“I wanted to scratch his eyes out when I saw him looking at that other woman at the bar,” Janis said during a coaching conversation the other day. Then tears streamed down her face as she asked, “Why doesn’t he look at me that way anymore?”
If you’re a woman who’s angry, frustrated and heart-broken, and can relate to Janis’ predicament, you’re certainly not alone.
When you repeatedly catch your partner admiring other women, it can create havoc, turning your relationship into a battle zone of accusations, defensiveness, and denials—with no one winning.
This usually plays out in relationships in one of two ways:
1. He doesn’t deny looking at other women, but feels he’s not “doing” anything to interact inappropriately with them, making it a non-issue. She, on the other hand, compares herself to these women, coming up short (in her mind). Though her partner may not, in fact, be cheating, she doesn't feel honored or respected by his actions.
2. He denies looking at other women, though she continues to take note. In this case, he may truly be unconscious of his actions, or he feels it's better to deny because admitting the truth will cause even more friction. This type of situation may simply be a matter of insecurity on her part, where every interaction witnessed is perceived as a potential threat.
We’re not talking about blatant, over-the-top ogling of another woman here. If what you're witnessing is obvious flirting, hugging, kissing, or continuous commentary about the physical appearance or sexiness of other women, then the real issue is in defining what type of relationship you want.
If he’s saying, “This is me. Get used to it,” and his behavior toward other women—which may include cheating—goes against what you feel to be respectful, consider moving on.
If this isn't the case, one thing we've discovered over the years: It’s natural for most men to notice other women—even those in a committed relationship.
In this relationship, Susie isn't bothered by Otto occasionally admiring other striking women because she feels connected with him and enjoys plenty of his attention when they’re together. She doesn’t take his behavior personally, or feel that he’s disrespecting her in any way. She's confident he wants to be with her.
In working with many people on this issue, we've found a common mistake women make (yes, we know that plenty of men make mistakes in this area as well, but right now we're addressing those women dealing with this particular problem) is in believing they somehow need to control men's actions—even though this approach often creates a greater divide in the relationship.
The real issue is whether you feel enough of a personal connection so that, if and when he does appreciate the beauty of other women, you're able to put this behavior in the proper perspective and not allow it to bother you.
So, if it’s natural for a man to look, and you’re his partner, how can you deal with the negative, fearful thoughts and reactions that naturally tend to well up inside when this happens?
Ask yourself if your past could be clouding your vision.
For instance, if you had a dad who regularly cheated on your mom, or one or more partners in your past who were unfaithful, you may be more likely to suspect the possibility of cheating when it’s not there. Does this mean you should ignore blatant displays from your man toward other women? Of course not. But it may be helpful to look at the situation from a more neutral perspective, instead of a jealous, insecure one.
Learn to distinguish between habitual insecurities and your true inner voice.
From time to time, we all have ways of thinking that elicit old fears. Often, you may be prompted to react based on them, without even being aware of the driving factor behind it. As you begin to tune in and recognize your insecure thinking for what it is—old tapes from the past that you no longer need to believe—you can begin to make space for your true inner voice and the intuition that will guide you. It may take practice to distinguish between the fearful voice and the gut instincts which speak true wisdom—but once you do, you’ll know exactly what course of action is best.
Rather than react with accusations, try to channel your emotions more positively.
You’ve probably been accusatory toward him, and it hasn’t changed his behavior, right? Instead, invite him to connect with you in some way. Engage him in conversation, ask him an unrelated question, touch him, laugh with him—but always be genuine about whatever you do.
Above all, don’t let your fears and insecurities drive your relationship and rule your life. Love is precious. Learn to treat yourself, and your partner, with love as you move through life.