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: [Read more…]

Why Is My Husband So Mean to Me?

For more than 40 years I have been helping men and the women who love them. In recent years, more and more women are contacting me who are concerned about their husband’s anger and how its impacting their lives. Here’s how one woman described her confusion and concern:

“For about a year now, I have gradually felt my husband of twenty-two years pulling away from me and our family. He has become more sullen, angry, and mean. The thing that bothers me the most is how unaffectionate he has become. My husband used to be the most positive, upbeat, funny person I knew. Now it’s like living with an angry brick. I want my husband back. Can you help us?”

I developed a quiz for men and for women who were asking why the man in their lives had suddenly become more irritable and angry. It was eventually filled out by more than 60,000 men and women. When the results were in, I thought of writing a book titled The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome. This seemed to capture the way a man could change from being loving and supportive to being angry and mean.

In reminded me of the novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, written in 1886, titled “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

Another woman described her husband’s changes in similar terms. “My husband’s personality suddenly changed from my funny, loving Dr. Jekyll into an angry, resentful, and controlling Mr. Hyde. He grew increasingly angry with me and seemed to withdraw from our marriage. I just can’t be happy staying at home, especially when I’m slapped in the face with a bunch of criticism and anger. What is going on here?”

But though the transformation from “Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean” was clear, there was still a mystery about what causes the change. My first clue about the root cause of this shift came from a Scottish biologist in Edinburgh, Dr. Gerald Lincoln, who was studying the impact of hormonal changes on animal mood and behavior. He found when testosterone levels dropped the animals became irritable, ill-tempered, and edgy. These were some of the same symptoms I was seeing in my own work. [Read more…]

How to Live with An Angry Man and What To Do If He Becomes President

how to live with an angry manMy wife should probably write this article, but she’s busy living her life and glad that the angry man she has been living with for 36 years has done enough healing that he can write about it. The healing began for me when she went to see a doctor and began getting help for her depression. As she started to get better, it became evident to her that I could also benefit from getting help with my own depression.

I, of course, insisted that I was just fine and didn’t need any help. I attributed my angry outbursts (rage attacks) to a normal reaction to her hurtful behavior. Occasionally I would blow up with her and she would close down for weeks or months. Like many angry men I didn’t recognize how destructive my anger was, how it impacted my wife, or how damaging and long-lasting was the trauma of anger. Usually I wouldn’t blow up, I’d just give her that look. She would say, “You get that beady-eyed look that chills me to the bone.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I was a nice guy, I told myself. Not the beady-eyed monster she was seeing.

Actually, she wasn’t seeing a monster. She was just seeing an angry man who was both self-destructive and was pulling her down with him. The monster was what I saw in my dreams, but was afraid to confront in my waking life. It was much easier to have inner dialogues that blamed her for my anger. “Who wouldn’t be angry,” I would tell myself, “when their wife is always complaining and nagging. It’s like getting hit in the head with a 2 X 4. I can’t let her get away with that.”

In the professional world, of which I’m a long-time member with a Ph.D. in International Health and a clinical license to prove it, we call the kind of thinking I was engaged in “delusional.” Twelve Step recovery groups simply call it “stinkin’ thinkin’.” [Read more…]

How Do I Know if Irritable Male Syndrome is a Problem?

Recently I started video blogging on Vidoyen. The platform limits answers to questions to just a couple of minutes.

One of the first questions I’ve answered is “How do I know if Irritable Male Syndrome is a problem?” You can see my answer in the video below. Let me know what you think.

I’d also like you to come join me on Vidoyen. You can subscribe to updates and ask questions I can answer for future videos. Join me HERE.


6 Ways to Prevent Irritable Male Syndrome from Ruining Your Holidays

The time between Thanksgiving and New Years can be wonderfully joyful and it can also be stressful and irritating.  Everyone can feel a bit overwhelmed with things to do, celebrations to attend, and family to please.  Getting irritable occasionally is part of being human, but getting locked into a pattern of negativity and anger can cause problems for men and the families that love them.

What Is Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS)?

