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By "Today" contributor
updated 1/27/2005 11:25:21 AM ET 2005-01-27T16:25:21

Q: My fiancé is constantly looking at other women. He claims he doesn’t know why he does this and says it is meaningless. But it bothers me a lot. I’ve explained how hurtful and rude this is, and he has improved somewhat, but he still does it. How can I deal with this?

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A: Men are different sexual creatures to women. There is little buffer between visual response and genital response. They are hard-wired this way.

For women, between that visual response and genital response is an emotional evaluation. If a woman finds out a physically attractive guy is a jerk, he is likely to look less attractive. It alters her view — literally.

Yet a man can dislike a particular woman, and it doesn’t mean she looks any less sexually appealing to him.

Your fiancé’s behavior doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you or find you sexy. But he should respect your feelings — you are about to get married, after all — and he shouldn’t act in ways that he knows undermine your confidence and make you feel insecure.

And if he has a particularly bad wandering eye, he needs to get to the bottom of why he is doing this. He might say he doesn’t know. Well, this is not some reflexive behavior that cannot be stopped, like breathing. There is a reason he’s doing this.

Is he somehow angry at you? Is he feeling insecure and looking for female attention? Does he want to be turned on?

It’s important for the two of you to discuss the underlying cause of his behavior so that he can communicate his message to you in a responsible way.

Maybe he wishes you dressed or acted more provocatively. He could request you wear sexier clothes or ask that you be more publicly affectionate.

On the other side of the coin, you need to look at your own reactions. Try to judge whether you are being overly sensitive. Does he stop in his tracks and nearly break his neck when an attractive woman walks by? Or does he merely glance, as if he saw a cute puppy romping in the grass?

Would you only be satisfied if his eyes are pointed to the ground? Women make up half the population, and sooner or later a woman will enter his visual field. There is a difference between looking and leering, and you should make sure you are drawing the line in a reasonable place.

Once you have these factors reasonably sorted in your mind, tell him this behavior makes you feel bad, and that it is as unacceptable as other behavior that violates the rules of the relationship, like failing to consult you about large purchases. A man who loves you should not want to act in ways he knows you find hurtful.

Changing any habit takes time. So give him leeway, and offer positive reinforcement. Make sure he knows how sexy you find him. Let him know how much you appreciate the improvement in his behavior and want it to improve even more.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Men are hard-wired to check out other women. Your fiancé should be sensitive to how hurtful his wandering eye can be, but if you also understand why he does this, you can minimize your negative reaction to it.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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