By: Alison Dunn Jul 27, 2010

I wonder if men think it's just an excuse.

I'm talking about premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. I know we women talk about it from time to time, blaming our bad moods on our upcoming menstrual cycles. I also know that for some women, PMS is very, very real and can be debilitating. I'm fortunate enough not to have suffered from it myself, but for those who have, it can cause irritability, irrationality and wild mood swings. It can cause both physical and emotional symptoms and there's really not a darn thing we can do about it.

When researching this week's health story, "S.O.S. for PMS," I spoke to Mary Byers, a life coach and author who has written extensively on the subject. Mary told me she herself suffers from severe PMS, and it was only when she realized how it was affecting those around her that she got the help she needed. She thought that admitting she needed help meant she was weak. In reality, it showed how very strong and courageous she was.

But the conversation got me wondering: do the men in our lives really believe in PMS? Or do they think it's something we all make up as an excuse for bad behaviour? I certainly hope not. Besides, would any man ever admit to thinking that?

In my research I discovered that there are more than 150 symptoms of PMS, and every woman has different symptoms. Some women have it mildly; for others, it can be quite severe. It’s important that the men in our lives understand that and help women cope with the worst of the symptoms – not tell us it's all in our heads.

Of course, PMS is no excuse for bad behaviour. It doesn't give us the right to abuse our spouses or take it out on them. Instead, Byers says it's more important to be realistic about your feelings, and if you know there are a few days of the month when you're incapable of handling your usual responsibilities, you and your partner can take some steps to lighten your load.

Go out for dinner instead of frustrating yourself with cooking. Put off making any major life decisions. Get your partner to take the kids for a walk after dinner so you can have a few moments of peace and quiet.

If you both work together, you'll find you can make it through the worst of your symptoms without taking it out on your spouse. You can't prevent PMS, but you can change the way you deal with it. All it takes is a little understanding and asking for a little help.

And guys, we assure you – it's not an excuse.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.