The more we accept this process as natural and healing, the more we embellish our beings.
For some couples, “menstruation time” can be a real challenge. Symptoms such as severe cramping, throbbing headaches, bloating, distressing mood swings, or heightened sensitivity to environment and people can all occur. A little over a decade ago, I personally started experiencing painful cramps several days (and sometimes weeks) before my period. As the months went by, these symptoms got progressively worse.
So, I’ve had plenty of motivation to research and explore alternative healing options over the past number of years. In my practice, I find that my experience can really help clients at times, and so I make it my business to track clients’ period cycles no matter how challenging or light their cycle is.
A couple’s challenges with this can vary depending on the personalities involved. Men will never know what it’s like to have a menstruation cycle and can sometimes have a hard time empathizing with their partners. I’ve heard men say things like “I feel like I’m walking on eggshells” or “No matter what button I press, it’s always the wrong button.” With same-sex partners, both women may experience their cycles in sync, which can prove demanding when they both need nurturing and care at the same time.
The medical term for extreme emotional reaction to the release of estrogen and progesterone hormones (known as the “sex hormones”) is premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD). The challenge here is that the fluctuation in sex hormones causes a decrease in the neurotransmitter GABA.
According to Julia Ross Ma, author of The Mood Cure, the GABA neurotransmitter is one of the brain’s most relaxing chemicals. She discusses in detail how women over age 35 tend to feel more stressed and release less GABA approaching their period. Additionally, as more and more women are looking to get pregnant in their late 30s or early 40s, this heightened level of stress can contribute to a couple’s concerns around menstruation, pregnancy, parenting, and women’s cycles.
Let’s look through a different lens for a moment and explore how the Native American culture views menstruation. Native American women aren’t allowed to enter sweat lodges to perform sacred rituals. It is explained that their energies are thought to be so powerful that they would interfere with the energy of the ritual. Women in this tradition celebrate the purification of their own bodies and honor their powerful energy during this time, away from the sweat lodge.
This feminine power is validated by Dr. Mona Lisa Schultz in her book Awakening Intuition. According to her findings, ovulation and its following weeks are a time when women have more receptivity in both sides of their brains. She explains that during the first two weeks of their cycles (which includes menstruation), women perceive mostly from their left brains and focus mostly on positive words. However, in the premenstrual duration, women experience a fuller range of feelings from the right side of their brains, including anger and sadness.
These findings are echoed by Donna Eden, author of Energy Medicine for Women, in which she shares how clients in her energy medicine practice would invariably start overbooking her schedule around her time of month. She claims that they intuitively knew how much more emotionally available she felt.
Not every woman has severe symptoms; some women report having mild symptoms yet they still find themselves reflecting on the previous cycle and report increased intuition and some sensitivity around their emotional reactions. When we think about the moon’s cycle, people often report the new moon phase to be a time for creative manifesting and the full moon a time for releasing heavier feelings/energies. Since the moon affects tides, and we are mostly made up of water, it can only make sense that women could be affected by a 28-day cycle, whether it be the moon or a menstruation cycle.
I’ve shared these different ways of viewing menstruation in the hope that both men and women understand the positive aspects of this healing process. So how do we manage the challenges? The following are a few brief suggestions, along with some books to read for further exploration.
- Practice self-care. Energy, psychological, or bodywork can be helpful for women to clear any heaviness with moods or cramps and aches. Something like acupuncture and or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) can be relaxing and very helpful. I like to call EFT “acupuncture on wheels,” as its physical tapping often provides instant relief to individuals (and the couples they’re a part of). Other soothing techniques include hot baths, aromatherapy, soft music, or anything else that allows emotions to slow down. Exercise helps allow the blood to flow more freely and reduces anxiety. For a gentler approach, try doing yoga or taking a walk.
- Track and plan. Partners, get your own period tracker application on your smartphones—it’s easy! It’s also important for couples to talk through their challenges and needs before ovulation hits. This gives you both a chance to have your fears, frustrations, and needs met.
- Listen attentively, even if it’s for shorter periods of time! For some partners this can be hard, because some women can get more emotionally overwhelmed during this time and partners can perceive them as being “dramatic” or “needy.” If clients report that it’s too unbearable to listen to their partners, I encourage them to take care of themselves and ask for time-outs in a very gentle way. Another option is to step aside and start running a bath, fetch a hot water bottle, or make a cup of tea. (This might be something that was agreed upon in the conversation earlier in the month.)
- Intimate touch or sex. Sex and intimacy are great ways to alleviate anxiety and release a lot of oxytocin, which helps to balance out the stress that the sex hormones cause during menstruation. An alternative to sex could be spending some quality time hugging each other. A massage around the temples to help with headaches or a gentle rubbing of the stomach and lower intestines could also be another way to help release a buildup of anxiety.
- Meditate. If you tend to take on more peoples’ energy and thoughts during your period, meditation can help your brain and nervous system calm down. A delightful 15-minute meditation that I share with couples in my practice is led by Kristin Neff, PhD, and is freely available on her website. (The one that really seems to help couples get into their bodies is titled “Soften, soothe, and allow.”) Couples report lying on their bed next to each other and listening to be calming and relaxing.
- Spend time talking about children. Even if as a couple you don’t want to have children, it’s still important to make sure that both parties agree with the form of contraception. Periods can be a lot more stressful if the couple is planning to get pregnant, and stress isn’t so helpful for conceiving. (This could be a good time to talk with a counselor for support. Hypnotherapy can also be a helpful technique in supporting fertility.
- Create a ritual. Heaviness decreases as blood is shed, and women report feeling much lighter after their period. Try celebrating the healing process with a simple ritual.
- Practice acceptance. The more we accept this process as natural and healing, the more we embellish our beings. The more our partners support us with this, the more the couple accepts this time of the month.
Clodagh O’Herlihy, MFT, is a San Francisco-based marriage counselor at The Couples Center. Her work explores the relationship between the mind, body, and spirit. To this end, she incorporates an array of influences: EFT (Emotionally Focused Therapy), Gestalt therapy, mindfulness therapy, hypnotherapy, and Hakomi therapy.