The average American woman is now expected to live until the ripe old age of 81. That’s a lot of time to spend chatting with loved ones, working on your life’s culminating masterpieces, and experiencing the unlovely effects of PMS and menstruation. It also leaves plenty of time when you can feel slightly pained or critically emotionally unhinged.
If we’re still talking about living until 81, and we’re assuming the average woman has her first period at age 13 and experiences menopause at age 51, that could mean that a woman spends about 12 days a month navigating through whatever emotional cycles she experiences during PMS and her period. (This is a generous calculation since PMS can last 1-2 weeks before a period cycle.) That’s a grand total of 5,472 days – or 131,328 hours of a woman’s life filled with pre-menstrual and menstrual symptoms! You probably can’t spend this abundance of time in bed, cuddling your loyal pet and binge watching Netflix while your ibuprofen of choice kicks in. There will be time where you will have to interact with family, friends, co-workers, and partners.
Having “the talk” with your partner, that troubling, taboo conversation about how you want to be treated when there’s virtually a murder scene unfolding in your underpants, is not anything to look forward to. This is especially so because of all the social weight that both sexes are forced to navigate in order to establish what they’re about and comfortable with. Asking your man to treat you a certain way, when you may not be your most chipper and sexy self, requires a certain something, a thing that women are completely conscious of in 2015: negotiation skills tempered with an integrity that’s in line with the expectations we set as leaders in our relationships.
We live in a world where women are often analyzed on a global level by how much money they can and do make. Women get a lot of flak about not negotiating well. Stemming from the year 2006, when researchers at Harvard began looking into the way ambiguity affects negotiation across genders, then moving into the work of Linda Babcock or seminal texts like Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, that clearly set value on working women and women who set precedents as social innovators, we can trace the markers of a social movement that emboldens women to ask for more without apology, with more aplomb, and without hesitation.
At a cultural level, this is critical for all women: feminists, arm-candy-type-ladies, and those who fall somewhere in between. The 2010’s sets expectations that not only will women demand space in board rooms or collaborative teams, but that women will apply themselves differently in their daily relationships. We are not only sexy and successful, but we can shape the way we relate to our male partners through articulating our needs and desires clearly
How To Negotiate
There’s definitely a time to menstruate politely, but if you’re living in the same 2015 that I am, you know that now’s a good time to open up communication assertively with your partners and to be clear about your feminine needs. You can go about life thinking that you want your partner to handle your period, or you can do the following:
Normalize your period. First and foremost, establish your period as a binding medical condition. At times it’s difficult for men to conceptualize the ramifications of fluctuating levels of progesterone and estrogen, increases in basal body temperature, or the effects pain management has on cognition. Mood swings are most definitely not a choice and there’s no way you can just toughen up and pretend like nothing is happening. If your man doesn’t get it, compare it to the rush of adrenaline and testosterone he might have at a bar if another guy were to insult you. It’s unstoppable. Keep in mind, this does not give women an excuse to behave poorly. While mood swings are not a choice, choosing to act on them (and possibly lash out at others) can be.
Create routines around your cycle. When we’re talking about 12 days a month, it’s only fair that your guy gets the chance to anticipate the days when you may not want to compete in Tough Mudder or meet his folks over dinner. Depending on when you experience your cycle (you may be on a special form of contraception that creates variability in your cycle, etc.), you might want your man to know you’re going to routinely stay in or tend to self-care away from him.
Give your man language to talk about your period. I can’t count the times a guy has been two seconds away from receiving a robust slap across the face for saying something insensitive like, “Is it that time of the month again?” then smirking. Woe to the man who tries that shit! However, it is something that needs some words. You can frame it however you feel comfortable hearing it. Some suggestions:
“Sweets, where are you in your cycle right now?”
“I notice that you are [writhing in pain, not able to concentrate on what I’m saying, making kind of a big deal of ____]> Can I guess that you’re close to your period?”
Have him qualify a neutral statement with: “I’m only asking because I noticed/I’ve seen that _______ happened.”
Be respectful about the way you ask your man for assistance. Unless it’s dire, don’t walk in the door with a to do list you’ve compiled to hand over to your partner. Try to avoid saying things like, “I need you to…” Nobody likes to be told that a favor they’re asking supersedes their own needs. Building up your partner as an ally requires patience and negotiation. Try “Can you do _____ for me?” and show your appreciation when that’s feasible at a later point.
Frame your requests through a problem solving lens. Often times it’s easy for someone to say, “I need your support” without clarifying or quantifying what that means. That will drive your partner insane. If your partner is committed to caring for you, he probably wants to know exactly what it is he can do. Give him a task. “I’m in a considerable amount of pain tonight, so would you mind getting/doing/seeing to _______?” It’s kind of a trap when you expect your partner to cuddle you indefinitely, because let’s be real – while he might want to hold you it might a) make him really horny without any form of release or b) make him anxious because he has his own shit to tend to.
Be fair and equitable about it. If you’re creating a dynamic in your relationship where you’re going to ask for care and compassion, that should go both ways. Be clear that you’re not trying to be manipulative or angry, and that you’re there to help him when he needs you as well.
Real talk when he’s being an ass. When you think about it, men are generally socialized to be tough and cover up their more traumatic experiences. PMS and periods are definitely unpleasant in many regards. A guy who’s been taught to “suck it up and deal with it” may simply act out based on pressure he feels is unfair that he can’t vocalize. If that’s the case, feel free to call out the moments where he’s being rude or inconsiderate. Identify it in the moment, and be clear about what exactly is wrong by making an “I feel…” statement or an “I noticed… and this is unacceptable because…” statement.
I’m not trying to say that “the talk” should feel as serious as the Oslo Accords. However, there is much to be said about difficult conversations that need to be had in order to create opportunities in a relationship, rather than setting each other up for conflict after conflict. Our monthly cycles have historically been buried under immense social phobia. Real conversations need intentional planning. Negotiation merits preparation. With some thought and effort, you and your partner can learn to ride through your cycle perhaps not with enjoyment, but at least without things blowing up.