If you’re a partner that’s also a woman, you have ovaries, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to understanding your partner’s hormonal experiences. Do take a look at some of our tips around listening and communicating with your partner though, we can always use a refresher on these things, right? However, mostly in this resource, we’re talking to the guys.

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers that move around in the bloodstream. They send signals that tell your body what to do and when to do it. They’re key in supporting our overall health and wellbeing. If you’re a man, you have the same hormones as women, just in different quantities. You even have a hormone cycle too, but yours is a 24hr cycle rather than a monthly one. Testosterone is the hormone you may think about most as a man, but remember women produce testosterone too! Levels for everyone, peak in the mornings.

When do women’s hormones change?

Hormones have a big influence on how we feel, how much energy and drive we have, what our mood is like, how we sleep, how we digest food and they even impact our bathroom habits. Generally, when certain hormone levels are low or are fluctuating, it can cause a wide number of possible symptoms as hormones are important for every function in our body.

Hormones can change because of health conditions, but most often changes are connected to the phases of life. The common times in which women’s hormone levels are changing are:

  1. At puberty: there is a surge in estrogen and hormones become more ‘active’ when periods start.
  2. During the menstrual cycle: hormone levels in the blood go up and down each month, in a repeating pattern. This changes depending on when an egg is released by the ovaries (ovulation) and when a period happens.
  3. During pregnancy and childbirth: hormones shift dramatically, mostly rising during pregnancy, before falling more dramatically after the baby is born.
  4. During perimenopause: this is the time before a woman’s periods stop altogether. Your partner might notice her periods change (they may become less regular, heavier or lighter than before). These changes to her bleeding can often coincide with other symptoms too. Perimenopause can happen for months or years before your partner’s periods stop completely. Symptoms are caused by changes in ovarian function where the majority of your partner’s hormones are produced.
  5. After menopause. Menopause means it’s been over a year since a woman last had a period. After 12 months of no periods a woman will be able to say she has been through menopause. Changes to your partner’s hormone levels can impact many different areas of her physical and mental health. If a woman doesn’t use hormone therapy (HT), she’ll live the rest of her life with lower hormone levels that can cause debilitating symptoms. Sadly the majority of women in the US do just that!
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No matter what phase of life your partner is in, there are some broad similarities that accompany most hormonal transitions and how they make women feel. Not all of these will apply to your partner, but some will no doubt be familiar to you if you have lived with your loved one for a while.

Possible physical symptoms

  • Sore or painful breasts
  • Bloating, constipation or diarrhea
  • Cramps in the lower part of the tummy
  • Headaches and migraine episodes
  • Pimples or skin breakouts
  • Allergy flare ups
  • Tiredness and lack of motivation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Food cravings (such as wanting sweeter things than usual)
  • Particularly in peri/menopause:
  • Needing to pee more urgently or becoming desperate quickly
  • Urinary infections and dryness or soreness around the vulva and vagina
  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Heart palpitations
  • Joint pains and muscle aches

Possible psychological symptoms

  • Mood changes, particularly feeling sad or lower than usual
  • Anxiety, feeling more stressed or worried
  • Feeling more emotional, stressed or tearful than usual
  • Quick changes in mood or ‘mood swings’
  • Irritability (feeling annoyed by seemingly small things)
  • Anger or difficulty controlling emotions
  • Feeling out of control
  • Feeling bad about yourself, including having negative thoughts about your image and the way you look or feel
  • Feeling forgetful
  • Finding it harder to concentrate or find the right words.

Most women are used to a certain amount of variation during their monthly cycle when it comes to how they feel. For the lucky ones, hormones don’t actually have a huge impact on their daily lives. However, for some women the impact of these symptoms can be massive. Work and caring responsibilities can become more challenging, the mental load they bear can seem overwhelming, feelings of depression and low mood can be really hard meaning many find their relationships suffer as a result.

One of the trickiest things we experience as women is knowing whether it’s our hormones making us feel or act in a particular way or if there is something more going on. Sometimes we can figure this out. For example, if we have a regular cycle and a predictable pattern of ‘3 days before my period starts, I cry at everything’, we can somewhat prepare.

