The Guaranteed Cure for “Grumpy Guy” Syndrome

He’s an involved dad. He’s respected at church. People come to him for advice. He’s an all-around great guy but more and more often he seems to transform into “Mister Grumpy” when he gets home. Either small things seem to upset him, or he easily becomes withdrawn – or both.

Wish there was a prescription that would turn your husband back into the confident, engaging man you married? Well, there is… but it’s nothing he takes in. It is something you can change about what you send out. Because unless he is clinically depressed (and if he is, that’s a different topic), the issue goes deeper than any medication can reach.

After surveying thousands of men for For Women Only and other books, I’ve seen this one overwhelming truth: being grumpy and withdrawn are the top signals of a man who is feeling inadequate and unappreciated.

Twitter_bird_logo-300x242Tweet this: “Being grumpy and withdrawn are the top signals of a man who is feeling inadequate and unappreciated.

Keep in mind that men are different mental animals than women. Their brains function in a very different way. When your husband tells you how much he loves you, it touches you deeply. But as strange as it sounds, when you do the same back to him—simply saying that you love him—it doesn’t help him feel loved. What your husband is begging for you to communicate is your respect and approval. He aches to hear from you that he measures up and that he’s good enough for you. But if he doesn’t feel that way, a black cloud settles over him.

Here’s how you can share that he does measure up, in a way that will almost always lift the black cloud over your man.

Twitter_bird_logo-300x242Tweet this: “What your husband is begging for you to communicate is your respect and approval.

Action #1: Realize that he is secretly vulnerable – and needs you to notice what he does.

Remember that teenage boy who would flex his muscles in front of the cheerleaders? We all knew that boys did that because they were secretly insecure, right? Well, that teenage boy still lives deep down inside of your husband — and you’re his cheerleader. Secretly, even the most confident looking man is secretly doubting himself. The more inadequate he feels about what he does in the little daily tasks of life, the more sad and grumpy he will be.

Being his cheerleader changes all of that.

So, notice what he does well, every day, in the little things of life… and let him know that you notice it and think he does well at it. It can be something as simple as “Thanks for filling up the car, honey” or something as meaningful as, “Honey, I know you’re tired tonight. Thanks for working so hard. I love how committed you are to providing for our family.”

Action #2: Avoid “helpful” comments unless they are truly essential

Giving what we think of as “helpful” comments is a sneaky but huge way we sabotage the happy man we most want. “Oh honey, thanks for doing the dishes but they don’t go in the dishwasher that way,” is surprisingly annoying and painful to a guy. As one morose husband told me, “It’s the ‘no thank you’ thank-you.”

Why? Because remember: he’s already doubting himself. And if he’s already feeling inadequate, it makes perfect sense that instead of hearing “helpful,” he’ll likely translate your words into the very thing he dreads hearing the most: “You’re not doing it right. What you did wasn’t good enough. You don’t measure up.”

It might sound odd to us as women, but when a guy feels inadequate he often begins to think “Why should I even try? Nothing I do is good enough for her.” If it happens consistently, he’s likely to move from frustrated to grumpy to total shut down.

Now, of course, some helpful comments are truly essential. If he’s dressed the kids in swim gear, but you’d learned that they are going to the movies instead, well, yes, that would be a time you need to say something!

But most of the time, those ‘helpful’ comments are not truly essential. So instead of asking why he did a task in a certain way or pointing how you would do it differently (or getting annoyed that “he’s so oversensitive!”), look for the good in his efforts and appreciate them. After all, even though he may have loaded the dishwasher differently, the dishes were still cleaned!

Action #3: Affirm Him in the Bedroom

Physical intimacy does far, far more for our husbands than we realize. If your husband is like most men, sex for him is not primarily a physical need: it is an emotional need to feel that you desire him, and that you think he does measure up as a husband. Again, speaking to that deep worry in his heart in a positive way builds him up – and in a negative or neglectful way tears him down.

