Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009

'Period problems split us up'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Marie and John
Marie and John's marriage was damaged
When doctors told Marie Seward that her period mood swings and depression were extreme she felt both relieved and angry.

For 17 years the mother of one had struggled through almost ten days of hell each month.

"You think it is normal," she said.

"Everyone talks about premenstrual stress (PMS), everybody talks about the same symptoms, the cramps and the mood swings but the difference with me was the severity."

Mending cracks

But it was not until her long suffering husband, John walked out after 17 years of marriage, that Marie, aged 38, from the West Midlands, finally went for the help she needed.

She went to marriage counsellors Relate, researched her PMS on the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome website and finally went to her doctor for help.

You shut yourself away from the people you love
Marie Seward

"I did not know until I went to the doctors that my PMS was not on the scale of normal," she said.

"She asked why had I not come sooner, but I didn't know.

"Everything was in excess, irrational behaviour, irrational thinking. You think everything is against you, that your whole world is falling apart. It is like living an out of body experience.

"The snapping is the worst - it is terrible.

"You just cry and cry, and nothing anyone can do will help. You feel ugly and fat and unattractive. You just keep putting yourself down. This hormone just takes over your life.

"The symptoms come on and you can't manage them.

"It is terrible. You can be moody, but then you become insular you hate the way you look, the way you feel. You shut yourself away from the people you love, which was why our marriage broke down.

Memory loss

"I couldn't remember any of the things I had said or done to John, but I was terribly argumentative.

"Everything was an issue it could be something as simple as the way he put his cup down on the table. You become very sensitive."

Marie was prescribed antidepressants. She and John were also given counselling help to get their marriage back on track with counsellors encouraging them to listen to each other.

Now, after six months apart they are back together and planning to renew their vows.

"We are now very happy as a family. My son is elated that Daddy has come home," she said.

But John said it had been a struggle.

"PMT has always been a bit of a joke amongst blokes," he said.

"When a woman makes a funny comment it is: 'Oh, it must be her time of the month' - and plenty of other derogatory comments.

"But when I talked to other men their wives or girlfriends never seemed to have the same symptoms as bad and for as long as Marie.

"At the time we did not realise what it was. We thought it was just bad PMT, but it would last 10-12 days every month.

Snappy and argumentative

"Marie would say something to me and think she had said something different.

"And she would have a go at me and I thought maybe it had been me mishearing or not listening."

John said it had been a terribly difficult decision to leave home, but felt that eventually he had little option, as he simply was not being listened to.

It is not surprising, that if PMS is not successfully managed, it can be the cause of relationship breakdown
Jackie Howe

"After a very painful six months, and an awful lot of talking and soul searching, we are now back together, stronger than ever, working and talking things through together," he said.

"We are now communicating better than we have done for years.

"It is so much better. We both understand about the symptoms and can cope with them better."

Nick Panay, a consultant gynaecologist and chairman of NAPS, said people often underestimated the strain problems like this could place on a marriage.

"I think the difficulty in relationships is one of the most distressing aspects of the whole condition," he said.

"But it is a feature of the severest form of PMS that relationships with partners - and the rest of the family - break down.

"I think a lot of professionals remain unaware of the impact that this condition can have on relationships - and I think that is one of the reasons it is not taken as seriously as it might be.

"I see couples in my clinic who love each other deeply, but who are also on the verge of divorce, or have problems with their relationship because it is a situation that can't be controlled without appropriate medical intervention."

Jackie Howe, of Naps agreed: "Sudden changes in mood, aggression, excessive irritability, withdrawal and loss of libido are symptoms which are often present in the premenstrual and a sufferer's partner will find these very difficult to cope with, especially when at another time in the cycle his partner acts quite differently.

"It is not surprising, that if PMS is not successfully managed, it can be the cause of relationship breakdown."

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