Irritable Male Syndrome: The First Hidden Cause of Mid-Life Marriage Meltdown

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

Charles Dickens could have been describing mid-life marriage instead of the times leading up to the French Revolution in his epic 1859 historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Whether we are in our first marriage when we approach our 40s, 50s, and 60s (We are living longer and longer so mid-life extends through three decades), or whether we have been married previously, mid-life is a turbulent time and marriage can be difficult.

I suspect there may be two kinds of people in the world—Those who watch Dr. Phil and those who don’t. My wife is one who does and I’m one who doesn’t. That’s not unusual. 82% of those who watch Dr. Phil are women and only 18% are men. More than half the viewers are between the ages of 35 and 64.

For more than 40 years, I’ve been helping mid-life men and women prevent mid-life marriage meltdown. When I began writing this article I looked up “Mid-life Marriage Meltdown” on Google and found this interesting 1-minute promo to a Dr. Phil episode.

The show speaks to a number of issues I deal with daily in my practice as a therapist and marriage and family counselor:

  • Increased relationship stress and disconnection.
  • One person saying or feeling, “I love you but I’m not in love with you anymore.
  • Betrayals that cause the marriage to enter melt-down mode.
  • Regret and a desire to repair the marriage and heal the wounds.

What is rarely discussed are the underlying causes of these problems. Surprisingly, I’ve found that often the hidden causes are related to unresolved men’s issues including the following:

  • Male anger and irritability
  • Male-type depression
  • Male menopause (Andropause)
  • Unhealed trauma from absent or abusive fathers

In this article, I’ll talk about the first hidden cause of mid-life marriage meltdown. In subsequent articles, I’ll address the other three causes.

I write books for those who come to me for help and to sort out my own issues and keep my marriage alive and well. Carlin and I have been together for 38 years and we continue to learn how to deal with the issues that can undermine a marriage. Beginning in 1997 I wrote a three-book series on dealing with Andropause and aging in men. They become international best-sellers and have been translated into 14 foreign languages:

  • Male Menopause
  • Surviving Male Menopause: A Guide for Women and Men
  • The Whole Man Program: Reinvigorating Your Body, Mind, and Spirit After 40.

Two of the most common problems in mid-life marriages were the result of men’s loss of desire, particularly for his long-term marriage partner, and loss of male vitality and erection problems. But there was one common problem that was flying under the radar and most people did not recognize it.

Here are some of the many emails I received from concerned men and women:

A 52-year-old woman writes,

“I read your book and I believe my husband is suffering from irritable male syndrome. He’s angry all the time and blames me for everything that is wrong. He calls me names, yells at me, and looks at me with such hatred, I want to disappear. He never hit me, but I’m afraid of him. He totally denies that there are any problems with him. When he gets mad he calls me a bitch and a lot worse and tells me I’m crazy. I love my husband with all my heart and I want to get him the help he needs. What can I do?”

A 49-year-old woman writes,

“I’ve read your articles on male irritability and anger and wonder if my husband suffers from any of this. We have been married for 19 years and I have just found out that three years ago he was unfaithful with a close friend of mine. He is trying really hard right now to ‘make it up to me,’ but my heart is broken and I am a constant wreck. It is difficult for me to continue to support him. He does take comfort in my needing him, but still at times continues with anger issues, drinking, sexual aggression, and paranoia. Please, can you help us?”

I often hear from women, but men are also concerned and many recognize the problems their anger is causing. Paul, age 42, writes,

“I have noticed that my relationship with my wife has deteriorated significantly. Where we used to share affection openly and often, I find I am more and more hypersensitive, irritable and angry. I know this hurts her and undermines our marriage, but I just can’t seem to keep from getting triggered and blowing up. At work I have been nicknamed, ‘Mr. Grumpy’ and been told I’ve become difficult to work with. I know I need help.”

Although, irritability and anger can become a problem for men at any age, they are particularly problematic at mid-life. Not only does this harm the health and well-being of the men, but can also harm the woman and cause problems with the relationship. In a recent article, “Why is My Husband So Mean to Me?” I talk about the underlying causes of Irritable Male Syndrome and what you can do to prevent and treat it.

I also learned that IMS is related to depression in men and also to the hormonal changes associated with midlife and aging. I’ll discuss these issues in future articles.

Your comments are welcome. Sign up for our free newsletter and receive more articles of interest. Are you concerned about your mid-life marriage? Would you like to work with me? I have two programs, “Private Diamond” and “Pocket Diamond.” The first, offers private counseling in person or by phone. The second, offers a unique, internet and text-based program. If you’re interested, drop me a note, put “Private D,” “Pocket D” or “Double D,” (If you’re interested in both programs) in the subject line of an email. Be sure and respond to my spamarrest filter request when writing for the first time.

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Comments

  1. The e-mail from the 52 year young lady about her husband is bang on me..

    • (this not Jed, just a fellow human-bean ?) kudos on your self-knowledge! and courage… It is the very first step of everything! I’ve always been sorry that we feel we can see others so ‘clearly’ and ourselves not at all! So many pieces to our own puzzle I guess… And good luck to us all in growing! up?

  2. Well! O what a tangled (mess) we weave… and all we have to guide us is our homesickness! (To mash 2 quotes.. Sir W Scott? [I thought Shakespeare! Yay google!] and Hesse..)

    Dear Jed, I do admire what u do, trying to make sense off it all! and sharing so open-handedly w us, your fellow scramblers …. I am surprised that you have found male irritability to be a DWINDLING hormone issue, as in my personal look around, it’s the hormones themselves, which in their ‘innocent’ attempt to further populate the planet (my take on em) cause such huge turmoil… Extreme this and that, volatility etc. my experience as a men-(ironic that ?)-opausal woman, is of great relief in the letting GO of drama and everything kicked up a notch or ten… Thanks to those ole ‘whore-moans’! (Sorry, not to offend anybody!) I’m wondering if frustration/irritability kicks in as a REPONSE to that LOSS (rather than due to)… of drive, of ‘power,’ of how one might have perceived/defined one’s self before.. And having no idea how to make that transition…. rather than the lower ‘moans’ themself?! Whatcha think? ? & this might be exactly what ur saying, i’ve been confoosed before in life ?