Psychotherapist Jed Diamond, Ph.D., built a million-dollar, one-man business helping couples stay married. He is the author of nearly 20 books on men’s health such as the bestseller Male Menopause, and on relationships, such as The Enlightened Marriage: The Five Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best Is Still To Come. In December, he published Survive and Thrive in the Post-COVID World: Your Guide to a Partnership Future.
Diamond, 77, has scaled back his business since its busiest years and spends a lot of his time these days with his wife, five children, 17 grandchildren and one great grand daughter. Nonetheless, he’s still very active in writing books and a blog at MenAlive and the Good Men Project, running his own publishing house, and leading MenAlive, a health program for men.
“I want to help people,” says Diamond. “I want to make the help available when people need it and let as many people know about it as I can. The advantage of a one-person business, or a small business, is you can be very responsive if you have something you want to get out quickly.”
We recently chatted about how he built his business and the work he is doing now with couples. Here’s an edited transcript.
Elaine Pofeldt: Could you tell us about the business you created and how you grew it to $1 million in revenue?
Jed Diamond: It began with a promise I made to my newborn son when he first came into the world. Holding him for the first time I made a promise to him I’d be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me. I’d do everything I could to create opportunities for relationships to be healed and families to together. That was in 1969. That started me in the counseling work I was doing. I wrote my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man in 1983. Then I wrote a book called Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions. That was followed by a third book called The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet.
As I started getting into midlife, I realized there were a lot of changes going on. I wrote Male Menopause and Surviving Male Menopause. Menopause is a biologically-based change. It ends in no more babies. Although men don’t have that biological ending in that they can have children later in life, there’s a very similar curve wherein men ages 40-55, hormones are significantly decreasing. Testosterone is getting lower. A host of physiological and psychological problems start happening. Male menopause is a psychosocial, biological reality that has hormonal roots.
That was the beginning, where things somewhat exploded. Male Menopause became an international bestseller. It was translated into 14 languages. I started hearing from more clients than I could handle. The books and conferences started taking off, between 1997-2002. That’s when all of a sudden, I turned around and it was a million-dollar business. I had no plan to do a million-dollar business. It came initially from a promise I made to my son and an extension of a service I was providing to millions of people in the world
Elaine Pofeldt: What led you to change your focus in 2002?
Jed Diamond: That was the rest of the story. When I was five years old my father had what was called a nervous breakdown. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and tried to take his own life.
What I grew up with was trying to understand what happened to my father. I visited him in the mental hospital. I went to him every week. I felt it was somehow my duty to help him. I came to see what he experienced as male depression. He was a midlife man at the time, in his forties.
I wanted to research this to see what was going on with men in a more systematic way. Women experience depression at twice the rate of men yet clinically I was seeing a lot more men than women committing suicide. I went back to school in 2002 to do a research study on the differences between male and female depression.
Elaine Pofeldt: How did you figure that out?
Jed Diamond: You ask questions, assess different symptom clusters. I felt the way in which we were asking the questions tended to focus on the way women experienced sadness and depression and not the way men do. Men act out their sadness through alcohol use, addiction, different types of aggressive behavior.
I developed a new scale, the Diamond Male Depression Scale. I’ve been using that in my clinical practice and sharing that with other colleagues. How do we ultimately understand depression in men, understand the different ways men and women show symptoms and help more men and many women who don’t express depression in the same way? Many women express it in the way more men do. That was the shift that began to happen. I spent five years in graduate school getting a Ph.D.
My next book was Male vs. Female Depression: Why Men Act Out and Women Act In. It was my whole Ph.D. By the time I finished, I had a book.
Once I understood men tended to become irritable and angry, as opposed to sad and weepy and inward, I wanted to understand how that showed up in regular interactions with people. I knew in midlife men also experienced a drop in testosterone. I wondered if there was a relationship between sadness, acting out and irritability. When I’m interested in something, I start writing about it.
That turned into a book called The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing The 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. I found out there were hormonal shifts that went on with men when their testosterone levels would drop, which caused them to become irritable and angry. We think about “roid rage” in bodybuilders and football players. Most of the irritability, anger and depression that’s hormone-related has to do with low testosterone and a drop in hormone levels. In Mr. Mean, I wrote about understanding the relationship consequences of the irritable male syndrome.
I’m curious. I’m interested. Anything I get interested in that I think will help people turns into a book. Those turn into e-books, classes, workshops and training.
Elaine Pofeldt: Can you tell us about your recent findings on male and female depression and how that affects marriage at midlife?
Jed Diamond: One of the things I found when I was doing these worldwide studies was it turns out there have been major studies on midlife. Generally, happiness turns out to be a u-shaped curve. We’re happier when we’re younger. We get more unhappy. The bottom of the happiness scale turns out to be a very consistent 47-49 age range all over the world in all cultures.
People tend to be happier again as we get older, which is sometimes counterintuitive. What I found was that I wanted to provide some specific help to midlife couples who were having problems with relationships and often thinking the problem was their partner. Just when a couple should be enjoying their relationship the most—the kids are grown, the best is yet to come—more and more we found high rates of divorce in midlife couples.
In midlife, you generally have fewer years ahead of you than you have behind you. You’re re-examining what your life is like. As part of that reexamination, you may say “Let’s re-examine where some of this unhappiness comes from. Maybe it is my partner that’s the problem. When guys say, “It’s my wife,” I tell them that it isn’t your wife that’s the problem—it’s your life. The idea works for women as well. Maybe you need to look at what you picked up from your parents’ marriage that got embedded in you, to not only heal your past but to make your present relationship better than it’s ever been. And truly have real lasting love in your midlife marriage, rather than just getting by.
