I have never had a problem acknowledging a person’s beauty, whether male or female. Most people don’t have a problem in this area. But when your partner becomes fixated or distracted by someone’s beauty, especially a stranger walking by, there may be a problem. And once there is a problem with a partner’s wandering eye, identifying and dealing with it properly can be quite an undertaking. So, how do we do all of that?
You must decide if a narcissist’s wandering eye is innocent admiration or inappropriate behavior, which you cannot control. He may keep it at bay for a time but will eventually refuse to be hampered by social norms. Your best bet is to walk away, knowing you cannot singlehandedly make a relationship succeed.
Now that we have the quick answer, let’s take a look at all the details. Oh, and just to warn you, I use the narcissist terms in the masculine, but that is because it is the majority of my experience. There are plenty of female narcissists out there too! Feel free to adjust the pronouns to fit your own situation.
Table of Contents
The Difference Between Appreciating Beauty and a Wandering Eye
Before you can deal with your narcissist’s wandering eye, you must first determine if it actually is a wandering eye or simply admiring God’s beauty in the people He has created. As a general rule, there are a few solid ways to tell if your person actually has a wandering eye:
- Once he notices, he can’t take his eyes off of the object of his attention.
- He stops midsentence and is no longer engaged with whatever conversation or activity he was doing with you.
- He immediately starts obsessing over the other person’s beauty, clothing, or whatever his focus is on, talking to you incessantly about it, and not getting back to the subject or task at hand.
- When he starts to behave as though you are in his way and preventing him from enjoying the beauty that he has noticed and wants to keep enjoying.
- He may even start talking to or flirting with the current object of his obsession.
- Or, when he comes to his senses, realizes he just totally lost his sense of self-control, and shows obvious embarrassment that his secret thoughts became so obvious.
- You are likely dealing with a narcissist with a wandering eye when it happens constantly.
- He may accuse you of a wandering eye if you happen to glance over at someone yourself. This is projecting the wav he knows he feels about the person he is objectifying and automatically thinks you’re doing and feeling the same.
- He may be constantly on his phone and also hiding from you so you can’t see what he is doing or who he is talking to.
- And finally, you are likely dealing with a narcissist with a wandering eye when he gets very defensive if you call him out on it.
Those are the ones that came to mind in my own experience. I bet you have some of your own based on your experience too! Feel free to comment below. I bet many other readers here will be able to relate to those as well!
How Your Narcissist’s Wandering Eye Makes You Feel
Generally speaking, when you notice any combination of the above circumstances happening, you will feel like crap. You will feel like you aren’t pretty enough, dressed well enough, shapely enough, or whatever it is that he is noticing. Maybe your hair or makeup isn’t as nice. Regardless, whatever he is noticing, you will feel lacking in.
But there is even more that exacerbates the problem. Nearly universally, victims of narcissists usually feel like they are not good enough at anything. This is a result of the narcissist constantly putting you down to make himself better. So, when he starts noticing good things about other people, it makes you feel even more self-conscious and not good enough. Here are some additional feelings you may experience after noticing a pattern of your narcissist’s wandering eye:
- You feel disrespected.
- You feel devalued and unworthy of receiving kind attention from anyone else (and not just your narcissist).
- Also, you may wonder if he is displaying such inappropriate behavior in front of you, what is he doing when you aren’t around? Is he cheating???
One thing can get very confusing. And that is when your narcissist pays you compliments or tells you that you are good at something. This can become even more confusing when he is now complimenting you for exactly the same things he has harshly or cruelly criticized you for before. And this makes you feel like you don’t know which way is up and which way is down. (Hint: your confusion isn’t stemming from you but from the mixed signals you have likely been getting for a very long time!) There are a few specific times they will send these mixed signals in the form of compliments:
- When you are in public and around other people. He has to show others how much he “loves you and appreciates you.”
- When he is getting the benefit of the thing he is saying you are good at (such as a job that he is benefitting from the money).
- When he needs you to look good so you can be his trophy wife, so he encourages you to put on your best, sexiest dress and tells you how amazing you look in it.
- When he wants something and knows he can butter you up.
Over time, you will pick up these patterns and know exactly what is going on.
Check out my other articles regarding narcissist’s eyes:
Dealing With Your Narcissist’s Wandering Eye
So, now that you can see the difference between honorable admiration and a wandering eye, and if you have noticed a definite pattern of it in your narcissist, how do you deal with it? If you show anger that makes him cause a scene it will not go well! But if you ignore it, it will continue to get worse. So what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
- Speak to him about it calmly and with kind words. The more calm you remain, the less spun up he will likely get. Be optimistic that he will hear you, but don’t plan to die on that hill. He may change his behavior for you in the short term, but if he is truly a narcissist and ranks high on the spectrum, this will not be a life changing conversation with him.
- Speak firmly when confronting him but REMAIN CALM! Speaking firmly allows you to communicate that you are setting a boundary and you are not willing to let him cross it. He will probably not respond that well. Narcissists don’t like boundaries. But the more calm you remain, the more chance you have of him not lunging at you in anger.
