The Case for Letting Your Partner’s Eye Wander

  • Share
  • Read Later
Laurence Mouton / PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections via Getty Images

Just ask Eve. There’s nothing so desirable as the one thing you’re not allowed to have. Which is why a new study suggests that if your partner’s got a wandering eye, you might be better off letting him (or her) enjoy it.

Research on romance has consistently shown that men and women who don’t notice attractive strangers tend to be more satisfied in their own relationships and are more likely to stay with their partners long term. Of course, that blindness has to come naturally. When a person is forced to divert his attention from that cute bartender — by, say, a jealous partner’s opprobrium — it could result in a sort of “backlash” effect, which may end up reducing his level of relationship commitment. (More on Time.com: Does Your Partner Hold Grudges? Blame It on His Mother)

That’s the finding of a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which tests the “forbidden fruit” hypothesis in a series of experiments on college students who were involved in romantic relationships. Write the researchers:

Just as people want jobs they cannot have, salaries they cannot earn, and cars they cannot afford, people may desire attractive alternatives more and desire their current relationship partner less when they are placed in situations that limit their ability to attend to attractive alternatives.

Certainly, if one partner makes it a habit to drool after attractive strangers while his or her spouse rages with jealousy, there’s probably a larger problem at hand. But the researchers found that the forbidden-fruit effect remained even in cases in which a person’s attention was subtly, unnoticeably restricted. “We proposed that limiting people’s attention to attractive alternatives would undermine positive relationship processes, even when the limitations on attention are posed outside people’s conscious awareness,” the authors write. (More on Time.com: Real-Life Romeos Don’t Compare to Dream Lovers)

The first experiment involved a group of 42 undergraduate students (because, you know, who’s more committed than a 19-year-old college kid?), 25 of whom were women. Three-quarters said they were in committed relationships; the others were mostly casually dating, with a minority of married students. The participants sat before a computer looking at quick-flashing images of face pairs — one attractive, the other average. After the images flashed, one face was replaced with a target letter (E or F), which the participant was instructed to press on the keyboard as accurately and quickly as possible. The program was purposefully rigged to restrict some students’ attention from the more attractive faces, by having the target letter appear in the place of the average-looking face 80% of the time.

Following the computer exercise, all participants filled out questionnaires about their level of relationship commitment and satisfaction (including questions like “How dedicated are you to your relationship?”) and their attitudes toward infidelity (rating statements like “Being faithful to my romantic partner is important to me”). Researchers found that participants who had been unknowingly prevented from looking at attractive faces reported less relationship satisfaction and more positive attitudes toward infidelity than people who were allowed to peep at all faces equally.

A subsequent experiment used the same computer-attention task to show that people who were prevented from gazing at attractive members of the opposite sex were actually more likely to remember them. After having 36 undergrads complete the computer task and then a distraction task, researchers tested the participants’ ability to pick out previously seen attractive faces from a lineup. As the researchers predicted, those whose attention was forcibly diverted — and thus had spent less time looking at attractive faces — were better at recognizing them later on. The effect held for both men and women. (More on Time.com: Texting Leads to Sex Sooner — and Easier Breakups Later)

Having shown that reining in a wandering eye leads people to devalue commitment and remember cute strangers better, in their final experiment the researchers wanted to see if the restriction would also make participants more vulnerable to attractive alternatives later on — at least in terms of attention. Indeed, testing a pool of 158 undergrads, of whom 42% were “dating casually” and 51% were in committed relationships, married or engaged, the researchers found that people whose attention was restricted in the computer task were measurably more engaged by attractive faces in a subsequent task, compared with people in the control group.

The current research has some obvious limitations itself: it involved college students in relatively new relationships; but commitment is known to strengthen over time. It also didn’t follow-up to see whether people’s changes in attitude toward commitment and fidelity led to actual cheating or relationship failure later.

As for the takeaway message here, it’s what you’ve known all along. A partner’s consistently wandering eye probably signals some larger problem that a slap on the wrist isn’t likely to address. The success of your relationship rests on a lot of hard work and constant communication. The authors write:

Being told simply not to look is probably not an effective strategy for boosting satisfaction and commitment or reducing interest in alternatives. To be sure, spending most of one’s time attending to attractive alternatives is not a boon to a good relationship. Probably the most effective solution involves working on enhancing relationship processes that naturally lead to decreased attention, such as focusing on positive aspects of one’s partner.

Related Links:

The 3-Year Itch: Are You Already Sick of Your Spouse?

Do Tight Times Make Close Marriages?

9 comments
AmyRossland
AmyRossland

A motivating discussion is worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo matter but generally people don't discuss these subjects. To the next! Many thanks!!

