One of the most consistent responses I get from men and women was how much irritability, anger and sullen withdrawal was present in men between the ages of 40 and 60.
"It's like he's a different man," one woman wrote to me. "He had always been kind, considerate and caring. Now he treats us all so meanly. I don't understand it." "I love my wife, I really do," a man in his 40s confided, "but she drives me up the wall. She wonders why I get so angry all the time. What does she expect when she keeps hitting me in the head with a two-by-four?"
His wife replies in a voice of hurt disbelief, "I don't know what he's talking about. I am always loving and kind and he seems to act like he's being attacked."
"He blames me for everything these days," a married 50-year-old tells me. "If his socks or underwear are missing, I must have put them somewhere or done something with them to piss him off. I'm not kidding -- that's what he tells me. The thing that bothers me the most is how unaffectionate he has become. I don't even get hugs; and when he touches me, I feel grabbed rather than caressed. My husband used to be the most positive, upbeat, funny person I knew. Now it's like living with an angry brick!"
What's Going On?
I believe these men -- and millions of others -- are experiencing Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS). Dr. Gerald Lincoln of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, coined the term after studying the mating cycle of Soay sheep. In autumn, he found that the rams' testosterone levels soared and they mated. In the winter, testosterone levels fell and they lost interest in sex. He also found that as testosterone levels fell, rams became nervous and withdrawn, striking out irrationally. Dr. Lincoln has observed these same changes in behavior in red deer, reindeer and Indian elephants.
In my own work with men going through andropause, or male menopause, I saw a similar pattern of emotional expression in men as their testosterone levels dropped. I also saw these kinds of changes in men who were under considerable stress or who were suffering losses of self-esteem due to major life changes such as divorce, job layoffs or illness.
The Irritable Male Syndrome Definition and Questionnaire
I define the Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) as a state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration and anger that occurs in males and is associated with hormonal fluctuations, stress and loss of male identity.
I have identified feeling states and behaviors that are characteristic of men going through IMS. What follows are the top 20. Although we all have these feelings from time to time, if you find yourself, or someone you love, experiencing them frequently, you may want to look more deeply at IMS as a cause. Often men deny that they have this problem, while women feel the brunt of the man's irritability.
I have found that IMS often expresses itself in two ways. It can be "acted out" or "acted in." Sometimes men express these feelings outwardly, becoming angry, blaming, defensive or demanding. At other times the irritability is turned within and they feel anxious, tense, sad or troubled. Many times men go back and forth and their relationship becomes an emotional rollercoaster.
What You Can Do
1. If you think you are experiencing IMS, talk it over with your partner or someone you trust.
2. If others are telling you that you may be experiencing IMS, listen with an open mind. Often others can see things about us that we can't see ourselves.
3. Have your testosterone levels checked, since this is often the cause of IMS.
4. Take a look at the level of stress in your life. See what you can change to make your life more peaceful.
5. Find things beyond work and family that help you feel good about yourself. Do the things you never thought you had time to do, such as learning a foreign language, traveling or painting.
6. Talk to other men, and consider joining a men's group. Being a "Big Brother" or finding other ways to mentor young men can be also quite helpful.
7. If you think you may be depressed, talk to a health-care professional.
8. Don't wait until the problem gets worse to do something. Act now.
9. If your "acting out" is becoming verbally or physically abusive or your "acting in" is causing you to feel hopeless or depressed, seek professional help.
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Jed Diamond is the author of seven books, including the best seller Male Menopause (Sourcebooks, 1997), which has now been translated into 16 foreign languages. His forthcoming book is entitled "The Irritable Male Syndrome" (Rodale, 2004). He has lent his expertise to such programs as "The View" with Barbara Walters and "Good Morning America" with Charles Gibson. See his Web site at menalive.com for more valuable information on living long and well.