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.
After studying a variety of male mammals, he coined the term, “irritable male syndrome” and wondered whether a similar thing might occur in human males. My research indicated that it did. I went to visit Dr. Lincoln and shared my own results at the University where he was reaching. I thought “irritable male syndrome” captured what we were both seeing and I later wrote a book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, to help women better understand what was going on with the men and to help couples heal.
Although male anger can have many causes, I found there were four common ones at the root of Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) and helps explain the question, “Why is my husband so mean to me?”:
- Hormonal fluctuations
We often think of high testosterone causing men to become more irritable and angry. This is true for the small group of sportsmen who might take hormone-like substances to increase strength, but most men suffer from low testosterone. This not only causes men to become irritable and angry, but can also cause them to become depressed. In fact, we know that one of the primary symptoms of male-type depression is male irritability and anger.
- Changes in brain chemistry
Most people have heard of the brain neurotransmitter, serotonin. When we have enough flowing through our brains, we feel good. When there isn’t enough we feel bad. Siegfried Meryn, M.D., author of Men’s Health and the Hormone Revolution calls serotonin “the male hormone of bliss.”
One of the most common causes of low serotonin levels is our eating habits. For instance, research has shown that protein, if consumed in excessive quantity, suppresses central nervous system serotonin levels. Men often eat too much meat and not enough healthy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, carrots, and corn.
- Increasing stress
Feeling stressed out seems to be a regular presence in most people’s lives. Since humans are so adaptable we get used to the worries about money, our jobs, our health, the corruptions in politics, and the thousand little “yips” we get every time our phone goes “beep” to tell us another message is demanding our attention.
But one of the core stresses for men these days is that we don’t feel we can fulfill our primary role to be protectors and providers. When women are afraid, they often reach out to others. Men fight or flee. We see this with husbands who are becoming increasingly angry and increasingly withdrawn.
- Loss of male identity and purpose
We live in a world where most of the people in power are men. It’s easy to assume that all feel empowered. But the truth is that most men feel seriously dis-empowered. The men I see in my practice often feel like they are holding on for dear life, just trying to keep things together. They feel rudderless and alone. They have few close friends and hunger to be cared for, but feel ashamed at feeling “needy.”
What You Can Do to Help Yourself
It’s not surprising that these guys take out their anger at the people closest to them, their wives and families. Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things both a man and woman can do. Here are a few:
- Understanding is the first step for changing things for the better.
The more you understand about why men are the way they are, the more you can help. If you feel this article was helpful, I have a special offer for readers to be able to get a free e-book copy of my book, Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from The Irritable Male Syndrome. Drop me an email and put Mr. Mean in the subject line. I’ll send you details.
- Understanding does not mean accepting being abused.
Being more empathetic starts with being good to yourself. It’s O.K. to say, “I know this is a stressful time for you and I know sometimes I contribute to your stress, but it isn’t O.K. for you to yell at me or put me down. That’s not good for either of us.”
- Some men are ready to get help, most are still afraid.
Many women will read my articles and books, think they are helpful, and think “If only I could get my husband to read this, things would start to get better. For some guys, all they need is a nudge and they read the article or book things begin to change. Most interpret your efforts to help him as “There’s something wrong with me” and it creates more resistance. If he resists, don’t push.
- Support your man, by focusing on yourself.
I can’t tell you how many women have taken the IMS quiz or read my books and learned a lot themselves. Rather than trying to convince their husbands to learn what they’re learning, they use reverse psychology. They make notes, underline passages, but tell their husbands, “This is just for me. You wouldn’t be interested.” It’s not long before he’s sneaking a look and reading the book when she’s not around.
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