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The Irritable Male Syndrome:

Why Midlife Men Turn Mean and What

You Can Do To Save Yourself and Rescue
Your Relationship

By Jed Diamond, PhD, LCSW


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 understand it."

"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 attacked."

"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found that as testosterone levels fell, rams became nervous and withdrawn, striking out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 Questionnaire

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.

1. Angry
2. Impatient
3. Blaming
4. Dissatisfied
5. Sarcastic
6. Anxious
7. Hypersensitive
8. Unappreciated
9. Tense
10. Unloving
11. Hostile
12. Argumentative
13. Depressed
14. Frustrated
15. Withdrawn
16. Sad
17. Defiant
18. Defensive
19. Demanding
20. Troubled
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

1. If you think you are experiencing IMS, talk it over with your partner or someone
you trust.
2. 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.
3. Have your testosterone levels checked, since this is often one of the causes of
4. Take a look at the level of stress in your life. See what you can change to make
your life more peaceful.
5. 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 painting.
6. 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 helpful.
7. If you think you may be depressed, talk to a health-care professional.
8. Don't wait until the problem gets worse to do something. Act now.
9. If your "acting out" is becoming verbally or physically abusive or your "acting in"
is causing you to feel hopeless or depressed, seek professional help.

Visit Jed at