Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Female Problems Turning into His Problem?

Dear Jocelyn,
My girlfriend is a wonderfully sweet woman who is fun, encouraging, and challenges me in my Christian faith. However, no one is perfect and we have our fair share of fights. Don’t know how to say this, but…she tells me these arguments most often coincide with her PMS. That doesn’t excuse the selfish, inconsiderate things that I have said to her, but can you please help me understand what she’s going through? Doesn’t it affect every woman differently? How can I be supportive and understanding while not excusing hurtful, sinful things said?
-Perplexed by PMS

Dear Perplexed,
I am quite relieved to hear you say that your girlfriend informed you of the correlation between irritability and her cycle, and that it was not your own conjecture—it is quite annoying for a woman to have her anger dismissed as "just PMS." However, since she was the one to say this, it is quite sweet of you to investigate ways in which you can reduce your conflict.

You are right that hurtful things said by her during this time are not excusable. C.S. Lewis once said that pain or lack of sleep or other stresses do not make us more irritable, but they merely remove the layer of niceties that allow us to mask our sinful nature. In other words, such things reveal our sin, rather than causing us to sin.

There are two ways to deal with this issue: one is to help you understand what she is going through, and another is to help you figure out what to do with that information. Being a woman myself, I asked my husband to help me think of a comparable scenario for a man. He said to imagine that you are at work, and your boss is putting a great deal of responsibility on you. You feel unequipped for the challenge and inadequate. Then, you meet with your girlfriend and she says something you perceive as demeaning or disrespectful. It might be easy to snap at her or say something hurtful, correct? With women, that point in their cycle is fraught with hormonal changes, fatigue, and pain. While externally they may appear fine, internally it is a difficult few days. So when you say something that she would normally laugh at or brush off, she may react quite differently because of this stress.

Now that you know why this is happening, let us discuss where to go from here. Because you two are dating and are not married, I would advise that you discuss with your girlfriend your concern over the large number of fights you have while she is in "that time of the month." Tell her that you do not want to fight needlessly (after all, I'm assuming these fights are not about anything substantial) and you think it would be best to be apart for a few days while she is feeling like this. This is not the advice I would give a married couple, but the circumstances are very different since you are dating.

I am unable to tell from your letter how severe and frequent these fights are. If she occasionally snaps at you and there are occasional, small fights every few months, these are quite normal. If, however, she consistently says hurtful things and causes rifts between you two every month, I would advise she see a therapist for a few sessions. I am not advising this because I believe she is mentally ill in any way; rather, I know that therapy can provide a helpful venue for talking about issues and learning simple anger and stress management techniques to help her cope with the stress of her menstrual cycle.
-Jocelyn

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