How to Survive the Irritable Male Syndrome: 10 Tips to Keep Your Relationship From Falling Apartt
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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 marriage. 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. • Hypersensitivity. 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. 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. • Frustration. 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. 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 stony silence. 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 increases. • 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 irritability. 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 addictive.” 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 people further. • 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 darkness. 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: http://tinyurl.com/MrMeanBook.