WANDERING EYE… Print
My boyfriend is constantly commenting on attractive women in front of me. I get that he’s going to find other people attractive, but it pisses me off, and, even more embarrassingly so, he does it in front of our friends. Is this some sort of weird way of putting me down? Or am I just being a jealous psycho? How do I get him to stop?
Some folks in Dating 101 missed the lesson about how telling their partner how hot someone else is usually doesn’t fly well. Feeling hurt, offended, annoyed, etc. in response to your partner’s comments, particularly in front of others, are completely natural and understandable reactions. However, our society tends to place the blame on women when they express their feelings (i.e. calling them “crazy” or “jealous”), leaving them feeling invalidated and hesitant to bring up their concerns.
Like you said, it’s natural that your partner is going to find other women attractive—just as you probably find other men attractive. This is human nature and doesn’t mean he intends to pursue the hot girl at the gym or the server on your dinner date. Still, it sounds like his acknowledgment of this attraction understandably leaves you feeling disrespected and inadequate, and thus asking for a change in his behaviour seems like a valid request.
Let’s look at why he might be commenting on other women. In order to do this, let’s explore things further: You mentioned he comments in front of others — does he comment when it’s just the two of you, as well? If so, does it leave you feeling the same way? My guess is that the humiliation and anger you feel are a reaction to the public violation of the “I only have eyes for you” rule that we hold in our society. Of course, there’s pressure not to get jealous or to express discontent in response to his interest in other women. Now, this very well may be a product of insecurity either in himself or in the relationship. The implicit message in these comments might be “I find other women attractive and believe I have other options,” and underneath that might be “I worry that you might leave me, so by commenting on other women I hope you’ll feel less secure and will choose to stay with me.” It might be that he has witnessed his parents interacting in such ways, or that his father/brother/role model did this, and so he believes it is a normal and acceptable behaviour in a relationship. Or, maybe he has done it with past partners and had the behaviour reinforced (for example, a past partner might have reacted to comments by dressing more attractively or becoming more sexual). Or, maybe he just appreciates human beauty and feels a need to point that out. Maybe.
But of course, knowing the “why” won’t get him to keep his attraction to himself. Sure, it can be helpful to know, because it might provide more insight into his intentions and change how you feel; but, what’s most important is that a behaviour is occurring that leaves you feeling disrespected, and you desire change.
My suggestion would be to address the issue with him directly (you’re not surprised). Be specific about the behaviour, and use “I” statements (for example, “When you make comments about finding other women attractive, it leaves me feeling annoyed/disconnected/confused/inadequate/etc. Can you see why I might feel that way?”)
Then, ask how he thinks mentioning these things out loud would benefit the relationship and what he gets out of it, or if there is something else he is trying to tell you by stating such things. Not in a sarcastic or accusatory way, but in a truly curious way about the intentions of his behaviour (.e.g “I’m wondering if you can help me understand better what’s happening for you when you tell me that you find other women attractive.”) Focus on intention and potential benefits/growth in the relationship rather than harm.
Depending on his reaction, you can then move to the next step of asking for change and defining realistic expectations together. For example, you are not asking him not to find other women attractive, as that is an unrealistic expectation. Rather, you are asking him to be more considerate in how he reacts to this feeling of attraction in front of you and in front of others, by not stating it out loud. Because he likely will not be able to completely extinguish the behaviour right off the bat, explore together a firm but compassionate response that you can have prepared for if he “slips up.” (e.g. “I’m noticing you’re commenting on other women. I know it’s a habit that is likely difficult to change, but I just want to remind you that I find it creates a disconnection between us.”) Theories of behaviour suggest that immediacy is important in successful change, so don’t wait until you go to bed that evening to bring it up. Try to do it as soon after the behaviour occurs as possible (ideally with as few curse words as possible). Finally, remember that change is not an immediate or linear process, so try to practice patience and compassion in the process. Good luck!
Megan Bruneau, M.A. RCC
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Although many individuals share similar concerns relating to their relationship advice, no two persons or couples are the same. Romantic Reminders’ Registered Clinical Counsellor, Megan Bruneau, provides professional advice that some might find helpful influencing how they consider approaching their concern; however, her advice is by no means a substitute for couple’s therapy or one-on-one professional help. Megan advises all of her clients to seek relationship support in the form of a trained professional if their situation grants them the opportunity to do so. Additionally, if physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or mental illness are present in your relationship, this advice likely will not be suitable or sufficient for you. Instead, individual and couple therapy are strongly recommended.