Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS), in Jed’s words, is “a state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration, and anger that occurs in males and is associated with biochemical changes, hormonal fluctuations, stress, and loss of male identity.” Men with IMS will often take out their frustration and anger on their partners.
I interviewed Jed Diamond about IMS and how it might affect you and your relationship:
JP: You talk about IMS as starting in midlife. How does it progress through the senior years if steps aren’t taken to change it?
JD: Although IMS can occur at any age. It is most prevalent at midlife. The four main causes include: Hormonal fluctuations, changes in brain chemistry, increased stress, and confusion about male identity and roles. I recommend, for instance, that all men have their hormone levels checked throughout their lives, but particulalry as they reach mid-life. For many men, drops in levels of testosterone or other hormone imbalances can cause real problems with sexuality and health. With these issues are not addressed at mid-life, men become grumpier, more irritable, withdrawn, frustrated, and angry as they age.
JP: Describe Mr. Mean.
JD: I use the term “Mr. Mean” to describe men who have not dealt effectively with Irritable Male Syndrome. These men are often driven by aggression, either expressed directely, or more often suppressed. As a result they often seem: Grumpy, angry, gloomy, impatient, tense, hostile, lonely, and stressed. They don’t seem comfortable in their own skin. They may drink too much, become consumed with their work, or escape in other ways.
JP: How is Mr. Mean’s partner reacting to this?
JD: She often feels like she is “walking on egg shells.” She doesn’t know how he will react. Sometimes he is easy going, loving, and tender. But he may also fly off the handle and react with anger. Or he may simply withdraw into hostile silence. She may go out of her way to be kind and understanding, but she is confused about what is going on with him. It may seem like she is living with a partner who can change from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Without help and support, she can feel increasingly alone and hopeless.
JP: How does IMS affect the couple’s sex life, especially in the senior years?
JD: A good sex life rests on the foundation of safety and trust. If a person can act like Mr. Wonderful on one occassion and Mr. Mean on another, its difficult to feel secure or intimate. Without intimacy, sex either becomes more of a duty than a joy, or it occurs less and less often and the relationship suffers. Without the hormonal intensity of youth, sex relies even more on caring, trust, and intimacy. Irritable Male Syndrome can undermines that trust.
JP: How does the woman typically react when this change happens in their sexual relationship?
JD: Most women I counsel feel very confused. They don’t understand what is going on with their partner. He may often blame her for things he feels she isn’t doing right. She often feels “battered” by his stormy reactions. He may be very demanding sexually or he may totally ignore her. He often feels like she is riding a roller-coaster that is in danger of going off the rails. She often is desperate to reclaim the calm she may have rememebered and to get back to the joy and intimacy they may have had in the past. If the couple can talk about what is going on, there are many things they can do together to reclaim the good feelings that may have gotten lost.
JP: Give us some tips for talking about sex when this is going on.
JD: Before a couple can talk easily about sex, they have to feel a level of trust. If the trust is being undermined by IMS, that needs to be dealt with first. If hormone levels are out of balance, they need to be brought back in line. Hormone replacement therapy can be considered, but men can also benefit from changes in diet, exercise, changes in mind-set. Often men at this age need to reclaim their vision of who they are and what they have to contribute in the world. Women often support each other in finding the generative qualities of aging. Men need to learn to do that as well.
JP: Many of my readers are single at age 50-80+ and are dating. Are single Mr. Means out there dating? If so, at what point in a new relationship does IMS start showing itself?
JD: For some, we can see the following kinds of traits very quickly. The man is often annoyed, touchy, jealous, irritable, and negative. For others, he may give the appreance of being easy-going and upbeat, but the IMS qualities come out later. Other men are genuinely joyous, but there may be new changes that can trigger IMS symptoms. His hormone levels may drop too low. His diet may be bad and he may put on extra weight. He may not be exercising. There may be physical and emotional losses that may be difficult to deal with. The key for the man, and for those who care about him, is to learn about the positive things that can be done to stay healthy and joyous throughout our lives. We are given the gift of these years. We want to use them wisely and well.
Jed Diamond, PhD, author of Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome, is director of MenAlive, a program that helps men, and the women who love them. Diamond is the author of eight previous books, including Male Menopause and the Irritable Male Syndrome.