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Dysfunction Interrupted-When Your Partner Stares at Others, How Much is Too Much?

The topic of partners who “gawk” at strangers while doing things with you is one that comes up frequently in my sessions with clients. The questions to me include: “Is this normal?” “What is wrong with me?” “Aren’t I enough?”.

We all like the feelings associated with being the star of our relationship, the apples of someone’s eye.

There is a possessiveness that is normal and a desire to keep others or competitors at a healthy distance. When you are out on the town, to show the world you are a couple. There is an expected level of intimacy and trust that sets you apart from being simply friends, although friendship is there.

The feelings associated with this gawking behavior are ones of being disrespected, degraded, embarrassed, and insecure about the relationship itself. Wondering whether the staring partner is desirous of an additional relationship and if infidelity is in the workings? Sometimes it gets to the point that you don’t even want to go out in public anymore with the person, or dread it, as you know it will leave you feeling terrible. If that is the case and that’s where you are, then its time to evaluate the issue once and for all.

I believe the problem actually can fall into two camps; one where extreme staring is happening and is a partner problem, and the other where normal looking or noticing is happening and your reaction stems from an issue inside you.

This article is intended as a guide to help you decide which is which.

I have found that clients from dysfunctional backgrounds, or who have developed negative beliefs about themselves, struggle with this issue and are usually the ones who blame themselves. If you are struggling with this, I hope that this post will help you to trust yourself a bit and validate your feelings. It may help clarify problems within your relationship or within yourself that need some work.

Lets first look at what constitutes extreme staring or the kind that indicates a partner problem. Here are a few indicators:

  • Your partner not only stares at others and their various body parts but strives to make eye contact with the person they are staring at. He/she is trying to make a connection or make sure the other person notices that they are looking. Your hair stands up on the back of your neck and you feel something is very wrong. It feels more like a flirtation between them than simply noticing someone’s attractiveness.
  • The partner comments constantly on the other person’s body or makes sure others notice that he/she is noticing an attractive person.
  • They do it more after you have mentioned that it bothers you. It feels like it has become a punishment or way to hurt you.
  • They deny it and tell you that you are crazy and insecure.
  • If you mention it during an actual episode of the behavior, they continue.
  • They make it a point to get near enough to the person to strike up a conversation or make sure they are noticed in return. They do something, for example, saying they are going to the bathroom, when in fact they are trying to get closer to the person they are staring at.
  • In really extreme cases, your partner may bring your attention to the person they are staring at and use them to compare against you. Comments such as, “You should learn to dress like that,” “He/she must really work out, you could look like that if you tried, you should try,” “Redheads have always been my favorites,” (when you are blond). There are many other examples but you get the idea. They are comments designed to make you feel small.

These are example of partner problems, as they stem from something within your partner that is not quite healthy.

Typically the person striving to make sure everyone notices him looking at someone attractive wants people to believe he/she is very worldly or successful with the opposite sex. It is normally the reverse of that, and this behavior stems from their own insecurities. Making sure to make eye contact and getting that brief reward of the other person noticing them is a validation of themselves. It doesn’t matter if they have you, they require outside validation to make them feel good about themselves. There is nothing you can do to help them; this is something they have to recognize and correct themselves. It has absolutely nothing to do with you, your body, or your attractiveness.

Using this behavior to punish or harm you reeks of narcissism. Trying to make you feel crazy or doubt yourself is a classic maneuver on their part. Again, there is nothing you can do to fix it and if you examine your relationship with this person you will most likely find other unhealthy patterns that leave you feeling poorly.

If your partner has a history of infidelity and is finagling a way to meet someone he is openly interested in, this may be a red flag demanding that you take a look at things.

Now lets examine when the gawking is an issue with you and not your partner.

Here are some telltale signs that you should look within yourself for an answer to the problem.

Your partner glances briefly at an attractive person walking by or is “people watching” with really no more time spent on one person than another. No comments are necessarily made, or if they are, they are not designed to put you down or compare you.

You become enraged and make it a big deal if someone comes along that you compare yourself to and feel that you come up short. You are feeling insecure and threatened. You act out. You may be experiencing fears of abandonment, impending betrayal, or a belief that you are somehow inadequate. You may suffer from low self-esteem.  You may be suffering from depression or anxiety, and have a short fuse combined with a low frustration tolerance and high sensitivity.

These are all issues within yourself that can rear their ugly head when you are feeling threatened.

The good news is these bugs in the system can be worked out. You can raise your self-esteem, learn to trust others, and start believing in yourself. This not only helps with this issue but with issues across your life. If you suffer these problems it is likely they are interfering with your happiness and life satisfaction across the board.

Once you work on these issues and are in a “good place” with yourself, it is then time to evaluate the gawking behavior again. If you have eliminated the “you” problem, and it is a “them” problem, your task now will be to determine the overall health of your relationship and where to go next.

If you are in an unhealthy, emotionally abusive, or harmful relationship, it may be time to make a change. Do you want to spend your days with this person? Do you want to dread every social or public event and suffer the disrespect of their behavior? Once you feel good about you and believe in you this will become intolerable.

You deserve to be the apple of someone’s eye.

 

If you feel you may suffer from dysfunctional thought patterns that are keeping you depressed, anxious, or unable to break free from problematic behaviors, please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resources How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People and/or How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns.

Dysfunction Interrupted-When Your Partner Stares at Others, How Much is Too Much?

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Audrey Sherman is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She has been working with individuals and families for over 20 years and her expertise is in helping others to overcome the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her book and workshops you can visit her website, PsychSkills.com.


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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2018). Dysfunction Interrupted-When Your Partner Stares at Others, How Much is Too Much?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/dysfunction/2018/09/dysfunction-interrupted-when-your-partner-stares-at-others-how-much-is-too-much/

 

Last updated: 17 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Sep 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.