Testosterone gives men superpowers — but it can also turn them into monsters. T helps men be bold, courageous, assertive, heroic, and athletic. But it also contributes to men’s risk taking, anger, sexual obsessions, and a host of antisocial be- haviors. T helps fill prisons, bordellos, stadiums, and barracks.
Both men’s and women’s bodies produce T, but men typically produce ten to twenty times more testosterone than women do. It’s associated with dominance, physicality, and self-esteem. Put two men in a boxing ring, boardroom, or billiard parlor, and the man with the most T usually wins.
So what does all this mean for you and your husband?
First, understand that T level is important, but it’s just one of many factors that affect him. Aggression (or lack of it) is not always a direct result of a man’s T count. Psycho- logical, environmental, and physiological factors often play important roles in men’s behavior.
Some men use testosterone as an excuse for boorish or sinful behavior. “I’m a man — I can’t help it,” the saying goes. Malarkey. Many men with high T levels manage to control their desires, just as many men with low T compete at a high level in sports and business.
Different people have different levels of the hormone, and they learn to deal with its effects. But this much is true: High T men will have to work harder on their self-control than low T men will. Conversely, low T men will probably experience less motivation and drive, and may have to train themselves to be more assertive.
If your husband is in his twenties or early thirties, he will probably crave physical activity and exercise more than you do, thanks to T. Young men absolutely need to move around and work out. They are naturally more fidgety than women and have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time without a break. As T levels decline with age, so does a man’s get-up-and-go.
As your husband’s T levels decrease over time, you may notice a few positives. He’ll probably exhibit increased self- control. His personality may mellow. He may become more introspective and emotive. Hopefully his lusts will subside and he’ll only have eyes for you.
But your husband will probably see his declining T as mostly negative. He will lose many of the attributes that define him as a man. Physical stamina — weakened. Waist- line — expanded. Work ethic — diminished. Energy — depleted. Motivation — limited. Sexual potency — waning. Worst of all, he will become invisible to women. Waitresses who used to flirt with him at the coffee shop will ask him if he qualifies for the senior discount.
And this is what your husband isn’t telling you: He mourns these losses. He knows it’s just a part of life, but he’s not happy about it. He needs understanding as he adjusts to the fact that he’s no longer young, powerful, and immortal. Most men force themselves not to think about their own physical declines. They fail to take reasonable steps to stem their deterioration (diet, exercise, etc.) because it’s easier to be in denial, which is the most common symptom of self-protection.
Even if men were willing to talk about their loss of vigor, who would listen? Men generally don’t share their weaknesses and fears with one another. Rare is the man who would say to one of his friends, “Hey, I’m having trouble concentrating at work. I’m falling behind the younger guys.” Men even avoid talking to their doctors about “old guy” issues such as baldness, erectile dysfunction, and frequent urination because of the stigma attached. To admit that he is losing his strength is a huge psychological blow to a man.
So if he can’t talk to his friends and won’t talk to his doc- tor, maybe your husband will talk to you about his declining performance? Not a chance. Most men do not like to admit weaknesses to their wives for a number of reasons. Here aare three: (1) It’s very important to your husband that you see him as strong, competent, and in control; (2) he’s afraid you might worry if he admits he’s losing his edge; and (3) he’s certainly not going to tell you he misses the attention of younger women.
One man put it this way: “If I told my wife I was feeling unmotivated at work, she might think I’m lazy, or she might freak out and think we’re going to end up impoverished. I know one guy who was honest with his wife about his struggles at work and within a year she had left him for a wealthy physician. So I just keep these things to myself and pretend nothing is changing. Well, everything is changing and I don’t know what to do about it.”
Here’s what a lot of men do about it: the male midlife crisis.
Typically a man in his forties or fifties notices the effects of his decreasing T level. He begins secretly longing for those pre-married days when life was simpler, responsibilities were lighter, thrills were common, health was perfect, and possibilities were limitless. He also remembers enjoying the attentions of multiple women. Naturally he begins to fantasize about a return to that halcyon era.
For a lot of men, fantasy is where it ends. Or they choose a relatively benign way to live out their dreams. They trade their reliable old minivan for a convertible. They become obsessed with sports or outdoor pursuits. They buy that motorcycle they’ve always wanted. Some join a geezer rock band or launch a new career. (This is what I did. I published my first book at age forty-four.)
But occasionally a middle-aged man will revert to the irrational, hormone-driven risk taker he was as a teen — only this time he’s more dangerous because he’s got money. He joins a gym, a tanning salon, and a hair club for men. He buys the toys. He abandons his wife and children and hooks up with a woman twenty-five years his junior. It’s all a desperate at- tempt to prove to his peers (and to himself) he’s still “got it.”
This is what happened to John Edwards, the 2004 U.S. vice- presidential nominee. Edwards was a rising star, handsome, and articulate. Many expected him to be president one day.
But he threw it all away by having an affair with a campaign videographer. In a moment of utter insanity, he allowed her to shoot a professional-quality tape of them in the midst of coitus. She got pregnant. The tape was leaked to the media. In less than a week, Edwards lost his marriage, his family, his reputation, and his career.
Adapted from What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You
Copyright © 2012 by David Murrow, published by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Used by permission.