Men generally have a great deal of insecurity about our positions as men. A lot of that is because so many of us grew up with fathers that were either absent physically or emotionally. There’s a father wound.
And during the pandemic, which we’ve all been experiencing, we found this added to the stresses even more. People are going through problems with relationships. The pandemic added more stress with kids at home, people out of work, fears of dying, friends and relatives getting sick. I’ve been for the last year doing workshops, and not just for midlife couples. I have a new book coming out in 2021 on the five stages of love and why too many relationships end at stage 3, disillusionment. Their marriages break up.
Elaine Pofeldt: What are the stages of love?
Jed Diamond: One is falling in love. Two is building a life together. Most of us grew up with a romantic notion that was it. Stage three, as I mentioned, is disillusionment. What happens with so many couples is they become disillusioned. They’re getting less connected, more distant. Rather than signaling the beginning of the end, it’s a stage of deepening and understanding. That can take us to stage four—real lasting love—and five—finding your calling as a couple.
It’s a map for having the kind of relationships most people want, but so many people get diverted and lose their connection at stage three. I get letters every day with, “The magic is gone. I still love him but am not in love with him or her anymore.” “It’s not an awful marriage. It could be better.” I also deal with people where there’s violence going on. “He’s so angry and yelling and screaming at me. I’m worried for the kids. I don’t feel safe.” It’s a whole range of things people are dealing with.
In younger age groups, you’re more, in a sense, forgiving of differences, more involved in the sexual part. The difficulties that arise in childhood surface at midlife. They can’t be hidden anymore. That’s another reason I say it’s not only not the beginning of the end but the entry into stage 4, which is real, lasting love.
One way to look at disillusionment is that the illusions we have when we’re young, we project on our partner: “You’re going to be everything to me.” When they’re not, people become disillusioned. The good part of disillusionment is we can get real. When we get real it becomes more possible to have real love. We are real people. We have our flaws. I’m not projecting my old desires that didn’t get worked out in my family onto my partner.
Then you can reach stage 5, finding your calling as a couple. I believe a couple has a calling as well to do something wonderful in the world. We often don’t get there because we don’t go through the process.
Elaine Pofeldt: How is the pandemic playing a role?
Jed Diamond: It’s brought up stresses that have been going on in many families that hadn’t reached the boiling point. In more and more relationships, from good ones that were okay to ones that were already in trouble, people are also recognizing how important their relationships are and desire to keep them. As bad as things are, more people want a partnership that works and a loving place at home.
The solutions start with understanding in a sense what are the new pressures we’re experiencing. How do couples communicate and listen to each other and be able to solve problems? We have obviously in 2020 had unusually complex stresses.
I wrote a book called My Distant Dad. I think what you’re seeing in a lot of men generally and a lot of midlife men is they don’t have a secure sense of identity. Now the things that used to prop us up—”I knew who I was. I was a good breadwinner” —the old standards, all these things that were not talked about are now coming to the surface. All men are feeling that. Guys tend to be doing this in isolation.
This can be transformed into “There’s more to you than you thought. There is a deeper knowing and deeper power you’ve always had. It doesn’t require you to have power over other people. The future is collaboration. Women are trained to do that a little bit better than guys. That’s another reason that guys are insecure. The skills required to be successful are skills that are antithetical to the way most men were raised.
Elaine Pofeldt: Can all marriages be saved? And should they be? We’ve been reading a lot about domestic violence during the pandemic in the news.
Jed Diamond: Every marriage can be saved if at least one person is willing to do the changing that needs to happen to bring that about. That doesn’t mean that every marriage will do it. It means the potential exists.
In the cases you’re describing, guys have to deal with their anger. They have to deal with the pain they are feeling, the fact they grew up in families with absent fathers and they don’t have good models for how to be in a good relationship.
The issue isn’t just “Save the marriage or get out.” It’s “Heal the marriage,” which requires work that not everybody can do. I talk to women and men every day. I help them do what they can do. Sometimes they have to get out. To stay is destructive. It puts their life at risk or their emotional life at risk. I can help people change those situations, so they are not staying in a bad situation. They get guidance to change the situation, so it is one where they want to stay. I discuss this in my book 12 Rules for Good Men. It draws together my 50 years of experience helping men live fully, love deeply and make a positive difference in the world.
Right now, couples are either learning to connect or breaking under the stress. In one couple I spoke with, the marriage was on the rocks. She is trying to take care of the three kids and a job. He’s working to keep his business afloat and is working 18 hours a day. She’s saying “I could use a little help here. I’m working, too.” I had to tell him, “Listen, I know you have to be successful with the business for you and for your family. But you know what? If you want your marriage, you have to do what you say you will do. If you say you will be home at 6:30 pm, you have to be home. You need to help with the kids. It’s not her job to do it all. I know that doesn’t come naturally. But you have to do that.” Guys sometimes need that coaching.
Someone has to be kind, gentle and straight-forward with men and tell them they have to do their part. Now that women have more freedom, they want more from their guys. I tell guys “You’ve been thinking your job was to be the breadwinner, her job was to take care of the family. Now the world isn’t like that anymore. She’s doing some breadwinning. She’s taking care of the family, too. You’re doing some breadwinning but you’re not doing your family job. You can be pretty good at this.” When guys see it as their job and get some guidance, they can change fairly rapidly.