A reader writes…
Hi Dave. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind giving me your thoughts on men staring and making other women feel special by asking them questions, complimenting them, and giving them lots of attention when they are married. My husband does this and it has been an ongoing struggle and source of deep pain for me that is ultimately eroding our marriage. He seems to justify it by saying he is not touching or doing anything wrong and that he is just enjoying the beauty around him and that he is being a typical man. Can you give me your thoughts on this and any words of advice on how to handle this to save our marriage. It would be soooooooo appreciated! Thanks for any words of wisdom you may have!
I think the answer to this is quite simple: if you tell your husband that it upsets you and he still does it, you’ve got a problem. He’s got a problem too, but it doesn’t bode well for your marriage, as you suggest.
Having said that, I think some people are naturally more extroverted than others and if you are a social person, you’ll naturally chat up other people and be friendly, whether they’re male, female, attractive, unattractive, whatever. If you narrow that down and are only interested in talking with “potentials”, people who you would want to ask out on a date if you weren’t in a relationship, well, it’s pretty self-evident that it’s a problematic behavior, I think!
The thing of it is, though, is that I believe that if you’re married, there’s no relationship that should be more important than the one between you and your spouse, so if they ask you to do or not do something and it’s not unreasonable or manipulative, then your desire to make your partner happy should trump any other motivation you may have. If it’s your job — like a cocktail waitress who has to flirt to maximize her tips — then it’s not quite the same, but that’s not what you’re describing in this situation either.
Your husband talking to other women is no big deal. Complimenting them and giving them lots of attention sounds like something between flirting and courting them, and it’s clearly inappropriate if your relationship is monogamous. When you ask him why he does this, what’s his explanation? Need for attention? Desire to feel attractive / desirable / sexy / eligible by other women? The answer “what’s the big deal?” doesn’t cut it, and if he doesn’t know why he’s doing it, well, maybe that’s something a marriage counselor could help you two with?
With all that in mind, I will admit that I feel like men are hardwired to keep an eye out for eligible women and I certainly am aware of attractive women who are in my field of view, even as I’m in a long-term relationship of my own. What I do once I see them, well, that’s something I can consciously decide and clearly it’s going to be a problem if I choose to chat them up or flirt with them. So to me the potential problem here is not that your husband notices attractive women — heck, you are probably quite aware when a handsome man walks into a room, aren’t you? — but that he then acts upon his base impulse to flirt with her and, more seriously, that he continues this behavior even after you’ve clearly told him you are upset when he does this and that you feel it’s hurtful to your relationship.
Good luck with this, I think it’s going to be a tricky situation to resolve.