- If your narcissist refuses to change either after saying he will or just outright refusing, then maybe bringing in a neutral party that can help or seeing a counselor can help him to see what really needs to be done for the health of the relationship.
- Make sure that you identify the harmful aspects to your narcissist’s wandering eye. Help him to understand that appreciating someone’s beauty is not the problem. It is how he overreacts to it at your expense that becomes the problem.
What NOT to do About Your Narcissist’s Wandering Eye
Even when you do all the right things (which you won’t because you are human and need to give yourself the grace to not always be perfect), your narcissist will likely blow up at you for not reacting the way he wants you to. But there are some definite things that you should not do that will do even more harm to you and the relationship. Here are a few of those:
- Do not nag! If you have expressed hurt from the way his wandering eye has led to other negative behaviors toward you and he has not responded well, it is not your job to keep at him about it until he changes. First, nagging will not make him change. It will make him angry and spiteful. And in turn, it will make you even more miserable because he will make you pay for constantly reminding him of his shortcomings.
- Don’t overreact if he is just looking at someone else as they pass by. If he is looking at someone and smiling at them as they pass, that certainly doesn’t indicate a wandering eye. But if you begin to react in unhealthy ways due to his previous bad behavior, he will feel defeated and will no longer try to make things better. Give him a chance to move freely in his new space. If he is a narcissist who ranks low on the spectrum or a person who only shows occasional narcissistic traits, then you have a good chance of working toward healing in this particular issue.
- If you see your narcissist making some progress but then they fall back into an episode of wandering eye, don’t immediately rush to the conclusion that he has fallen back into a destructive pattern. Recognize the behavior, have a calm but firm discussion about it, and then talk about going forward. We all have setbacks once in a while. And we have to give our person grace to not have to be perfect all the time.
- If your narcissist’s wandering eye ends up being an ongoing pattern of behavior that doesn’t stop, don’t compromise boundaries you have set and discussed with your narcissist. Set and keep boundaries that show him you are not folding so he can keep on acting inappropriately. But when keeping your boundaries, do not be nasty about it. You don’t need to be loud or obnoxious; that will only make things worse. Holding on to your boundary alone will cause a narcissist to treat you like you are behaving unreasonably. But hold your ground respectfully with kind words. It isn’t about taking him down a notch. It is about you being strong and godly while doing what you need to for your own health and wellness.
Does a Wandering Eye Always Mean Unfaithfulness?
The really simple answer to this is that no, a wondering eye does not always mean unfaithfulness. But, on the flip side, unfaithfulness will almost certainly include a wandering eye.
If someone’s wandering eye progresses to flirting, initiating a discussion, or checking someone out, then it isn’t a guarantee that the inappropriate behavior will go further and include a sexual or emotional bond. But, as I mentioned above, if someone is willing to go as far as a sexual or emotional relationship with someone outside of normal relationship, then certainly they would be willing to use a wandering eye, flirting and other gestures in order to get the attention of a future sexual pursuit.
Your best bet is to get the communication out in the open at the very beginning of witnessing a wandering eye situation. While it doesn’t cover what has happened in the past, it puts a foundation down for what you are willing to put up with in the future.
At first, someone exhibiting a wandering eye can cause you to roll your eyes. But over time, it can become a significant problem and a red flag for infidelity or other destructive relationship patterns later.
If you are dealing with a narcissist’s wandering eye, you are likely having lots of other issues with your narcissist. One of the best books I read that helped me work through all those red flags was given to me by my ex-husband’s counselor one day (yep, it was pretty poetic justice for all the crap I was going through at the time). It is called Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life, Including Yourself by Chuck DeGroat. It was such a good book because it shows you how to work through the most difficult issues when you can’t just pick up and walk away from the narcissist(s) in your life. It was life-changing for me, not just in the end of my marriage, but for nearly every relationship difficulty that has sprung up since. And believe it or not, it has caused lots of potential huge issues to never really develop because I learned how to head things off most of the time without much of a problem. You will find it an amazing book as well!
What was your experience with a narcissist’s wandering eye? How long did it take you to realize the depth of what was going on? How did boundaries and other protective actions work for you? Was the relationship healed or ended?
I would love to hear how things ended up for you and your story of healing, whether it was before or after, or even still happening now. Feel free to comment below as an encouragement to other readers who can be inspired or warned by your story!
Are you just now in the beginning stages of recognizing narcissistic abuse in your life and not sure where to go or what to do next? Or maybe you are in the middle of the trenches, trying to make sense of the craziness swirling around you as you work your way through. Or, maybe you are in the end stages and just need some confirmation that you are where you need to be as you are nearing the finish line of healing. I can help you start to put the pieces together to get quickly on the path to healing, make sure you are where you need to be as you progress on your journey, and finish well as you make your way to the light at the end of the tunnel. I have many resources you can check out here, but if you would like quicker, more direct guidance specific to your situation, a direct consultation may be more helpful to you. I am currently booking about 9 or 10 days out; you can check out the various consultation options here. (I am hoping to add more consultation slots in the next few weeks so we can get the time frame down to 3-5 days from the time you schedule until you get your consultation.)
Hugs and love,
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