Today we are delighted to welcome Dr. Jed Diamond to our blog’s Virtual Book Tour. Jed is the author of Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome. He is the director of MenAlive, a program that helps men and the women who love them. Mr. Mean answers critical questions that women and men have about how they can heal themselves, their partners and their relationships. Now see for yourself:
Nourishing Relationships: How did you come to write this book?
Jed Diamond: When my previous book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, was published in 2004, I began getting letters from women and men throughout the world telling me I had struck a chord and the book was helpful in saving their relationship. This is a typical response I received from a man:
Dear Dr. Jed,
I am a 45 year old man going through a divorce. I found your website, took the IMS quiz and scored 161, but didn’t seek help at the time. I thought I could handle things myself. That was a big mistake. If I had truly understood what I was dealing with I would have been able to see my relationships in a more realistic manner and I would probably still be in my house with my loved ones enjoying the holidays instead of being kicked out and on my own.
I wrote this book in order to help the thousands of women and men whose relationships are being destroyed by IMS.
N R: Why did you choose the title Mr. Mean?
J D: I chose the title because so many of the men suffering from IMS express their pain through anger and blame and often come across as being angry and “mean.” Here’s a typical letter I received from a woman:
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 Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean. In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to save our marriage. Please, can you help me?
N R: You say your goal is to help 42,000 families in the 42 days between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Tell us about what you’re doing.
J D: This year Mother’s Day is May 9 and Father’s Day is June 20th. I know there are thousands of men and women who are suffering the effects of IMS. I want to reach 42,000 families to offer them the support they need to get through these difficult times.
People can go to my website at www.MenAlive.com. They can order a copy of the book and get additional free bonuses. In addition I’ve partnered with Scribd.com, the largest website for social publishing and reading in the world with more than 50,000,000 visitors a month. On Scribd people will be able to read my book, make comments, ask questions, even publish their own experiences. Come to my website to learn more.
N R: In the book you describe your own difficulties dealing with irritability and anger in your own life. Can you tell us about that?
J D: When I hit my early 40s I found myself becoming more hypersensitive and irritable. Little things started bothering me. I didn’t realize I was going through some kind of change. It seemed to be that other people, particularly my wife Carlin, were going out of their way to irritate me. I would often fly off the handle and get angry. At other times I would withdraw into stony silences. My wife complained that she was always walking on egg shells. She never knew whether I would be loving and caring or mean and angry. We were both miserable. It took me a long time to figure out that I was going through what I came to call The Irritable Male Syndrome or IMS.
N R: What are the primary symptoms and causes?
J D: I have found there are four core symptoms:
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.
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.
One concept I have found helpful is the notion that many of us are “emotionally sunburned,” but our partners don’t know it. We might think of a man who is extremely sunburned and gets a loving hug from his wife. He cries out in anger and pain. He assumes she knows he’s sunburned so if she “grabs” him she must be trying to hurt him. She has no idea he is sunburned and can’t understand why he reacts angrily to her loving touch. You can see how this can lead a couple down a road of escalating confusion.
Anxiety is a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic, or fantasized, threatening event or situation. IMS men live in constant worry and fear. There are many real threats that they are dealing with—sexual changes, job insecurities, relationship problems. There are also many uncertainties that lead men to ruminate and fantasize about future problems.
IMS men feel blocked in attaining what they want and need in life. They often don’t even know what they need. When they do know, they may think there’s no way they can get it. They often feel defeated in the things they try to do to improve their lives. These men feel frustrated in their relationships with family, friends, and at work. The world is changing and they don’t know where, how, or if they fit in.
Anger can be simply defined as a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. Yet anger is a complex emotion. Outwardly expressed it can lead to aggression and violence. When it is turned inward it can result in depression and suicide. Anger can be direct and obvious or it can be subtle and covert. Anger can be loud or quiet. It can be expressed as hateful words, hurtful actions, or in stony silence. The primary causes of IMS are: Hormonal fluctuations, Biochemical changes in brain chemistry, Increasing stress, Loss of male identity and purpose.
These four often interact with each other. For instance, when we are under stress it throws our hormonal balance out of whack. When we lose are job or are afraid of losing it, our male identity is threatened and hormones like testosterone plummet.
N R: How do you know if a man is suffering from IMS?
J D: In doing the research for The Irritable Male Syndrome, I developed questionnaire that can help men (and the women who love them) to determine whether they are suffering from IMS. More than 60,000 men and thousands of women have taken the questionnaire. People can do it on-line at www.IMSquiz.com. The score can help you determine if IMS is a problem in your life.
N R: Why do so many mid-life men turn mean?
J D: Although Irritable Male Syndrome 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.
Not all men experience all these losses, but most men experience many of them:
•Hormone levels are dropping.
•Sexual vigor is diminishing.
•Erections are less frequent and less firm.
•Children are leaving home.
•Parents are getting sick and dying.
•Job horizons are narrowing.
•Job security is gone.
•Retirement seems less and less possible.
•Friends are having their first heart attacks and cancer scares.
•Hopes and dreams are fading away.
But with recognition and support, mid-life can also be the most powerful, productive, and passionate time that we’ve ever experienced in our lives.
N R: Can hormonal changes cause men to become more irritable?
J D: Although many people associate being “hormonal” with being female, the truth is that male hormonal changes are every bit as real and can be as troublesome as any changes that women experience. It’s time we broke the silence and began talking about the fact that men, too, undergo hormonal changes throughout their lives.
Dr. Gerald Lincoln, who coined the term “Irritable Male Syndrome,” found that lowering levels of testosterone in his research animals caused them to become more irritable, biting their cages as well as the researchers who were testing them. Low testosterone also has a negative affect on men. Although low testosterone is more prevalent in men over 40, it can occur in men of any age.
N R: How do you get through to a man who refuses to admit he has a problem?
J D: Ninety percent of the men who are going through IMS don’t recognize that there is a problem. When asked, they will usually deny that anything is wrong. If pressed, they will withdraw or lash out. Most spouses of IMS men feel they are caught in a bind. “I feel I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” a 56-year-old woman, married to an IMS man told me. “If I try to help him recognize there is a problem, he resists me and things get worse between us. If I ignore the problem, things just get worse and I feel that I keep getting emotionally battered. What can I do?”
1. Take a deep breath, relax, and move towards the problem.
2. Think about helping yourself, rather than helping him.
3. Recognize his anger and “meanness” as expressions of his inner ambivalence and woundedness.
4. Act like the Velvet Bulldog. Be gentle but tenacious.
5. Take things a step at a time. Denial releases its grip gradually at first.
N R: What are things you can do right away to keep the relationship from going under?
J D: Although repairing the damage caused by IMS can take some time, there are things a woman can do right away to keep the relationship from going under, including the following:
2.Reach out and connect with what is stable in your life.
3.Just say “no”! No about moving out, etc.
4.Remember his brain is locked on to the “old witch,” but it can change back to the “young woman.”
5.Stand up for yourself.
NR: Thanks so much, Jed, for joining us today. You’ve been so generous with your time and knowledge about this sensitive topic and we appreciate your honesty and wisdom. You can learn more about Jed’s work and Mr. Mean at MenAlive.
We’re also grateful to the readers and sandwiched boomers who have dropped by. If you have questions for Jed about the challenges of living with a partner who is going through emotional changes that are affecting your relationship, please click on “Comments” and let us hear from you. And log on again tomorrow and we’ll be summarizing your questions and Jed’s feedback.