Why Midlife Men Turn Mean and What You Can Do
To Save Yourself and Rescue Your Relationship
One of the most consistent responses I get from men
and women was how much irritability, anger and
sullen withdrawal was present in males particularly
between the ages of 40 and 55.
"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
"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
"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levels fell, rams became nervous and withdrawn,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
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, biochemical changes, stress
and loss of male identity.
I have identified 50 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.
Take the Quiz
Over the last 3 years, over 50,000 males between
age 10 and 85 have taken the on-line questionnaire
from all over the world. Take the quiz and find out
how your score compares to the others who have
taken it and whether IMS is a problem for you. You
can also find out which of 9 types of IMS are
present in your life. Take the quiz at:
What You Can Do
- If you think you are experiencing IMS, talk
it over with your partner or someone you
- 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.
- Have your testosterone levels checked, since
this is often one of the causes of IMS.
- Take a look at the level of stress in your
life. See what you can change to make your life
- 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
- 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
- If you think you may be depressed, talk to a
Don't wait until the problem gets worse to do
something. Act now.
If your "acting out" is becoming verbally or
physically abusive or your "acting in" is causing
you to feel hopeless or depressed, seek
* * *
Wealth can't buy health, but health can buy
wealth. - Henry David Thoreau
is the internationally best-selling author of nine
books including Male
Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing. The 4 Key Causes
of Depression and
Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable
Male Syndrome. His
upcoming book, Tapping Power: A Mans Guide to
Eliminating Pain, Stress, Anger, Depression and
Other Ills Using the Revolutionary Tools of Energy
Psychology will be available next year. 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
Mens Health and has been on the Board of
Advisors of the Mens 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.
You can visit his website at www.menalive.com
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