Imagine that your husband rarely or never talked to you, never filled the emotional need of your soul to connect, to be listened to. You asked him what happened today and he smiled and yawned and walked out of the room. Would not you feel morose and grumpy after a while? That is how men feel when their longing to sexually connect with their wives goes unfulfilled.

Also, for your man, sex is very likely a way he instinctively wants to connect with you and rebuild any closeness that has been lost during a hectic day or a crazy week. See it for what it is. Respond to the emotional desire behind his physical desire, and you’ll soon see grumpy guy a lot less often.

Want to know how to be kind, when you’re really not feeling it? My research uncovered three daily actions that will transform your relationships – and you. Check out The Kindness Challenge, now available!

Helping people thrive in life and relationships is Shaunti Feldhahn’s driving passion, supported by her research projects and writing. After starting out with a Harvard graduate degree and experience on Wall Street, her life took an unexpected shift into relationship research. She now is a popular speaker around the world and the author of best-selling books about men, women, and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).

Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge, demonstrates that kindness is the answer to almost every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit for more.

This post first appeared at Patheos.

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  1. I know you’re trying to help build up marriages by giving us research and insight into how our husbands think and feel. But I don’t think men understand that when they wound us with their words, it shuts down our emotions, and it definitely shuts down our libido. Maybe I just need to vent, but my husband told me to get out of the car this weekend, followed by stuff it up your ass. I never say those things to him. So do men have a different threshold for wounding words? If criticism (or lack of praise) gets them in the dumps, do they think that talking to us the way they’d talk to another guy makes us feel loved, appreciated, or respected? I’ve been married a long time, and I have no tolerance for being treated worse than anyone else in his life. I cried for an hour, and he still doesn’t comprehend how unacceptable his words were. Either that, or I’m questioning if he’s just losing it mentally at this point.

    1. As a guy with 32 years of “combat experience”, sorry I meant to say wedded bliss, I can tell you that there are not many things I can imagine being worse than trapped in a car with a complaining spouse. I am sure ladies would agree if shoe was on other foot. Or silent treatment mabe?

      Not only pick your battles, but it is just as important to pick your ground.

      On a separate note, I always hear women talking about needing to “talk”. My question has always been where is it written that you have to “talk” with your clothes on? Sounds like good time management opportunity to me. Humor aside, why is it when couples DO miraculously make it to a bedroom, THEN the wife decides to clam up! I have been BEGGING my dearly beloved to talk to me in bed for our entire marriage. And NOT just during fun time either!

      Bedroom door closes and it is crickets!

      Aaaaoooogah! Must shut down. Danger, danger if I say a single word I might have to say the “S” word. Have to stay strong! Must keep ankle length flannel night gown intact and all 300 buttons fastened! Must gatekeep at all costs! Be ready to refuse! What is the “excuse of the day”? Oh no! Did I use that one yesterday?

      Good night honey. Crickets!

      32 years of “holy deadlock”! HA!

  2. my husband moved out of our bedroom nearly six years ago and sleeps behind a locked door as far from me as he can and still be in the house…sex is not an option. He loves the dog and ignores me. tried all your ideas and still the most lonely women on the planet…help!!!!!!

    1. My wife tried that once. Let’s just say that is where we drew the line.

      She can keep it glacier cold if she wants to, whenever she wants to, but I told her before we got married 32 years ago that wasn’t going to happen. Not getting married to sleep alone.

      About only thing we agreed to before marriage that is intact probably. HA!

      Silly thing is she usually ends up cuddled next to me until she wakes up and “catches herself” being close. Then it is back to her ice castle.

  3. Thank you for this! Feeling the grumpy guy come out big this week. He was overlooked for a work event that he should’ve been included in. It happens a lot at work. He is in a high managerial role but gets overlooked for things that his predecessor was included in. I’ll have to make sure I’m being more intentional about appreciating him at home.

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