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Advice: Ogling Other Women

Hara Estroff Marano gives advice on how to deal with a husband's wandering eye.

I understand that insecurity is a big problem today, especially for women. And I'm a self-deluded victim who looks at everyone else as better-looking even when I have a loving husband who regularly reminds me of my beauty and his love for me. I know my husband loves me as I love him. But when I see him look another woman up and down, my blood boils. If I say something, he rants and raves about my insecurities. Everyone tells me to just let it go, that it's "just human nature." I just can't bring myself to accept that, but should I?

You're right to keep the matter alive—not because it takes a big emotional toll on you but because the real issue is not your husband's looking at other women in a very obvious way. It's his contempt for your feelings. There's nothing natural about that. And it's a very destructive force in any relationship.

By definition, a marriage requires that two people be sensitive to each other's emotional needs and set some ground rules, working out behavior patterns that don't constantly grate on each other. Yes, obviously ogling other women when he's with you is a little too blatant and comes across as an implicit put-down of you and the relationship. It doesn't take a whole lot of insecurity to dislike it. In fact, there are far better reasons than insecurity for why it's problematic: It's just downright disrespectful of the company he's with. It's an indirect display of contempt.

It's troubling that his response is to rant and rave about your insecurities. That is simply compounding the diss to you. Far from mustering any sympathy for your distress, he's taking your vulnerability and using it as a weapon against you. And then he's blaming you, making it your problem, not a consequence of his indulgent behavior. I'm not sure what you consider a "loving husband," but this is not anyone's definition of loving behavior.

You simply can't keep accepting the victim stance and expect the relationship to improve. For starters, you have to break the pattern of hot reactivity around his ogling behavior. Try not saying anything at all the next time, and the next. Sure, your blood will still boil, but prepare in advance to distract yourself from the inner turmoil. Don't offer up what he deems your insecurities as fodder for an attack on you. Your husband is bound to notice eventually that you're not reacting. When he does, that's the time to have a calm conversation about the situation. Find a place to talk.

You need to say something along these lines, in your own words: I don't like you looking at other women when we're out together, because it is very disrespectful to me and our relationship and it makes you look foolish. But I don't have the power to stop you, and I won't even try. What I do need you to do is stop attacking me if I voice discomfort. How should we handle this situation the next time it comes up? If he is unwilling to negotiate new ground rules, then tell him the personal attacks are unacceptable and you just simply have to avoid going out with him until he can come up with a better way. Then stick to the plan.