There seems to be a big struggle, with men in particular, around looking at other women. I don’t just mean porn, but just walking down the street, in the store, or anywhere else. Of course, some women struggle with this as well, but I’ll be addressing men in this post, because that’s the scenario that always gets brought up to me. However, the advise below can be gender neutral.
Why do men look at other women
Generally it’s something we learn as teenagers. Once we start noticing women…we really notice them. We get these big dopamine boosts from looking at attractive women, and that sets the habit in our brain.
Then, we get married, and we suddenly try to stop, but these neural pathways are so set that it often feels like we can’t stop. If we have a habit of porn use (as most of us do at some point), this effect is even more solidified. For some it’s such a strong habit that they tell their wives “I can’t stop, it’s just how God made me.” The truth is, it’s a habit and a learned behaviour, and it can be unlearned, no matter how ingrained the habit is.
How do you stop looking?
Turns out the number one way to stop looking is to work on your marriage. Studies show that people in happy relationships don’t notice people they would normally find attractive as much.
It seems something changes in our brain and attractive people become more like background noise. Your brain registers them more like a lamppost than a person: they’re just an object that you know is there so you don’t run into it, but you wouldn’t remember seeing it if someone asked.
Another study tells us that if we’re forced to gauge the attractiveness of someone of the opposite gender, those with happier relationships will screw potential mates attractiveness down, while skewing their own partner’s attractiveness up, subjectively.
It seems we have built in mechanisms to help us switch from “looking for a mate” to “found one”. Good idea on God’s part if you ask me. Not only do we tend not to notice those who might cause us to wonder “what if”, if we’re forced to notice them, the answer of “what if” is heavily weighted on the side of the relationship, assuming it’s healthy.
Now, that’s a near, long-term method, but it takes a lot of time to change a relationship from unhealthy to healthy, and often it needs both spouses to work on it. What about things you can do now right now? Or what if your spouse isn’t interested in improving your marriage? Or maybe your marriage is doing okay, but you still have this habit?
Stop building the habit
In our world men are continually being taught that we should be looking at women. Porn, TV shows, magazines, ads, they all continue to build up this habit. Stop letting them. Quit porn, stop watching movies with too much skin, put down the magazines and anything else that contains ads.
Seem impossible? Yeah, maybe it is impossible to completely cut it all out, but you can severely limit the time they get your attention, and simply by recognizing that this is the plan, that they are trying to make you look, can help fight the influence.
There’s saying “The grass is always greener where you water it” to contrast “the grass is always greener on the other side”, and it’s very true. If we can recognize and put a stop to those things that are feeding this habit of looking at other women, then we can instead start building up a habit of focusing on our wife.
Create a habit of looking away
If your brain has a habit of looking at women, then layer another habit on top if it: When you find yourself looking at another woman, just acknowledge “Yes, she’s attractive”, then look away. When you manage it, get excited that you succeeded. It will help embed that new habit. I’d you have to interact with the individual, focus on their eyes. Don’t stare, remember to blink, but don’t let your eyes go roving south, even if they look away.
Another option is to retrain your mind to focus on your wife. I’d you see an attractive woman, think of something positive about your wife. It could be physical “I love my wife’s butt”, or something less concrete “I like the way my wife laughs”. This shouldn’t be a comparison, not a “My wife looks better than her.”, just a positive thing about your wife to get you thinking of her.
The idea is to train your brain to refocus your thoughts in your wife and make the other women less something you notice.
Realize that it’s a habit and you’re trying to break it
It takes time to tear down a habit. Some days you will succeed and some days you will fail. As I tell my coaching clients, progress is the goal, not instant perfection. If you all up, just recognize that it was a mistake, and resolve to continue working to break down the habit.
There’s an idea from the book Every Young Man’s Battle that I read once years ago with the young men in my youth group. I’m probably going to get the details wrong, but the concept was good as a visualization. The basic premise is that there is this large enemy living in your brain that gets bigger when you feed it, and shrinks when you starve it. You are constantly fighting with this enemy.
Over the years, you’ve fed it so much that it’s grown enormous. It looks impossible to defeat. Now, you’ve decided you really want to beat it. So, you resolve to stop feeding it. Well, it’s not going to shrink much overnight, and you might slip up and feed it once in a while. But, over time, as it’s feeding’s decrease, it gets smaller. It gets easier to beat in individual battles. This makes it easier to stop feeding it, and the momentum grows.
The hardest part is at the beginning. It can seem like an impossible task.
Don’t forget to pray
As with everything else in life, God is there to help us. Too often we think He’s not interested in these little things, but He is, I promise you.
Ask for help, ask God to give you the perseverance to tackle it. Those beginning stages especially are very difficult. When the enemy seems too large to tackle. But God likes to help us with character building. It’s all through the Bible. There are many verses about perseverance, endurance, of Paul comparing our daily walk like running a marathon.
The beginning is the hardest part. Once you gain some momentum, it gets easier. To ask God to help you get started. Help him to give you the motivation to continue. Ask him for endurance. Let him be your strength.
Get an accountability partner
If your still struggling, find someone who will hold you accountable, who will ask the hard questions of you. Someone you respect and is not your spouse. Studies show that simply knowing that someone will ask you “How’s it going” on a goal will make it more likely for you to achieve that goal.
If you don’t have anyone, if it’s too embarrassing to bring up to anyone in your circles, I can be that person for you and help coach you through the changes you want to make.