Irritable Male Syndrome: High on Stress

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Bring your irritable man back to life this Valentine's Day.

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

Harold, age 44, has a not-so-typical Valentines Day dilemma. It's not that he doesn't know what to get for his wife, it's that he doesn't want to get her anything!

"I love my wife [and] I know she expects something nice for Valentine's Day -- candy, flowers, or a romantic card -- but I hate to go through the motions when I just don't feel much passion," he says.

Nodding your head in agreement or sympathy?

You or your partner may be experiencing irritable male syndrome (IMS), which is marked by plummeting levels of the hormone testosterone while under stress. As a result, men may feel withdrawn, frustrated, anxious, sad, and/or lack interest or enthusiasm in just about everything - including you!

Cupid Is Stupid

And often IMS can be more noticeable around holidays like Valentine's Day.

"The problem with Valentine's Day for men who are experiencing IMS is they know they should feel loving and romantic, but they just don't," says Jed Diamond, author of several books including the forthcoming Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing the Four Key Causes of Male Depression and Aggression.

For men, Diamond says, "this very confusing because they don't know what's going on inside them."

Women also feel the effects of IMS on Valentine's Day, says Diamond, a clinical psychotherapist and director of MenAlive, a health center in northern California. "You start thinking about when you first met and the romance was still there, and now your man isn't terribly romantic and it seems like everything about you bothers him," he says. "This can be devastating."

But you are not alone.

IMS is highly common and affects many aspects of life -- 365 days of the year, according to a new study of 10,000 men. Specifically, 46% of men say that they are often or almost always stressed and 55% say they often or almost always have a strong fear of failure. Moreover, 62% have a strong desire to get away from it all, and 40% say they are rarely or never sexually satisfied. The full study results will appear in Diamond's upcoming book.

Use It or Lose It

This Valentine's Day, "couples can either go through the motions and pretend that nothing is wrong, or they can use this holiday of love to re-examine their relationship and see if IMS may be leading them down the wrong path," he says.

"Generally, the first step is to reaffirm that you care about each other," he says. And then say something like 'tell me what you are really feeling and what you are needing because love doesn't flow the way it did or should,' he suggests. Or say, 'Look, I do love you, but something is going on that we need to talk about.'

"Hopefully couples can use Valentine's Day for talking about the deeper love that they have for one another and the blocks that may be getting in the way," he says.

"Let him know that you are aware that he is in pain and say you will listen and be sympathetic; emphasizing that you are the partner," suggests Larrian Gillespie, MD, a retired Southern California urologist and author of The Gladiator Diet: How to Preserve Peak Health, Sexual Energy, and A Strong Body at Any Age.

And "take the reins for the romantic evening because if you expect him to do it, you will lose," she says.

Plan a Testosterone-Boosting Feast

"One of the key factors in IMS is dietary influence because foods affect testosterone," she says. "A diet rich in high-glycemic carbs such as potato chips, white breads, and white pasta will lower testosterone levels," she says.

Make his Valentine's Day more lovey by preparing a meal of lean meat, vegetables, and whole-wheat pasta or rice, she says. Serve a glass of heart-healthy red wine over a mug of beer, especially dark beer.

Avoid licorice, which can be found in some breath mints and may make kisses sweeter, but can lower testosterone levels, she says. Instead, tempt him with dark chocolate. A review of studies shows that dark chocolate is good for your heart because it is rich in flavonoids that help decrease the LDL "bad" cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of heart disease.

Published Feb. 12, 2004.

SOURCES: Jed Diamond, clinical psychotherapist; author, Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing the Four Key Causes of Male Depression and Aggression. Larrian Gillespie, MD, retired urologist; author, The Gladiator Diet: How to Preserve Peak Health, Sexual Energy, and A Strong Body at Any Age.

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