The Irritable Male Syndrome: Up Close and Personal

Last week I talked about Irritable Male Syndrome and said I’d share how it had impacted my own life. It became most difficult at a time when stresses were building up in our lives. We were dealing with aging parents, I had changed jobs, we were spending less time together and were less intimate. Things became more and more unbalanced, out of kilter, and uncomfortable. Despite the changes in my own life, I continued to maintain that I was just fine. It was Carlin that had changed and needed to come back in balance, I felt.

Despite all evidence to the contrary I was convinced that things would be right again if only she would….Depending on the day, the hour, or the minute, I had different things I was convinced she should do. Many of the things contradicted each other, but at the moment they each seemed perfectly reasonable: Work more, stay home more, be nicer and more attentive, leave me alone, be sexier, be nurturing, want sex more often, not be too aggressive sexually, make nice dinners, not feed me so much good food that I got fat, be home when I want her, let me be free to be by myself.

When she wouldn’t do these few simple things (and this was just my short list), I was convinced that she didn’t really care about me. I was sure I was being perfectly reasonable and she was withholding her affections to make me suffer. It never occurred that I was making so many demands they could never be met. I was totally blind to the fact that, even if she tried to meet them, they were so contradictory to make success quite impossible.

The irritability that I had kept in check began to seep out. At first it was indirect. I wouldn’t be overtly aggressive, but passive aggressive. I would forget to put things away after I had used them. I would spill things on the floor and not quite get them cleaned up completely. Something would break and I would pretend that I didn’t notice.

Later, the feelings began to blow up. I became more argumentative, demanding, and uptight. I started becoming more critical of Carlin, though I would have insisted I wasn’t criticizing I was just pointing out ways she could improve things. Carlin tried to point out the changes she was seeing in me but I would immediately become angry and defensive.

Irritable Male Syndrome sounds so benign. We might think it’s like Premenstrual Syndrome. If we’re living with a woman going through a normal PMS, we understand she feels irritable, uncomfortable, and out of sorts, but we know it won’t last long and balance will be restored. Irritable Male Syndrome, may start out like that. But at it’s worst the man is totally out of touch with reality, is literally out of his mind, and yet he is convinced he is the only sane one about and everyone else has gone mad.

I finally decided to see a doctor. I had to make it clear that I wasn’t going because she wanted me to go. I was going because I wanted to see how things were with me. Inside, of course, I was convinced that the doctor would tell me I was fine and I could come back and tell Carlin, “See even the doctor says I’m fine, so if there’s a problem it must be you.”

Fortunately for me, for her, and for our marriage, the doctor said I did have problems and suggested medications, therapy, and marriage counseling. I thanked him and said I’d think about it. As I was going out the door, he gave me a zinger. He told me that one of the main symptoms of this kind of problem is that men don’t think they have a problem.

I waited two weeks and made an appointment with another doctor. This doctor was more sympathetic, more empathic, and did a much more complete evaluation. I was convinced she would see if there were any problem, it was minor and nothing I need be concerned about. Instead, she validated what the first doctor had told me, nearly word for word. I had finally run out of excuses and began getting help.

In addition to starting medications, doing therapy, and couples counseling, I began reading everything I could find on depression, attention deficit disorder, anger, aggression, worry, irritability. One of the most insightful things I read was written by Kay Redfield Jamison, herself a well-known researcher and therapist. In her exceptionally fine book, An Unquiet Mind, she talked openly about her own struggles with mental illness and her road to recovery.

Hers were the first words that captured what I had been experiencing over the last 5 years.

“You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and ‘you’re not at all like yourself but will be soon,’ but you know you won’t.”

Have you had similar experiences? Do you know someone who has? I’d be interested in your response.

©2010 Jed Diamond

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Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy wealth. - Henry David Thoreau


Jed Diamond is the internationally best-selling author of seven books including Male Menopause, now translated into 17 foreign languages and his latest book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. For over 38 years he has been a leader in the field of men's health. He is a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men’s Health and has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network since its founding in 1992. His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He has been featured on more than 1,000 radio and T.V. programs including The View with Barbara Walters, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, CBS, NBC, and Fox News, To Tell the Truth, Extra, Leeza, Geraldo, and Joan Rivers. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS. He looks forward to your feedback. E-Mail. You can visit his website at

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