was being cruel or judgmental. It was a natural defensive response when finding myself in the line of fire. But it was also bewildering to try and cope with not knowing when something I said was going to set her off. In fact, it was like dancing with someone in a mine field. One false step and BOOM! I had to learn to be a better communicator. I still have to practice so I can tell my wife quite clearly now what triggers me the most and what I simply cannot and will not put up with. So, when I say I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut, I don’t mean that we don’t communicate or that I hold back what needs to be said. Maybe what I’ve really learned is the difference between what needs to be said and what is better left unspoken or saved for later.
PMDD teaches us that there is no ‘normal’ PMDD behavior.
At least in the beginning, it seemed I simply could not rely on what I thought I’d learned about my wife’s condition. Every time I thought I was beginning to understand her behavior, she would do something totally unexpected or change the rules on me. The problem is, with PMDD, the rules we learn as husbands and partners change…from minute to minute even! She might be a total hag or she might be loving. She might enjoy my humor or she might hate it. She might want me close or she might want to be alone. Sometimes she wanted chocolate and sometimes, if I brought her chocolate, she'd get pissed because I was responsible for making her fat! I had to stay on my toes, like some kind of Aikido master, going with the flow. Sometimes, I could manage that deftly, and sometimes I couldn't. We can only do the best we can do.
PMDD teaches us that resistance is futile.
In the beginning, I tried to fight against and battle my wife’s PMDD. Her behavior would just piss me off, and I’d push back. But the battle of wills couldn't be won. In fact, pushing back just made everything that much worse…for both of us. I had to learn that when the explosives go off, I needed to recognize that my body was still intact, even if my ego was a little blown to bits. And instead of following that urge to defend my ego, I had to leave the battlefield. All I could do is first, take care of me and second, offer my wife whatever support I was capable of in that moment. The way that support looked varied depending on her, of course – anything from holding her close to leaving her alone, completely alone – preferably by hiding in the woods.