Q. My husband often looks at other women and seems attracted to them. He met one married lady and said he imagined dating her if both of them were not married. He flirts and looks sexually at women’s bodies in front of me. I know he loves me, but this is hard to take. I knew when I married him he had some past problems in this area, like kissing a woman he didn’t even know in an elevator. I did marry him, though. What do you think about this?
A. People are human. Men and women all look at things that interest us. We are sexual beings, and even if we are madly and faithfully in love with our partners, we still look. There’s an edge of thrill and fun. It’s something new and different.
It is, however, one thing to glance, another to ogle, and another to ogle so openly your partner can’t help but notice.
It sounds like your husband is staring and flirting obviously, and even throwing it in your face. If this wandering eye didn’t bother you because, hey, it’s fun to look — and you are very secure in your marriage and know it would never go further — then this is not necessarily a problem.
But clearly, it is a problem. You feel hurt and upset by what you perceive to be your spouse’s inappropriate behavior, and you wonder whether it is a slippery slope toward potential infidelity.
Here are a few things to consider:
Is he doing this for attention? Is it possible you take him for granted or don’t flirt with him enough, and he is reacting to that? I don’t mean to suggest that you are, but it is something to think about, because this is something you can change. If you believe he isn’t getting enough loving from you, try being more attentive.
Alternatively, some wives might be overly jealous and possessive. What they view as flirting might actually be a friendly manner. Some husbands are merely super-gregarious and complimentary to everyone, and there really is no sexual innuendo. If you often feel jealous regarding other people in your life, this is a possibility.
This, however, doesn’t fit your description of him. Maybe your husband genuinely doesn’t know his behavior bothers you. He might think of it as fun and harmless, in which case communicating to him how you really feel may promote change. The danger comes if he really is leering lasciviously at other women, knows how much it bothers you and doesn’t care enough to change.
So feel your husband out and let him know how bad his wandering eye makes you feel. If he cares about you enough, he can change this habit. It might not be easy, but if you make him aware when he is doing it, he can keep tabs on it. Don’t shout out “You’re staring again!” Instead, provide a subtle cue like a hand on his arm.
But if he doesn’t care that he is hurting and upsetting you, it is your decision whether to continue spending your life with somebody with such little regard and such great disrespect for you. By the way, it is not just husbands who sometimes ogle strangers. Wives do also and their husbands can feel just as hurt.
In your case, you saw the writing on the wall, yet you married this man anyway. So to an extent, you are a cautionary tale for women who are not yet married. It’s easy for women to delude themselves. But if this kind of behavior is bad before you marry, it’s unlikely to improve afterward.
You might need professional help and an objective third party to make it clear how devastating this behavior is to you.
One thing you shouldn’t do is decide this means you don’t measure up and then feel pressure to change yourself physically or dress provocatively. I have seen women do this, to their own detriment and to no avail. His wandering eye is not about that.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: It’s normal for spouses to look at others. But if they leer and ogle, it’s time to address it and change this behavior.
Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.