Hormones govern almost everything that happens within our bodies. From our digestion to our sexual desire, every function can be traced back to the complex chemical reactions that are happening beneath the surface. Our emotions are also intrinsically linked to certain hormones, which is why they can have a dramatic effect on our relationships. From PMS to menopause, our hormonal shifts impact not just ourselves but those around us. So why is something so powerful still a relative mystery to both women and men? And could a better understanding of hormones help to improve our love lives?
The education gap
While conversations around period health and cycle tracking are becoming more commonplace in 2020, there is still so much both men and women don’t understand about the nuances of hormones. This is hardly surprising when you think about the way we’re taught (or not taught) about these subjects in school.
Cast your mind back to your first sex education lessons. You probably remember girls being taken to one classroom – to be taught about periods and pregnancy – and the boys ushered into another, to learn about…well, we’re still not 100% sure, but we bet it wasn’t the impact hormones can have on emotional wellbeing. Let’s face it, that was barely covered over in the girl’s classroom, bar a whistle-stop tour of the joy of PMS.
This binary (and limited) approach to sex education is part of the reason we have so many women that don’t understand themselves, and men that don’t understand women. Many of our emotions are deeply connected to our hormones, and a better understanding of this can not only help our relationship with our partners - but with ourselves. And let’s not forget, this isn’t simply a male-female issue. Even for women in same-sex couples, a better understanding of each other’s cycle could hold the key to a more ‘harmonious’ love life.
The four seasons
One of the most important things for us to understand is the complex hormonal dance that goes on throughout our monthly cycle – and it’s way more revealing than simply a few tearful days before our period arrives.
In her bestselling book, Period Power, Maisie Hill describes the menstrual cycle as seasons. Menstruation is depicted as Winter; we want to hibernate away, rest, and recalibrate (sound familiar?). Once our period ends and our estrogen begins to rise, we enter Spring. This is the fun phase of our cycle, where we feel most outgoing, sociable, and sexual. It’s all about getting our flirt on as we enter our most fertile window in the lead up to ovulation, otherwise known as Summer. Once we ovulate, our progesterone rises and we start to enter Autumn. While this is technically the premenstrual phase, that doesn’t mean we necessarily exhibit the stereotypical PMS ‘symptoms’ of tears and mood swings.
Gold dust for relationships
Each season of our cycle comes with different sensitivities and different wants and needs. This information is like gold dust to someone who wants to be a better partner. It can also help us improve our sex lives and self-esteem by recognizing that our libido naturally fluctuates throughout the month. Your sex drive could be sky-high during pre-ovulation (around day 10-12 of your cycle, for any partners out there wanting to mark the calendar). However, you may not be feeling too frisky in the second half of your cycle – and that shouldn’t be a cause for concern for your relationship, it’s just that pesky progesterone at play!
It’s important to remember that, though we can feel a bit lower during the second half of our cycle, we shouldn’t just write these emotions off as PMS. They are totally real and valid, but we may react differently to different stimuli depending on where we are in our cycle. If your partner loads the dishwasher incorrectly and nothing gets cleaned in your Spring, you might find you let it go. It’s almost your body telling you it doesn’t want you to argue, it wants you to make a baby! The same situation in Autumn could cause a huge argument, as this is the time you are desperate for order and calm. This can be really useful for helping your partner understand your feelings but also to help you manage and regulate your emotions, thus leading to a more harmonious household for everyone.
The power of tracking
While these seasons can act as a good guide on what to expect at each stage of our cycle, it might not necessarily manifest in the way you expect. For example, estrogen might make us feel outgoing and flirty, which doesn’t always correlate to feeling loved up with our partner. One study revealed that increased levels of estrogen around ovulation actually leads to women evaluating their partner more negatively. This is likely because around ovulation we are searching for the best ‘mate’ to make babies with, so we become very attuned to our other halve’s shortcomings. Naturally, these primal urges should be taken with a pinch of salt – we’re not suggesting you should look for a new partner just because they’ve left their socks on the floor! But it is worth being aware of what hormonal factors might be pushing your buttons.
One of the best ways to get a handle on your hormones is to track your cycle using apps like Clue or Moody Month. These apps are not simply interested in when your period starts or stops. They create a space where you can journal and track your emotions, from your sex drive to your irritability. By creating a blueprint for your monthly emotional journey, you begin to pinpoint the times you might be experiencing heightened emotions – be they positive or negative.
The cycle of life
Sharing this information with your partner will not only give them a road map to help them meet your needs and avoid confrontations, but it also empowers them to build a knowledge base of the complexities of female hormones that will benefit your relationship in the long run. One study even indicated that an increase in a husband’s education around menopause could have a positive impact on marital satisfaction.
When couples understand hormones, it can lead to a happier, healthier relationship. However, getting to grips with this concept shouldn’t mean we belittle our feelings. The stress of being a new parent is real, the feelings we experience around menopause are valid, and someone stacking the dishwasher incorrectly is genuinely annoying – no matter how much estrogen is flooding your system! But having a better understanding of how the physical can impact the emotional, can help us contextualize and empathize. And these are two key skills for a happy relationship.