I learned a lot about who was suffering from the Irritable Male Syndrome from letters I received from men and women. Here are two that are typical of many. A 32-year-old man writes, “Over the past 3 years especially, I have noticed that my relationship with my wife has begun to deteriorate. In the past there were open displays of affection and frequent verbal affirmations. Now, I seem to be irritable all the time. My attitude seems to be ‘don\’t come near me, don\’t talk to me, I had a hard day, I want the entire world to piss off\’. She now rarely tries to hug me, never initiates sex, and talks to me probably about half as much as she used to. It\’s gotten to the point where I find out what\’s going on in her life from my mother or sisters. We\’re both miserable.

A 57-year-old woman sends a terse letter about the man she lives with. “Last January a man came home from work with my husbands face but did not act at all like him. I\’ve known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them and have never met THIS guy before. Mean, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to describe him.”

Women inevitably try one thing after another to help their guy. “I love him and I can\’t stand to see him feeling so miserable,” one woman told me. Another said she had to find a solution in order to maintain her own sanity. “He\’s driving me nuts. No matter what I do I can\’t seem to do anything right. One minute he is as nice as can be. The next, he acts like I\’m contaminated and can\’t stand to be near me.”

1. The first strategy is to ignore the problem, hoping it is temporary and will soon improve. You may tell yourself that he\’s just having stresses at work or the kids are at a particularly difficult stage. You think that these kinds of problems are part of life; that every marriage has its ups and downs, and things will soon improve. They won\’t. They\’ll likely get worse unless you do something differently.

2. The second strategy is to try harder to be nice, while he continues to be mean. Many of us, particularly women, are trained to be helpful and supportive. When your partner is obviously in pain you want to make things better. You try to be understanding and caring. You think this works, but it actually makes things worse. The nicer you are, the more guilty he feels about the way he is acting. Guilt leads to sadness and depression which in this case leads to more anger.

3. The third strategy is to blame yourself. After being criticized and blamed for everything from putting on weight to being less available for sex, you begin to think that maybe he is right. You know you aren\’t perfect and you have been overwhelmed with things lately. You start to feel guilty and ashamed. Stop it! This isn\’t your fault any more than his getting a disease like diabetes is your fault.

4. The forth strategy is to blame him. You don\’t understand why or how, but it\’s clear that he\’s changed. He acts like a real S.O.B. He\’s become disrespectful and mean. Sometimes you let him know directly what you think of him. At other times you make sarcastic comments that you know cut him to the quick. But hey, he started it. Maybe giving him a dose of his own medicine will wake him up. Well, it won\’t. It will just make you feel as lousy as he does.

5. The fifth strategy is to try and get him to change. You are sure that if only you could get him the help he needs things would get back to normal. You drop hints and you tell him directly that he needs to see someone–a doctor, a therapist, a counselor, a priest–anyone that can help him get well. You don\’t really think you\’re trying to change him, just help him. It doesn\’t work. He just feels more pressured.

6. The sixth strategy is to change yourself to become the person you think he wants. He clearly seems to be distancing himself, physically and emotionally. You\’re frightened and at times panicked. You think that if you could lose the weight, be more available, dress more sexily, be more adventuresome, he will turn back towards you and want you again. No, no, and no! First, changing yourself to please someone else will make you miserable. Second, he doesn\’t really know what he wants. As soon as you change one way, he wants you to be the other way. One minute he is the nice and helpful Dr. Jekyll. Without warning, however, he changes into the angry and aggressive Mr. Hyde.

The one strategy that will work, but is harder than hell to practice.

So, what\’s a woman to do? You love this guy, but you respect yourself. You don\’t want to leave him, but you\’re not willing to be the recipient of his abuse. The first thing you need to do is take care of yourself. To do that, you must remind yourself that you are not to blame for his behavior. If he came down with the flu and he was congested and out of sorts you wouldn\’t blame yourself, would you? But he is not to blame either. He is acting the way he does because he is “sick,” not in the physical sense, but on an emotional level.

Once you stop blaming yourself and stop blaming him, you can get back to being nice to you. Take a break, visit friends, go shopping, walk—do something to make yourself feel good. When you are feeling in better balance, then you can approach him. You want to tell him how you feel and what you need. You might say something like this: “Henry (Only use Henry if that\’s his name. If his name is John, it\’s better to call him John), I know you have been feeling frustrated and angry lately and God knows I have been out of sorts myself. I want you to do something for me because when you do it will make me feel wonderful and I love it when you make me feel wonderful. I want to you tell me three things you like about me. Would you be willing to do that?”

Don\’t get discouraged if things don\’t change immediately. That\’s why you need to keep taking care of yourself. Men who are suffering from Irritable Male Syndrome feel worse when they know they are treating their partner poorly. In their minds, their bad behavior is justified because they feel they are being treated badly. It\’s as though they are looking at you through glasses that make everything look negative and ugly. Your job is to offer him a different pair of glasses to look through. You need to get the guy to break the cycle of what Alcoholics Anonymous calls “Stinkin\’ Thinkin\’.”

Deep inside he knows you are not so bad. He just needs to get his mind looking in a positive direction. He needs to look at the world through new lenses. This is what you do when you ask him to tell you three things he likes about you. It will be difficult at first, but the more you ask, the more he will offer. Once he reminds himself of a few things he likes about you, he will begin to recognize more things and a positive cycle of appreciation can get rolling. Give it a try and let me know how it works out.

Jed is Founder and Director of the MenAlive, a health program that helps men live long and well. Though focused on men's health, MenAlive is also for women who care about the health of the men in their lives.