Couples may want to avoid making major life decisions when the wife is showing serious symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

From findings accepted for publication by the American Journal of Family Therapy, Brigham Young University researchers Leslie Feinauer and Rebecca Ryser discovered that significant PMS symptoms can affect marriages negatively.And they found unexpected evidence that couples are "surprisingly resilient" whenever the PMS subsides.

Premenstrual syndrome is a group of physical and emotional symptoms that may occur before menstruation. Women who suffer from it may be irritable and experience fluid retention, fatigue and depression. Symptoms vary from woman to woman, but they occur in cycles. They last typically four or five days.

As part of the study, 64 couples - 32 PMS and 32 non-PMS - charted premenstrual changes in three consecutive menstrual cycles. And as the researchers expected, marital adjustment declined for PMS couples when PMS raged.

Researchers were surprised by the couples' ability to adjust their marriages to the same normal ranges as non-PMS couples as soon as PMS symptoms disappeared.

"I find it encouraging that most couples appear to have the tools to adapt," says Feinauer. "We had thought the negative effects of PMS would spill into the marriage, even when the symptoms were absent." The study reinforces another assumption about PMS: that the entire system adjusts to the changes of one partner.

"There is little doubt that husbands as well as wives feel the effects of PMS in their marriages. It's definitely a shared ordeal," explains Feinauer.

Because so many of the women studied said they were devastated by their PMS behavior, Feinauer says the research shows a need for some short-term help to get them through the PMS stage.

"Exercising, eliminating foods with caffeine and learning to leave important decisionmaking alone until the PMS symptoms retreat can ease some problems," says Feinauer.

A little education also helps.

"By not understanding the nature of PMS, many couples misunderstand the changes in their marriages," she says. "Just helping them know that PMS has a cycle so they know what to expect can be positive."

In addition, Feinauer advocates PMS support centers - but sees their success hindered by false perceptions.

"A big stumbling block is that too many people discount PMS as not being real," she says. "It has a measurable pattern; there is nothing imaginary about it. If we can help couples lessen distress from hormonal cycle changes, this approach could have tremendous value."