When a Partner Has Wandering Eyes

What to Know and Do If You Are Bothered by This Behavior

Man and woman flirting
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When the issue of a partner's eyes wandering is discussed, there seem to be two general responses: Either the behavior is brushed off as nothing to be concerned about or feelings of hurt and disrespect ensue, which may harm the relationship. Some even believe that checking out people other than a committed partner is a sure sign of infidelity. The true answer to whether or not this is OK lies with you, your needs, and your personal boundaries.

Differing Viewpoints

According to Gail Saltz, M.D., a psychiatrist and expert on relationship matters, blatantly checking out, commenting on, repeatedly admiring, and flirting or touching someone else usually feels quite undermining to a partner.

For partners that are bothered by the behavior, having wandering eyes is often described as:

  • A sign of disrespect
  • Insensitive behavior that shows a lack of caring
  • Offensive
  • Damaging to a relationship
  • One of the first signs of cheating and that a person is looking for another relationship

Dr. Saltz acknowledges that all humans have some measure of voyeurism and exhibitionism: we like to look and we like to show.

But unless both parties are confident of the others' affection and fidelity, an obvious and frequent wandering eye will generally stir up envy and hurt, making one feel unappreciated and even threatened in the relationship.

On the other hand, there are people who believe that having a wandering eye is perfectly normal behavior. People in this camp often don't worry themselves about a quick glance, and some may not even be bothered by something more.

Those who feel this way often cite the following points:

  • Looking at an attractive person is thought to be a natural physiological reaction.
  • A person with wandering eyes just appreciates beauty.

Again, it's important to remember that you define what is normal and acceptable for yourself and your relationship. That said, a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that a consistent wandering eye probably signals a bigger issue in a relationship, which is worth considering.

What to Do If Your Partner's Eyes Wander

If you are bothered by your partner's eyes wandering, Dr. Saltz suggests that you make it clear that although you don't expect them to wear blinders, you don't want them to ogle someone else. If your partner really won't make any effort to change and doesn't appear to care how it makes you feel, it's likely that other issues may be affecting your relationship that couple's therapy could help examine.

Indeed, it seems that research agrees with this advice. The aforementioned study goes on to say that nagging your partner to stop looking likely won't address any underlying problems, either. Your relationship will require communication and a strategy to boost satisfaction and commitment.

Leading with jealousy and sweeping requests for your partner to change his or her behavior may lead them to tune you out. Instead, Dr. Saltz suggests the following:

  • Don't try to "police" your partner's wandering eyes.
  • Accept that your partner's wandering eye is not a reflection of your own attractiveness.
  • Try to casually acknowledge it first when a beautiful person comes into view.
  • If your partner's wandering eye creates a problem in your relationship, discuss the issue with them. Start with your own feelings, not with an accusation or criticism. 
  • Suggest couple's therapy or attend therapy on your own if your requests are continually ignored.

A Word From Verywell

A wandering eye could very well be a natural, simple acknowledgment of attractive people—nothing more. Of course, that may not be the case all the time. Regardless, your feelings should be valid to your partner. If it bothers you and you have calmly expressed as such to your partner, he or she should be receptive to your concerns.

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Article Sources

  • Dewall CN, Maner JK, Deckman T, Rouby DA. Forbidden fruit: Inattention to attractive alternatives provokes implicit relationship reactance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2011;100(4):621-629. doi: 10.1037/a0021749.