Wandering eyes

Wandering eyes

Putting yourself below other women will only keep contributing to low self-esteem

12/05/2012

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Dear Patti,
I understand I have to cope more effectively with my low self-esteem. Whenever I see an attractive woman, I’ll often start comparing her looks to mine and see assets she has that I don’t — taller, thinner, longer legs, thicker hair or fuller lips. I tend to see most other women as better looking than me.
 
Compounding this problem is the rage and betrayal I feel when I see my husband look other women up and down. I know he loves me, and I also know I’m overreacting, but at the same time I don’t understand why he has to ogle other females right in front of me. We get in huge fights over this. He believes that I have enormous insecurities and have become a tyrant and too controlling. He tells me to just let it go, that it's perfectly natural for men to look at other women and he can’t help it. It’s very hard for me to put up with his behavior.
— Danielle


Dear Danielle,
In general, men and women look at things that interest them. Even if in love with their partners, people are sexual beings and may still look. It’s one thing, though, if your husband glances at a pretty woman and quite another if he’s leering lasciviously, the latter being a behavior that could be considered rude to you as well as to her. Interpretations of these behaviors are subjective, of course, and the two of you probably have differing points of view.  
 
Does he perceive you as “the thought police,” someone who is being completely controlling? Do you perceive him as insensitive for openly staring at other women, even though he knows how much this bothers you? 
 
Perhaps more than the actual act of ogling is the problem that you’re not listening and understanding each other’s point of view and hurting each other. Your relationship requires both of you to be sensitive. 
 
Your husband needs to comprehend that the problem isn’t just looking at women in an obvious way when he’s with you, but that he’s also dismissing your feelings and your clear message that his behavior feels offensive to you. It sounds like he may be neglecting your need to be treated respectfully, loyally and as if you’re the most important woman in his life, and one he’s committed to.
 
It’s often said that males are more visually stimulated than females. Whether or not that’s true, many men developed the habit of looking at women from the time they were teenagers. Accordingly, this tendency can become so deeply rooted it seems like a natural reflex they don’t have any control over. This is an ingrained habit, however, and not an uncontrollable reaction. 
 
While it’s natural for a man to notice attractive women, it’s important to be in control of how often, for how long and that one looks depending on where he is and who he’s with. It might not be easy, but if your husband cares, he can change this habit.
 
As for you, is there a possibility that because you so often come out second-best in comparing yourself with other women, you’ve developed zero tolerance for your husband’s awareness of their existence and automatically assume he wants them instead of you? What if it’s actually you who puts other women ahead of you in your mind, not him? You might be contributing to his acting out by obsessing about your looks — or what you think is lacking — and being too self-focused to give him the attention he needs. 
 
Listen and try to understand how uncomfortable your insecurities make him feel. Most importantly, it’s terrible for you to be putting yourself down in your own head; this will definitely contribute to having low self-esteem and possibly becoming overly jealous and possessive.
 
I recommend at least a few sessions of individual counseling, where you can explore your inclination to be so hard on yourself. In addition, couples counseling can guide you in learning how to discuss your disappointments in each other’s behavior and understanding how to change your thinking as well as your actions for each other and yourselves. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email pcarmalt@aol.com. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.

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