Mortgage Broker Calgary

FaithJefferson
FaithJefferson

Wow, i am the happiest woman on earth today. i want to testify of what Dr Uwadia Amenifo did for me. i am Faith Jefferson by name. Dear brothers and sisters, i have suffered breakdown in relationship for eight years now. My man abandoned me and went for another woman. This is a man i love with the whole of my heart, and i was left to suffer emotional pains. So somebody introduced me to a herbal and spiritual doctor who she said the spiritual doctor have done so much for her. So i contacted the doctor, and i explained my problem to him. So he assured me that he will do it and that he will break the spell and my man will come to me begging. So i did all he says i should do, and believe me in just four days, my man called me on phone and was begging. i was so so surprised and finally my man is back to me. Please i want you all to be happy with me and also be thankful to doctor Uwadia Amenifo for his powerful spell breaker. please in case you are suffering from heartbreak, and you need your man back, or you need your woman back, or you want to get married but the right person is not coming, and you want the right person to come, please in a hurry contact Doctor Uwadia Amenfo now because he is capable of solving all your problems. His email is (doctoruwadiaamenifo@gmail.com) and his phone number is (+2349052015874).

 

MaryKings
MaryKings

I will write more soon. I am the most fortunate woman on earth! What Dr.Lawrence has done for me will never be forgotten. Last night my husband traveled 300 miles to propose to me in front of over a hundred people on bended knee! There was no warning we had not spoke in several months. More to come we are about to head home! Yes.... share the news!!!!.. just wanted to let you know we are doing well. I have tried to sit and write a testimony... But just can't seem to find words adequate to describe what is unfolding. Dr.Lawrence is more than faithful, He has given me a "new man"! I am humbled that Dr.Lawrence has noted every detail in an effort to demonstrate his love for us. The faint whisper I heard in my heart as I entered the courtroom to face the granting of the divorce over a year ago, has become a thunderous voice of victory! Five years of waiting...violence... Coming and going... Other women... Court decrees... Interfering family members... Many tears... Doubt... And defeat.... Dr.Lawrence still chose to step in and do what others said He could not. The work continues in my life separate from the restoration, and in my husbands life as well. We are planning a wedding, silly after being together 21 years. Just wanted to let you know how grateful I am for truth about marriage, and to come back and let my fellow standards know... Don't give up because we are proof, Go on't give up on us. As always pass on the praise if you see fit! contact email Drlawrencespelltemple@hotmail.com

MarinClaudia
MarinClaudia


My ex which we have a son together broke up with me for another guy who is extremely wealthy. whenever i communicating with her. She always indirectly speaks that it was a regrets she met me and she had a son with me, she deprived one year from my newborn son of seeing him which we end up at court but the court case stopped because my both parents got killed in car accident 20/ 7/2014 , then she left with the other guy with no treas and never came back to me until i was able to come in contact with ealierthebetterspelltemple@hotmail.com after his spell was casted my ex she broke up with the other guy we had a reunion. we are together now living happily

LauraBenson
LauraBenson

I want to say a very big thanks and appreciation to Dr.Lawrence for bringing back my husband who left me and the kids for almost two months. I am very much grateful to Dr.Lawrence who brought my husband back to me within 3days.I pray to God almighty to give you the strength and wisdom to help more people having similar problem like mine. drlawrencespelltemple@hotmail.com

GurfiedAnnabella
GurfiedAnnabella

My Life can be very displeasing especially when we loose the ones we love and cherish so much.My husband abandoned me and my 2 kids for 2 years he said he wanted new adventures.I asked what i had done wrong but he said nothing.He continued paying our bills but moved in with another woman i was so frustrated and a times i will cry all night because i needed my husband by my side. all thanks to ogunspiritualhome@gmail.com , i was nearly loosing hope until i saw an article on how master Ogun cast a love spell to make lovers come back. There is no harm in trying, i said to my self. i contacted him via email and after 24 hrs my story changed. words will not be enough to appreciate what he has done for me. i have promised to share the testimony as long as i live because he brought back happiness and joy into my life.If you having any kind of problem in your relationship and you need your man back i RECOMMEND master Ogun .please do contact him directly on ogunspiritualhome@gmail.com , Email him on; ogunspiritualhome@gmail.com ,Isabela Kuchta from London

JonnyT
JonnyT

You know what, 'eye shopping' is actually healthy for one's relationship.  If you try preventing, it only makes you look less confident and all of those 'others' a more attractive option.   

MauriceMaximo
MauriceMaximo

Are you for real? Science sometimes does not make sense.