10 Tips for Keeping Irritable Male Syndrome From Wrecking Your Relationship
Read Jed’s new book, Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable
Male Syndrome on Scribd at: http://tinyurl.com/MrMeanBook or get a “hard
copy” by going to http://www.menalive.com/mrmean.htm
Jed Diamond, Ph.D. has been a marriage and family counselor for the last 45
years. He is the author of 8 books, including Looking for Love in All the Wrong
Places, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and Mr. Mean: Saving
Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome (May, 2010). He offers
counseling to men, women, and couples in his office in California or by phone
with people throughout the U.S. and around the world. To receive a Free E-book
on Men’s Health and a free subscription to Jed’s e-newsletter go to
www.MenAlive.com. If you are looking for an expert counselor to help with
relationship issues, write Jed@MenAlive.com.
Studies show that 50% of first marriages, 67 percent of second marriages,
and 74% of third marriages end in divorce. As a marriage and family counselor
who specializes in helping men and the women who love them, I’ve found that
the hidden destroyer of good relationships is a phenomenon I call “The Irritable
Male Syndrome (IMS).” Here are 10 tips for keeping IMS from wrecking your
1. Know your enemy.
Here’s a letter I received, typical of thousands, which describes what families
are up against.
“Last month a man came home from work with my husband’s face but he did not
act at all like the man I married. I've known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them
and have never met this guy before. Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to
describe him. He used to be the most upbeat, happy person I knew. Now he’s gone from
Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean. In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to
save our marriage.
Women often wonder how the man can change from looking at her with
love and affection to giving her looks filled with hate and revulsion. One visual
aid that helps them to understand what is going on is to recall the optical illusion
of the “old-witch/young woman.”
What do you see? Is it a profile of a young and beautiful lady, or do you see
an old witch with huge and ugly nose?
You can’t see them both at the same time. Our brain organizes what it sees
as one or the other. Men experiencing IMS often get “locked in” to the witch and
aren’t able to hold a positive vision of their wives.
When IMS comes into the home, he blames her and she blames him. But
the real villain is IMS monster who laughs maliciously in the background.
2. Understand your man has been transformed from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.
One of the most devastating aspects of IMS is watching the man you love
change from a loving husband and father to someone who seems bent on
destroying everyone around him.
“My husband’s personality suddenly changed from my funny, loving Dr. Jekyll
into an angry, resentful, and controlling Mr. Hyde,” this married, mother of three, wrote
to me. “He grew increasingly angry with me and seemed to withdraw from our
marriage. We used to enjoy being together. Now he spends most of his time in his home
office or at the neighborhood bars until well after 1 A.M.”
Fortunately this transformation from Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean is reversible.
3. Recognize the 4 most common symptoms of IMS.
In the research study I conducted with over 60,000 males, I found there
were 50 symptoms (You can take the full quiz at www.IMSquiz.com) that were
indicative of Irritable Male Syndrome. Here are the most common.
It’s as though the man was emotionally sunburned. It seems that every
little thing sets him off. She feels like she’s walking on egg shells trying to avoid
setting him off. He feels like everyone is going out of their way to irritate him.
Anxiety is a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the
anticipation of a realistic, or fantasized, threatening event or situation. IMS men
live in constant worry and fear. There are many real threats that they are dealing
with—sexual changes, job insecurities, relationship problems. There are also
many uncertainties that lead men to ruminate and fantasize about future
problems that may never occur.
IMS men feel blocked in attaining what they want and need in life. They
often feel defeated in the things they try to do to improve their lives. These men
feel frustrated in their relationships with family, friends, and at work. The world is
changing and they don’t know where, how, or if they fit in.
Author Susan Faludi captures this frustration in her book Stiffed: The
Betrayal of the American Man. The frustration is expressed in the question that
is at the center of her study of American males. “If, as men are so often told,
they are the dominant sex, why do so many of them feel dominated, done in by
the world?” This frustration, which is frequently hidden and unrecognized, is a
key element of IMS.
Anger can be simply defined as a strong feeling of displeasure or
hostility. Yet anger is a complex emotion. Outwardly expressed it can lead to
aggression and violence. When it is turned inward it can result in depression and
suicide. Anger can be direct and obvious or it can be subtle and covert. Anger
can be loud or quiet. It can be expressed as hateful words, hurtful actions, or in
Many women suffer indirectly from IMS as they see the man they love
becoming more and more unhappy, angry, and withdrawn. They also suffer
directly as they increasingly become the target of his angry and erratic moods.
The relationship that they have lovingly built through the years begins to crumble.
This is more than painful. It is a tragedy.
