Male Menopause: How Women Can Deal with His Anger

Male Menopause and angerDear Dr. Jed,

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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  1. I was full of rage my entire life. I could relate to IMS from childhood until about 12 years ago, at which time I discovered the origin of it. I had no idea why I was so “different” from other women and so much more like men. Then I discovered that doctors used to circumcise little girls in the USA and that I had been one of them. Then it all made sense to me. I am a hypnotherapist and I know that no memory is ever really lost, that we can spend our entire lives acting out past, “hidden” trauma. I figured had more in common with men than with women because the rage was not a “male” or “female” trait, but the behavior of a “traumatized person” – someone who is still yelling at and kicking away the circumciser. “Go away! Leave me alone! Don’t touch me! I hate you!” – Sound familiar?

    Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” And the inverse of that statement is, “Once you make the unconscious conscious, it will no longer direct your life.” So to me, rage is understandable in the context of circumcision and its hidden trauma.

    The good news is, we have lots of help to do that kind of healing now, with skilled professionals and even in the privacy of our own minds. I used meditation and emotional freedom technique (EFT). I began with feelings I knew were there, “Even though I’ve held this anger in, all my life long…” Then I carefully, objectively, noticed where the tensions showed up in my body, and “tapped” as instructed in the (youtube) videos, then breathed into those areas until the tensions were gone. Sometimes it took a few repetitions, but eventually the anger and rage and sorrow and grief and feelings of betrayal, left. I am a peaceful person today, even during times of stress. When it is appropriate, I will raise my voice until I am heard, but anger no longer “owns” me.

    I am sorry that I mistreated people during times of past rage, but one thing that helped me forgive myself was to remember that “Everyone is always doing the best they can”… even if it doesn’t look very pretty. If we could have done better at the time, we would have – right? And it helps me forgive extreme rage – and other symptoms of trauma – to know that a majority of men in my country were hurt in this way. You are not to blame, but it is your responsibility now to heal yourself. Remember, “All healing is essentially the release from fear.” Trauma ties us up in knots; breathing into the knots is the key to release… and peace of mind. I wish you peace of mind.

    • Patricia, thanks for sharing your story. You’re absolutely right that a lot of the anger we hold in our lives goes back to trauma we experienced earlier in life. For most of my life, it never to occurred to me that circumcision could have anything to do with the anger and rage I experienced as an adult. But there comes a time when the things that have been buried in the subconscious begin to bubble to the surface.

      It began for me when I was writing one of my books and did a chapter on circumcision. When I was writing, I found myself breaking into tears. Gradually the pain and the memories began to resurface. Over time, like you, I was able to heal the old wounds, let go of the anger, and forgive myself for the damage I had done to myself and others.

      In my recent book on stress relief, I talk about energy healing tools I used, including Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).

      There are so many more ways we have to heal from past traumas that in the past, we all can allow the old memories to surface so that they can be healed.

      Thanks for sharing your journey here.

      • Thank you, Jed, for sharing your story too. It is very moving. I am so happy that you were able to do what you did for yourself – and that you are able to be helpful to so many men and their families. I think we have enough challenges without adding to anyone’s burden… so I pray that we will be kind and gentle to our babies in the future and let them remain whole and intact, so they won’t have to go through what we went through. Big hug to you, dear man. We survived. And now we thrive.

  2. Hi Jed
    Your post is very personal to me but I struggle with when to say enough is enough ? My husband gave me the classic speech “I can’t do this anymore, I want to leave,” last November. I was devastated and totally shocked. But he has not left. He hides out in the spare room or is away living the new free life he has created, spending money and putting our finances in trouble. His behaviour has deteriorated month by month and there is certainly depression in the mix though he will not admit this. We have been together for 18 years and have two young sons. He has completely withdrawn from the family and I try to reassure the children that he still loves them but his rage is now constant and any communication is impossible. He doesn’t seem to care what he says even in front of the children. I can’t believe he can’t have manners and act respectfully in front of them.. There is nothing about him I recognise anymore and I am under increasing pressure from friends and family to file for divorce as this is the only legal way to protect myself, the children and our financial stability. He has already put our home up for sale and says he wants to go our separate ways once it sells, he has threatened to stop money to us and I live on a knife edge most of the time. My head says that divorce is right but my heart can recognise all the IMS traits you talk about in your books and deep inside I know he is lost. But how long do I wait? How much do I take? I don’t want our marriage to end, but he insists there’s no way back and that it’s all my fault not his. Ironically I had done a lot of work healing myself over the last couple of years and had just reached a place of peace and happiness when this bombshell was dropped. I am getting more help but ultimately I am on my own trying to make the hardest decision of my life with my family at stake. Please can you help?

    • CarlyJo,

      I know what a difficult time this must be for you. Living under the conditions you describe can be debilitating. You face a dilemma that many I work with face. They know that living this way is destructive. But they feel torn. As you say, your head (and many of your friends) tell you to leave, but your heart tells you that he’s got a problem and you love him and want to help.

      The first step in sorting things out and getting your heart and head working together is to get some outside help from an expert who can see both sides of the picture and can help you decide what’s best for you and your children, and for your husband as well.

      The real question isn’t should you stay or leave, but how do you get clear enough about the issues so you can help make things better for everyone. That might involve staying. It might involve leaving. But in the long run, if things don’t improve in your lives, you will suffer either way.

      For more than 40 years I have helped thousands of men and women work through these issues. Often it feels like the man and woman are on opposite sides of the problem. He wants to leave and she wants him to stay and work things out, for instance.

      I help you find common ground that commits to making life better for everyone.

      If I can help, let me know.

  3. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing your experiences, Dr J! I am about to face a second time that my husband of 15 years will leave the house. 8 months ago he moved back for Christmas and continued an emotional affair (with the office wife and commuting buddy who is also married with 2 kids). Ira Glass’ mom Shirley wrote a book called “Not Just Friends” (I have yet to read it). As you can imagine I was devastated beyond belief and would have preferred he had had a physical relationship). Now: what hurts the most is that I HAVE been doing the work and getting through core issues and am committed (I do not believe ‘addicted’) to forging the strongest possible marriage. He IS finally seeing a therapist to address childhood abuse and other issues of surrounding suffering in pain (he cannot communicate his feelings) and perhaps will address his rage. What I’m clear about is the fine line that is becoming a wider boundary between patience and allowances (and seemingly endless forgivenesses) and managing protecting and continuing to grow my personhood which started with self-forgiveness. Unbelievably in a 6 page (hand bound) letter I wrote to his “friend” I sought to express my compassion and make clear my intention to work towards a 50-yr marriage. Though our timing is not exact I can only hope, while taking a risk, that by the time my husband finds some clarity he will also chose to repair and reconnect.

  4. Good Stuff, Jed. We should collaborate sometime. For the angry man syndrome, you might want to check out my book, Inside the Mind of an Angry Man: Help for Angry Men and Those Who Love Them. Keep up the great work!