For many of us though, the realization often happens after the event, when we reflect on it and wonder why we felt the way we did. This is especially true if your partner is starting perimenopause as she may not realize this is happening and impacting her hormones. Afterall, if she’s still getting regular periods, where’s the clue? Well, many women start experiencing symptoms of perimenopause long before their periods begin to change. Some even wonder if there are other worrying health conditions at work because they are unaware of how hormone changes may impact them in perimenopause.

Sometimes it’s easier for loved ones to notice things more objectively and you may have already noticed some symptoms in your loved one during her cycle, or if she has been pregnant or had a baby. This is only part of the picture though. Things may feel very different for her, so even if you think you know what’s going on, it’s still very important to listen and be genuinely interested in her take on things.

This brings us nicely to how you can best support your partner when she’s experiencing a hormonal shift.

Here are some practical tips for being the best hormone ally to your nearest and dearest:

  1. You’ve made a great start by finding this web page and reading everything up to here! Understanding the basics and the possible impact hormone changes could be having on your partner will help to ensure you are more aware and able to have informed conversations with her. Remember though, while it can be tempting to shout about your new knowledge, try not to come off like you know everything. No one likes a mansplainer!
  2. Show interest in how she’s feeling and really listen to what she’s saying (don’t just wait for your turn to speak!) Try and put yourself in her shoes and imagine what it’s really like to have the symptoms she’s experiencing. How would that make you feel?
  3. Communicate carefully and with kindness, pick up on her cues to what she is and isn’t comfortable talking about. Always try to be supportive and nonjudgmental. Ask her what she needs from you when things seem tough for her. Try not to take things too personally too if she snaps or reacts in a way you think is a bit over the top. Remind yourself of the possible cause for a reaction.
  4. Be a sounding board for hormone related decisions. If she is deciding on what type of birth control to take, or whether to try Hormone Therapy (HT) or not at perimenopause or menopause, show your willingness to have these conversations with her. If she’d like it, attend appointments with her and stay informed as to what options she has as well as the pros and cons of any decisions she has to make, so you can be the best ally she needs when talking about it together.
  5. Step up during pregnancy and after childbirth. This can be one of the hardest things a woman goes through and her hormones will be on an equally intense roller coaster at this time, This is especially the case in the first few weeks after delivery. The practical and emotional support of a partner is absolutely essential for your partner’s mental health and wellbeing as well as for the health and wellbeing of your child too.
  6. Be patient and flexible. Hormones change and all of us can have unpredictable changes in our moods at times – it’s what makes us human. Be prepared for inconsistencies, unpredictability and uncertainty. Try and just go with the flow wherever possible! This advice particularly applies to your sex life. Hormone changes directly affect how much interest your partner will have in sex and how much pleasure she feels when having it. This varies depending on what time of the month it is, whether you’ve recently had a child, and especially around the time of menopause. If you can, talk about what is – or isn’t – happening in the bedroom. Be open, honest and kind, ensuring you say what you need too with care and love for one another. Try to avoid it spiraling into an argument or causing hurt and harm.

If you’ve read all of this article, we think your partner is pretty lucky to have such an ally on their team!

You can continue to learn more however by reading some of our key content around periods, PMS, birth control, pregnancy and childbirth, perimenopause and future health. Then you’ll be awarded Hormone-Yoda status!

If you have a story to share about a partner’s experience of hormonal change and how you found helping and supporting her, whatever your gender, we’d love to hear from you.

A final note on hormones: If a person is experiencing symptoms because of changes to their hormone levels, it does not mean these symptoms are not real, valid or worthy of recognition. Equally being impacted by hormonal changes does not render someone ‘less than’. After all, how many men do you know that could sustain severe blood loss once a month, experience intense abdominal cramping for the best part of a week and suffer through a blinding headache all while having to turn up to work and care for a family?

Part of the Hormonally mission is to redefine what it means to be hormonal. We can only do this with the support of allies that stop dismissing the impact hormones can have and equally, commit to refraining from using ‘hormonal’ in a derogatory way!

Hormone fluctuations can cause a variety of symptoms that can be debilitating and life altering. As a partner, take symptoms seriously and examine the moments in which you are tempted to simply say ‘it’s because of your hormones’ and the impact this has not only on your partner but on women everywhere.