4. Learn the 4 key causes of IMS.
Although Irritable Male Syndrome is complex, there are 4 key causes that
can help you to rescue your relationship: 1) Hormonal fluctuations, 2)
Biochemical changes in brain chemistry, 3) Increasing stress, 4) Loss of male
identity and purpose.
• Hormonal changes and IMS
Testosterone is a critically important hormone for men (and women).
Theresa L. Crenshaw, M.D., author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, describes
testosterone as the young Marlon Brando—sexual, sensual, alluring, and dark,
with a dangerous undertone.”
When a man’s testosterone is out of whack he gets…well, testy.
We’ve heard of “roid rage” when men take testosterone-like steroids to bulk
up. But the more common reason men become irritable is when their
testosterone levels are too low, rather than too high.
• Biochemical changes and IMS
Most people have heard of the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin. When we
have enough flowing through our brains, we feel good. When there isn’t
enough, we feel bad. What most people don’t know is that our serotonin levels
are influenced by what we eat.
Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology found that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet can cause
serotonin levels to drop. They found that men often mistake their cravings for
healthy carbohydrates, such as those found in rice, corn, squash, with cravings
for protein found in meat. “Eating protein when we need carbohydrates,” says
Wurtman, “will make us grumpy, irritable, or restless.”
• Stress and IMS
It’s no secret that stress levels are going through the roof. Our economic
system seems on the brink of collapse. We worry about whether we will have a
job tomorrow and how we can support our family while prices on everything
continue to rise. World population is expected to reach 7 billion next year.
According to the UN population division 216,000 children are born each day.
They won’t all come to our town, but we all feel the pressure and our stress
• Loss of male identity and IMS
For most of human history, the male role was clear. Our main role was to
“bring home the bacon.” Everyone had a job and contributed to the well-being of
the family, the tribe, and the village. But now many of us work at jobs that we
hate, producing goods or services that have no real value to the community.
We’ve gotten farther and farther away from the basics of bringing home
food we’ve hunted or grown ourselves. The money we receive is small
compensation for doing work that is meaningless. And the men with some kind
of job, no matter how bad, are the lucky ones. More and more men are losing
their jobs and can’t easily find new ones.
5. Get testosterone levels checked.
Low testosterone is one of the main causes of IMS and we know that
testosterone levels decrease as a man ages. But how do you know if a man’s
testosterone level is too low? According to Abraham Morgentaler, M.D.,
Associate Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School and author of the book
Testosterone For Life, you should get a test that measures both total
testosterone as well as free testosterone. “If either one is low (Total T less than
350 ng/dl and, especially, free T less than 15 pg/ml, then there is a strong
possibility that he has low T and might benefit from treatment.”
Many doctors are not familiar with hormone testing. I have found that a good
place to learn more and get your hormone levels tested is through ZRT
laboratory. ZRT’s founder and director, Dr. David Zava is one of the experts in
the field. And best of all they will send you everything you need through the mail.
Check out their website at: www.ZRTlab.com.
6. Change what you eat and drink.
Two-thirds of us are overweight and most of us have good reasons to shed
the extra pounds. Here’s an additional reason you should know about. Being as
little as 10 pounds overweight will lower a man’s testosterone levels. That’s
because the fat cells contain an enzyme called aromatase that converts
testosterone to estrogen. Eat a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables,
lose weight, keep your testosterone, increase your well-being, and decrease your
Here’s another tip. Cut back on your drinking. According to Eugene
Shippen, M.D., author of The Testosterone Syndrome, “Drinking alcohol can
cause a significant rise in estrogen in both women and men.”
7. Get moving.
Exercise has been a part of our lives since humans first walked the
savannas of Africa hunting and gathering the necessities required for life. In their
book, The Paleolithic Prescription, authors S. Boyd Eaton, M.D., Marjorie
Shostak, Ph.D, and Melvin Konner, M.D., Ph.D. tell us about the importance of
exercise in maintaining an irritable-free and healthy lifestyle. "Our genetic
constitution has been selected to operate within a milieu of vigorous, daily, and
lifelong physical exertion," they say. "The exercise boom is not just a fad; it is a
return to 'natural' activity--the kind for which our bodies are engineered and which
facilitates the proper function of our biochemistry and physiology."
I have found that a complete program for physical fitness involves three
main components: Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) endurance, muscular strength,
and flexibility. Good cardiorespiratory endurance means that activities requiring
stamina (such as soccer, swimming, running, and basketball) can be maintained
for relatively prolonged periods.