IMS was first described by research biologist Dr. Gerald Lincoln when he was trying to develop a male contraceptive.  He tried lowering the testosterone levels of Soay rams and other mammals to see if he could stop their partner sheep from getting pregnant.  It didn’t work well and the rams got a bit testy as a result.  He coined the term “irritable male syndrome” which he described as “a behavioral state of nervousness, irritability, lethargy and depression that occurs in adult male mammals following withdrawal of testosterone.”

Dr. Lincoln had no evidence that it occurred in human male mammals, but he suspected it did.  I had been doing research on men going through Andropause or male menopause and found that they became irritable and angry.  I visited Dr. Lincoln in Edinburgh, Scotland and shared my research with him.  He agreed that it would be valuable to have a book written on the subject, which I began writing when I returned to the U.S. [Read more…]

Male Menopause and Irritable Male Syndrome: What You Can Do to Help Your Man

Dear Dr. Diamond,

I am forty-eight and have been married 26 years.  I’m noticing that I am unusually cross and nasty with my wife who I love very much.  It just comes out unexpectedly before I realize it.  Then it is too late.  I feel like apologizing, but somehow I never do.  I can see the hurt in her eyes and I feel terribly guilty.  I don’t understand why I do this.  Can you help me?  John

Although Irritable Male Syndrome and Male Menopause can occur at any age, it is quite prevalent at mid-life. What is it about mid-life that causes men to become angry?  Why do they take it out on the person they say they love the most?   These are the kinds of questions I hear from women who are trying to understand what is going on in their relationship.

In order to understand what is going on with men at mid-life, we have to recognize that mid-life is a difficult time for women as well as men.  In fact, middle age is the worst time of life for most people.   [Read more…]

Are You (or are you married to) A Depressed Husband? Maybe It’s IMS – Take the Quiz

Irritable Male SyndromeAfter writing, The Irritable Male Syndrome:  Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I received hundreds of letters from women and men concerned about the impact that irritability and anger were having in their lives.  Many of which are about either being or married to a depressed husband.  This one is typical of the many I received:

“Last month a man came home from work with my husband’s face but he did not act at all like the man I married.  I’ve known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them and have never met this guy before.  Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to describe him.  He used to be the most upbeat, happy person I knew.  Now he’s gone from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to save our marriage.  Please, can you help me?”

We all get irritable and angry at times, but Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) has deeper roots.   In the book I describe a number of key symptoms of IMS, including hypersensitivity.

The women who live with these men say things like the following:

  • I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around him.
  • I never know when I’m going to say something that will set him off.
  • He’s like a time bomb ready to explode but I never know when.
  • Nothing I do pleases him.

The men don’t often recognize their own hypersensitivity.  Rather, their perception is that they are fine but everyone else is going out of their way to irritate them.  The guys say things like:

  • Quit bothering me.
  • Leave me alone.
  • No, nothing’s wrong.  I’m fine.
  • Or they don’t say anything.  They increasingly withdraw into a numbing silence.

Does this sound familiar?  If you think someone you love may be suffering from IMS, take this simple quiz to find out.

Think back over the last month.  How often have you (or your man) appeared :

Rarely  (1)        Sometimes  (2)        Often (3)

  1. Grumpy
  2. Jealous
  3. Gloomy
  4. Impatient
  5. Tense
  6. Hostile
  7. Lonely
  8. Stressed out
  9. Annoyed
  10. Touchy

Please add the numbers and compute your score which can range from 10 to 30.


10-15. This guy is on a pretty even keel.

16-22.  He can be a bear to live with at times.

23-30.  You’ve got a man who suffers from Irritable Male Syndrome which could lead to depression or aggression if not treated.

If you need immediate help please contact me with your specific concerns.  You may also find my books and this blog post valuable:

Jekyll and Hyde, Irritable Males, and Attachment Love: What Men, and the Women Who Love Them, Need to Know

What has been your experience with IMS?  What have you done that has helped?  What questions do you have that we can explore together?

Please share your comments and questions below.

Together we heal.