Does Male Irritability and Anger Undermine Your Marriage? Here are the 4 warning signs
I have been a marriage and family counselor for over fifty years and have helped more than 40,000 couples. One of the most common, but least understood, problems couples face is male irritability and anger (MIA). I first found out about the problem, even though it had no name at the time, when my own marriage was in trouble. My wife had tried to take me to a counselor for many months, but I did not want to ask for help, even though I had been a counselor myself for many years.
I finally agreed to see a counselor when she tearfully told me that something had to change. She said to me,
“I love you very much, but your anger destroys the feelings I have for you. Unfortunately, if we don’t get help soon, we won’t make it. ”
That caught my attention, big time. But it also scared me. What will we find when we start immersing ourselves in our lives? When she sees the real me – angry, scared, confused, unmanly – will she choose to leave me? How could I move on as a marriage and family counselor if I couldn’t fix my own marriage?
I agreed to see someone but reluctantly left. On the surface I said things like:
- “Why do you think this person can help us?”
- “We can do it ourselves.”
- “I’m not crazy and I don’t need shrinkage.”,
- “My friend Lanny went to a counselor with his wife and they split up.”
I was just scared inside, but I couldn’t admit it to myself or my wife. What helped me was reading a book by a therapist who talked about her own problems. In her book, An Unquiet Mind: Memoir of Moods and Madness, noted researcher and therapist Kay Redfield Jamison described her own illness.
“You’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding, and no reassurance is ever enough. You’re scared and you’re scared and “You’re not at all like yourself, but soon you will be” but you know you won’t. “
When I read these words, I had two reactions. The first was, “That’s me. I am all of these things. “The second was,“ If she can come out and tell the truth about her problems, so can I. ”After the first session with the therapist, I was less resilient, but still had trouble admitting that I might have problems always wanted to blame my wife.
What broke my refusal was a heartfelt letter my wife wrote to the doctor after our first session:
“What worries Jed the most is his rapid mood swings. He’s angry, accusatory, argumentative and blaming for a moment, and the next moment he buys me flowers, cards and leaves me loving notes. He’ll change from daggers on me to smiles and enthusiasm in an hour.
“He’s frustrated, red in the face, insists we have to talk, and then cuts me off when he judges I said something insulting to him. I get frozen inside and feel like it will be “wrong” for him no matter what I do or say. The intensity and the coldness in his eyes scare me in these times. I usually switch off and it takes a long time to feel open to him again. My openness, my trust and my joy in being together have suffered a lot. “
The 4 early warning signs of irritation syndrome
The women who live with these men say this:
- I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around him.
- I never know when I’ll say something that will trigger it.
- It’s like a time bomb ready to explode, but I never know when.
- He doesn’t like anything I do.
- Whenever I try to do nice things, he pushes me away.
- It will change in an instant. For a minute he is warm and friendly. The next time he’ll be cold and mean.
The men do not often recognize their own hypersensitivity. Rather, their perception is that they are fine, but everyone else is doing everything possible to irritate them. The guys say things like:
- Stop bothering me.
- Leave me alone.
- No, nothing is wrong. I’m fine.
- The children always … (fill in the blank). It’s usually something negative.
- You never … (Fill in the blank) E.g. want sex, do what I want to do, think before you open your mouth, do things right.
- You damn…. (Fill in the blank) e.g. fool, bitch. As the IMS progresses, the words become more hurtful.
- You say nothing. They increasingly withdraw into a deafening silence.
One concept that I’ve found helpful is the idea that many of us are “emotionally sunburned” but our partners don’t know. We could think of a man who is extremely sunburned and gets a loving hug from his wife. He screams in anger and pain. He assumes she knows he’s sunburned. If she “grabs” him, she has to try to hurt him. She has no idea that he is sunburned and cannot understand why he reacts angrily to her loving touch. You can see how this can lead a couple onto a road of escalating confusion.
Fear is a state of apprehension, insecurity, and fear that arises from the expectation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation. IMS men live in constant worry and fear. There are many real threats to deal with – sexual changes, job insecurities, relationship problems. Lots of uncertainties lead men to think and fantasize about future problems.
IMS men feel blocked when it comes to achieving what they want and need in life. They often don’t even know what they need. If they do, they may think that there is no way they can get it. They often feel defeated in the things they try to make their life better. These men are frustrated in their relationships with family, friends, and at work. The world is changing and they don’t know where, how or whether they fit in.
Author Susan Faludi captures this frustration in her book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. The frustration is expressed in the question at the center of their investigation into American men. “If, as is so often said, men are the dominant sex, why do so many of them feel dominated by the world?” This frustration, often hidden and undetected, is a key element of IMS.
4. Over-the-top anger.
We all get angry from time to time. But men suffering from irritable male syndrome express anger that is exaggerated and often relates to seemingly minor events.
Anger can be defined simply as a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. However, anger is a complex emotion. Outwardly, this can lead to aggression and violence. When turned inward, it can lead to 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.
For many men, anger is the only emotion they have learned to express. As we grow up male, we learn to avoid anything that is considered the least feminine. We are taught that men “do” while women “feel”. As a result, men learn to keep all emotions under wraps. We cannot show that we are hurt, afraid, worried, or in a panic. The only emotion many men are sometimes allowed to feel is anger. When men start going through IMS, it is often anger that is the primary emotion.
If these symptoms are not treated appropriately, they tend to get worse. The pressure builds up over a period of weeks, months and years. It often seems to explode out of the blue. One day he seems to be fine. Next time he says he’s had enough and wants to go. Most of the women I spoke to said they felt something was wrong, but they didn’t have the understanding and courage to deal with it directly. Don’t let this happen to you.
Many women suffer indirectly from IMS as they see the man they love becoming more and more unhappy, angry, and withdrawn. They also suffer directly as they become increasingly the target of his angry and unpredictable moods. The relationship they have lovingly built over the years is starting to crumble. It is more than painful. It’s a tragedy.
Don’t wait for the problems to get worse. I’ve written an entire book on dealing with these problems called The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Treating the Main Causes of Depression and Aggression. I’m offering the e-book version this month as a special offer. Check it out here. I look forward to your comments. Visit me at MenAlive.com/the-blog.
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