I read your book and I believe my husband is suffering from male menopause. He’s angry all the time and blames me for everything that is wrong. He calls me names, yells at me, looks at me with such hatred, I want to disappear. He’s 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 and should be hospitalized.
His beliefs get reinforced by his family who also denies that there is anything wrong with him, though they’ve seen how angry and abusive he can be. They tell me that he wasn’t depressed before he married me so it must be me that is the problem.
I love my husband with all my heart and I want to get him the help he needs. I know that he must be suffering. If he would just acknowledge the problem I’m sure we could work things out. Can you help me get through to him? SL.
I get calls and e-mails regularly from women who are sure their partner is suffering from male menopause. They describe, in detail, his irritability and rage. They often tell me that he’s been verbally or physically abusive. Most go on to tell me that they love their husband and want to do everything they can to help him so that they can return to the kind of good relationship they remember having before he got IMS.
I shudder when I get these kinds of letters. I have no quarrel with their desire to help their man and to rescue their relationship, but I do have concerns about their priorities and the focus of their attention. Too many of these women remain in abusive, sometimes violent relationships, focusing their attention on helping him before thinking about helping themselves. I imagine myself reaching through the airwaves and shaking them. “Don’t you know that you can’t help him or help the relationship until you first help yourself?” I want to tell them.
Irritable Males Become Addicted to Rage
When we talk about addiction, most people think about drugs like heroin or cocaine. Addicts are seen as people who have little self-respect and can’t control their behavior. But having worked with addictions for more than 40 years, I have a broader view. I believe that people can become addicted to anything that can bring feelings of well-being, however short-lived, or can provide relief from pain, no matter how temporary.
With this understanding we can see how people can become addicted to gambling, pornography, the internet, other people, or strong emotions. All of these behaviors can give people feelings of pleasure or well-being or can provide relief from pain or unhappiness.
Let’s first take a look at how men can become hooked on 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 applies 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.”
The reason that rage can become addictive is that it doesn’t satisfy a real need. Anger, on the other hand, is an emotion that expresses our need to defend ourselves against the loss of something we value. Rage is a cover for past losses and so can continue escalate without end. Have you noticed that as rage is expressed, it tends to feed upon itself?
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.
The Women Who Love IMS Men Become Addicted to Them
In his book Love and Addiction, Stanton Peele described the connection between “love” and “addiction” this way: “May of us are addicts, but we don’t know it. We turn to each other out of the same needs that drive some people to drink and others to heroin. Interpersonal addiction—love addiction—is just about the most common, yet least recognized, form of addiction we know.”
Many women are taught from childhood to put other people’s needs above their own. They are raised to be care-givers. As children they often take care of their parents, siblings, or friends. They often grow up with many unmet needs, choosing mates who seem secure and caring on the surface, but are actually quite wounded. These wounded men often suffer from IMS as adults. And these wounded women often the ones who fall in love with them.
In my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions, I describe the experiences that many women have with relationships. “Many of us are unhappy with our romantic relationships, but don’t know what to do about it. There are times we swear ‘never again.’ Getting close is just too painful. But there is only so much energy we can devote to our jobs, our friends, our hobbies. Sooner or later we return to the search for love. When we finally find that special someone, we cling to them like orphaned children. Even when the relationship goes bad, we hold on for dear life. We can’t seem to let go, even when the relationship is harming us. We ride a roller coaster of hope and despair.” Does this sound familiar at all to you?
What Do You Need to Do?
1. Understand that this journey is first and foremost about you.
Even though I call this problem “irritable male syndrome,” it is not just a problem that men have. If IMS has come into your life, it is an opportunity for you to engage in your own healing. Although, my own irritability and anger had been causing problems in our relationship for years, it wasn’t until Carlin began to work on her own issues that things began to change.
For many women focusing on themselves seems selfish. But, in fact, it’s the only thing that can make things better for you, for him, and for the relationship. I would ask you to write out this phrase or put the sentiment into your own words and put it where you can read it every day. “I am committed to my own health and well-being. In order to help my man and help the relationship, I must first help myself.”
2. Make a commitment to your own physical and emotional safety.
If you are being physically abused, that must stop. You must treat yourself like you would a precious child who was in danger. You must do whatever it takes to keep that previous being from harm. If you have to move out of the house, you need to do that. If he needs to move out of the house, you need to insist on it. Whatever it takes you must create a safe place for yourself.
This must include emotional safety, as well as physical safety. Some us believe that if we aren’t being physically abused then we are not being abused. But anyone who has been the recipient of rage, whether the rage is expressed with over anger or covert contempt, knows how destructive that can be. In many ways emotional abuse is even more damaging than physical abuse. You need to commit to getting yourself out of emotionally abusive situations.
You may not be able to accomplish this immediately, but you must be willing to make the commitment to bring this about. Nothing will improve until you feel safe. If you grew up in an abusive family where you were abused directly or witnessed abuse, abuse will feel familiar. Feeling safe will feel foreign. In spite of whatever resistance you have, safety is where you must be.
3. Reach out for support.
When IMS comes into a relationship, many people find themselves withdrawing from friends and family. Consciously, or unconsciously, we feel ashamed. We don’t want others to know about what’s really going on with us. If the man is frightened and threatened he may not want you to talk to others. He may try and convince you that this is a private matter between you and him and no one else should know about it.
You need to be willing to reach out in spite of your shame or his fear. Talk to a friend, tell a family member. Let them know that things are not OK at home and that you’re committed to making things better. You don’t have to violate confidences between him and you. But you do need to reach out to someone, friend, family member, or therapist. You can’t heal by yourself.
4. Learn to understand your co-dependence
Most people that are involved with an IMS male (and many of us who aren’t) are co-dependent. The term was first used to describe people who were in relationship with a drug addict or alcoholic. However, it really goes way beyond that. Charles Whitfield, author of Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition, says “Co-dependence is a disease of lost selfhood. We become co-dependent when we turn our responsibility for our life and happiness over to our ego (our false self) and to other people. Co-dependents become so preoccupied with others that they neglect their True Self—who they really are.” Does this sound at all like you? If so, make a commitment to reconnect with your true self.
5. Release your belief that you can fix your man.
Your man can get better. Your relationship can improve. But you can’t fix him. In order for things to improve you have to accept that you are powerless to change him. You are powerless over his beliefs, his thoughts, his feelings, his decisions, his choices, and his behavior.
As you admit your powerlessness over his life, you will begin to recognize that you have total power over your life. We have total control over your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings, your decisions, your choices, and your behavior. You won’t feel your power immediately, but little by little you will find you are re-claiming your own self-hood. It’s a great feeling.
What you’ll also find is that as you change your own life for the better, his life will change for the better as well. Although you can’t fix him, you can create the conditions that will help him to fix the problems that are causing his irritability and anger. Many women worry that if she can’t fix him, then there is no hope for their future. Many also feel guilty for focusing attention on themselves. But as you will find out, there are many ways to engage a man in a healing process and it starts with your willingness to heal yourself.
In this space, write down your own thoughts. Are you willing to focus on you first and foremost? Are you willing to make a commitment to your own safety and well-being? What does it feel like to save yourself first?
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