Eaton, Shostak, and Konner remind us that "People who do systematic
exercise significantly improve their aerobic fitness reduce their percentage of
body fat, lower their blood pressure and pulse, lower their 'bad' LDL-cholesterol
values, increase their proportion of "good" HDL-cholesterol, lower their blood
sugar and insulin levels, and lower their level of serum triglycerides."
8. Understand men’s secret shame.
What’s shame have to do with Irritable Male Syndrome? Well, in a word,
everything! Although things like hormonal fluctuations, biochemical changes in
the brain, stress, and loss of male identity are key causes of IMS; shame is the
emotion that fuels IMS and keeps its destructive power alive in your relationship.
One of the areas of greatest shame for men, one they hide even from
themselves, is how dependent they feel on the nurture and support of women. In
his book Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, psychologist Sam Keen talks about
his hidden dependency on women. “If the text of my life was ‘successful,
independent man,’ the subtext was ‘engulfed by WOMAN.”
In his book, Misogyny: The Male Malady, Anthropologist David Gilmore
explains men’s fear of women this way: “Men throughout the world have
unconscious wishes to return to infancy, longings to suckle at the breast, to
return to the womb, the powerful temptation to surrender one’s masculine
autonomy to the omnipotent mother of childhood fantasy.”
A man’s longing to be held and nurtured and his fear of being dependent is
the secret shame that drives Irritable Male Syndrome.
9. Learn the difference between anger and rage.
Most people confuse rage with anger. John Lee, author of The Anger
Solution, says, “Rage is as different from anger as night is from day, as apples
are from orangutans. Anger is a feeling and emotion. Rage has the ability to
cover other feelings, but it is not a feeling or emotion in itself. Rage is like a huge
dose of morphine. It is a drug that is legal, plentiful, readily available, and can be
When we were growing up, most of the time anger was expressed in the form
of blame. When our father or mother got angry, they were angry at us. We were
told directly, or indirectly, that we did something wrong. They let us know that the
punishment we received when they were angry was because we were bad.
Once we accept anger as a feeling, without making someone else responsible
for our anger, we can stop blaming others (or blaming ourselves).
Lee offers a number of helpful contrasts between anger and rage:
• Anger clears the air, while rage clouds communication.
• Anger rights injustices and wrongs. Rage is an injustice and wrongs
• Anger concerns the present. Rage concerns the past.
• Anger is about “me,” about how I’m feeling. Rage is about “you,” my
judgment of your perceived inadequacies.
Men who get hooked on rage are looking for love, but don’t know how to find
it. They hunger for someone to love and comfort them, but they settle for trying
to control those they have become dependent upon. They feel powerless and
small and their rage gives them a temporary feeling of strength and superiority.
10. Heal the relationship without talking about.
For men the 5 most dreaded words in the English language are, “Honey, we
need to talk.” The words can be said with anger or with love, with disdain or
compassion, with despair or with hope. It seems no matter how they are
presented, they are met with a resistance bordering on terror by most men.
For most women, talking is the way they connect. Its how they deal with their
fears and how they solve problems. When they see the man in their life suffering
from the irritable male syndrome, they want to get him to talk about it in the
hopes that they can help him heal.
But for men, talking often triggers shame. Here’s why. Usually when women
approach men for one of those “let’s talk” moments, it’s when she is afraid. This
triggers his shame and he usually thinks, “What have I done wrong now?” As we
have more and more of these encounters, the woman builds up more fear and
the man builds up more shame until talking is the last thing he wants to do.
So what can you do? Walk, don’t talk. Men are more comfortable with “side-
by-side” communication rather than “face-to-face” communication. Walking
together often brings a sense of calm and peace that can help heal wounds
without talking about it.
Learn to deepen your emotional bond with each other. In her book, Hold Me
Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, Dr. Sue Johnson says she
learned that “romantic love was all about attachment and emotional bonding. It
was all about our wired-in need to have someone to depend on, a loved one who
can offer reliable emotional connection and comfort.”
One of the most difficult, yet healing experiences for most men, is to just let
ourselves be held and nurtured. The main reason that men are so preoccupied
with sex, I believe, is that they are ashamed of their desire to be held like a child.
But we need that kind of nurturing as much when we are adults as we did
when we were young. Dr. Johnson reminds us all that we must “recognize and
admit that you are emotionally attached to and dependent on your partner in
much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing, and
protection.” She says that adult attachments may be more reciprocal and less
centered on physical contact, but the nature of the emotional bond is the same.
So, don’t talk about fixing the relationship. Learn to nurture each other as we
would a precious child who we love, no matter what they have done. Hold on
tight to each other. At the end of the day, this is what will get us through the
You can contact me at www.MenAlive.com. To read my latest book, Mr.
Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome, go to: