Linda Lewis Griffith

Easily irritated? Maybe it’s irritable male syndrome

We all know about grumpy old men. They’re the irascible geezers who complain about their food, snap at their wives and are perpetually unhappy about everything.

But these guys aren’t trying to be difficult. Research indicates there’s a medical condition that may be responsible for their sour moods.

The term irritable male syndrome (IMS) was first used by Dr. Gerald Lincoln of the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland, who studied the mating cycle of Soay sheep.

He noticed that the rams’ testosterone levels rose sharply in the fall when they mated. When the sheep’s testosterone levels decreased in the winter, the animals lost interest in sex, became nerv ous and withdrawn and tended to strike out irrationally at their environments.

Dr. Jed Diamond, author of “The Irritable Male Syndrome,” describes a similar phenomenon in men.

He defines IMS as a state of hypersensitivity, anxiety, frustration and anger that occurs in males and is associated with hormonal fluctuations, stress and loss of male identity. The age of onset is between 40 and 60.

Additional symptoms include impatience, blaming, chronic dissatisfaction, sarcasm, and feeling useless and unappreciated.

It’s not difficult to understand why this happens. Testosterone levels wane just as most men are ending their careers. They feel a decrease of libido and energy as they’re losing social stature, responsibility and control. They must determine who they are and what their new roles in the family and community will be.

While men seldom recognize the problem themselves, their wives are often the target of their unhappiness.

“My husband blows up over the least little thing,” a client recently confided to me. “No matter how hard I try to please him, he’s never happy anymore.”

Husbands may no longer want to engage in activities they previously enjoyed, forcing wives to make a choice between their spouses and their family and friends.

We can’t turn back the clock. Our bodies and our relationships are forever in a state of flux. IMS is merely one more adaptation we all must make as we age.


Know you’re not alone. You’re certainly not the only guy who’s unhappy about his loss of physical and emotional prowess.

Find activities you enjoy. Maybe you can’t do the same things you could when you were 20. Still, there’s plenty that you can do now. View this as a time to explore new options.

Be with people. Friends are good for your psyche. Meet them for breakfast, a hike or a golf game. They’ll jump-start your morale and make you feel valued.

Get help. Talk to your doctor about your physical symptoms. Seek counseling for depression or emotional issues that interfere with everyday tasks. Professionals are trained to assist with your problems. You need to make the call.


Be patient. He doesn’t want to be cross and unpleasant. He’s unhappy about this, too. View this as one more phase to adapt to. You know it won’t be your last!

Don’t take it personally. His outbursts may be unpleasant, but they’re not directed at you. Detach from his negative behavior so you can keep it in perspective.

Keep things light. Don’t get bogged down by his gloomy mindset. Never argue about his point of view. Direct conversations toward more pleasant topics. Both of you are depending on your rosier outlook.

Love him, love him, love him. Remind him of his strengths. Reminisce about great times you’ve shared. Thank him often for all he’s done over the years.

Look for activities you both enjoy. Try new outings and new groups of people. Vary the times you are away. Notice what things seem to create less stress and repeat those as often as you can.

Be realistic. No matter how much you try, you may not be able to improve your mate’s behavior. Do the best you can. Accept the final outcome.

Take care of yourself. Allow ample time for friends, social outings and family. Get plenty of exercise, rest and nourishing food. Accept offers of love and support. It’s imperative that you recharge your emotional battery so you can continue to assist your spouse.