Does Looking at the Opposite Sex Undermine Your Marriage?
- 2006 11 Feb
Dear Dr. David:
My husband and I argue about him looking at other women. I don’t like it and it makes me feel inferior, since often the women have better figures than I do, or are prettier. He says it is natural for men to look, that he cannot help it, and that it is a “man thing.” He knows I am affected by this and feel very hurt. Is it okay for a Christian man to look at another woman? We agreed to listen to your advice on this subject. ~ Tammy
You ask a wonderful question, and certainly an issue that pertains to many couples. Many women share your hurt and frustration and want an answer to this problem. Men, and women too, often look at someone attractive of the opposite sex and it creates insecurity within the relationship for obvious reasons. What is the answer?
First, yes, it is natural to look. I will grant your husband that it is natural to take a first look. But, there is certainly a difference between looking and going a step or two beyond that to fantasizing. Fantasizing, as you may know, is looking at someone while engaging in additional thoughts and images in their mind. They may compare your looks to theirs; imagine being with them in a sexual way; imagine what kind of personality they have—Pia Melody, author of books on love addictions, calls all these behaviors “euphoric recall”—little emotional hits that make us feel better and give us a momentary high. They are dangerous in that they take us away from our primary love relationship and can actually be addicting.
Second, while natural to look or glance at someone lovely, we are warned in scripture to guard our eyes and our thoughts. I John 2: 15 says: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boastings of what he has and does, comes not from the father but from the world.”
Third, there is the issue of your hurt. Your letter suggests that he is insensitive to your pain while defending his position, and that is alarming. Even when his glances are innocent, he must take your pain, including your insecurities, into consideration. After all, love means extending ourselves for another’s well-being—and that includes their personal past and personal issues. Even if it’s your “stuff,” he has some responsibility to help you through these challenges.
I hope this helps and feel free to write again regarding results. ~ Dr. David
Dear Dr. David:
My husband and I have been married for twelve years and have struggled most of those years. He tells me I need to be more responsible for my actions and be accountable for them also. I have tried hard to please him, but he still is unsatisfied with me and is threatening to divorce. He seems impatient with me and is not giving me the chance to change that I think I deserve. It is like he wants to control me and if I do not change for him then he will get a divorce. He has put up his boundaries that to me are very controlling and selfish. I don't even know how to talk to him anymore since I feel judged and unforgiven and he brings up the past. I want to save the marriage, but he is ready to end things. What can I do? ~ Tina
I see several red flags in your letter: issues with boundaries, the importance of change, control, forgiveness and codependency — all serious issues in marriage. Couples often fight about small issues that grow into larger concerns.
Regarding boundaries, your husband needs to state his concerns, and feelings about them, and give you the opportunity to respect them and change. Your letter, however, indicates that his setting boundaries feels like coercion to you, leading to a power struggle---one person trying to coerce the other into changing to meet their demands. This is a very unhealthy practice. Change is healthier when both agree to the benefits of that change.
You say that you are trying hard to please him; in fact, it sounds like you may be tiptoeing around him to avoid him judging you—that is the definition of codependency and is not a healthy foundation for a marriage. It is critical that you own your problems, but not tiptoe around him. Practice setting your own boundaries for a healthier relationship.
The scriptures warn us about trying to control other’s actions. (Galatians 6) We are to be primarily responsible for ourselves, while letting our mate know our honest feelings about a matter.
Matthew 7 talks at length about judging others. We are encouraged to not look at the speck of sawdust in other’s eyes when we have a plank in our own. How often does this happen in marriage? We see some behavior that irks us, let it get under our skin, then appoint ourselves the Resident Holy Spirit to convict, condemn and judge our mates. This is unhealthy and very injurious to a marriage.
Now, what about your responsibility in the matter? Have you made agreements with him and then broken them? Have you agreed to change certain issues and then not done so? If so, it is understandable that he would no longer trust you. Trust is a quality in marriage, or a relationship, that is easily broken and not easily regained. Consider what might still be needed, leading to forgiveness and trust on his part. Remember that working together can save your marriage.
Finally, if he agrees to work on the marriage, it is important for both of you to seek counseling to address the many issues in your marriage.
Blessings in your marriage. ~ Dr. David