Looking, Noticing and Seeing

This little write up could potentially cause a stir. I haven’t written it for that reason. I’ve written this to open up a different dialogue and hopefully shed some light on a dicey area that causes much strife for both men in recovery and their wives.

Let me start with my premise: there is a difference between looking and noticing.

I may have lost some of the women reading this already. Hope not. Hope you’ll read on.

In the context of sexual integrity issues or sexual addiction, men develop a habit of looking. There becomes an automatic response that once a woman (or man, if that is your style of acting out. For the sake of this conversation I’ll use ‘woman’, but both apply) enters the periphery our eyes are drawn there. The more depraved and deeply entrenched our sexual integrity issues, the more focused that looking can be. We can develop a habit of looking at exactly the right height to notice the body parts we’re most interested in. I’ve talked to men who have an uncanny ability to pinpoint a woman’s ring finger when he turns to look at her. To be clear, by saying it becomes automatic I am not excusing the behavior. It’s become a bad habit because of deliberate choices that over time have sunken into our subconscious. To that end, men entering the recovery process often don’t even realize they are doing it. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the conversation where a wife is demanding her husband admit he intentionally checked out a woman, and he swears up and down he didn’t. Typically they find a stalemate at the point where she is fed up with trying to convince him to own that he looked, and he is feeling powerless to convince her that he simply noticed. Ugh.

Unfortunately the way many men (Including myself in the beginning) handle this difficult situation is to act like a petulant child and start in with the all-or-nothings. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I can’t remove all women from this world”. “Am I supposed to quit my job and live in a cave?” “She’ll never believe that I didn’t look – she only believes what she wants to believe”. “Fine, we’ll just never go out in public together”.

But it can go other unhelpful directions too.

Some guys will land at the ‘its my recovery’ place where they further jeopardize their wife’s heart. “Well, I know I did the right thing and I can’t convince her otherwise, so she’ll just have to deal with it”. This will go south quickly.

Or here’s another one I used to justify my looking behavior: “She’s just a pretty woman, and God made her that way. It’s not wrong for me to appreciate her beauty”. Nice….cloak it in Scripture and make God the scapegoat. I wonder how that conversation will go when God looks us in the eyes and asks why we used him as the ‘out’ for our sin?

Then there’s the minimizing route. “Hey, I just looked…I didn’t touch. At least I didn’t flirt with her, or hit on her, or [fill in the blank with some past acting out behavior]. Just FYI, when wives are triggered, it is almost never helpful for them to hear you measure present progress against past acting out behavior. The guys in your accountability group can high-five you for not flirting or whatever, but most of our wives don’t want to give kudos for doing what we should’ve been doing in the first place: living with integrity.

Anyway, I digress. For men who are actively working recovery, managing their eyes and thoughts, as well as trying to honor God and wife, inevitably they will notice other women. Their eyes will be drawn that direction. After having lived by objectifying other people and trying to get a hit of the lust drug, the old habits and mechanics won’t die easily. But there is a difference between noticing and looking.

Looking is a willful, intentional behavior specifically connected to a lack of integrity. Noticing is a twofold thing. First, it is the residue from a life of looking. It may now be a habit, but in recovery noticing lacks the willful intent. I don’t say this to excuse it, nor to convince a wife that it shouldn’t be hurtful, but the heart attitude is different. Further, if a man in recovery bounces his eyes, replaces his thoughts and honors God with how he handles it, those notices that are residual from the addiction will gradually decrease over time. But I don’t know that they’ll ever go away, which leads to my second point.

Some noticing is normal. We notice people; because of their looks, their clothing, mannerisms, gait, etc. It is part of life. I didn’t say oogling, double or triple-taking, staring up and down, or laser focusing on specific body parts.

If this debate has led to a stalemate at your house, I urge you to talk about the differences. Talk about the heart attitude behind what your eyes take in.

Finally, what I hope we all move toward, is seeing. Not looking, not just noticing, but actually seeing. Let me explain.

God the father and Jesus the son both saw people as image bearers. Throughout Scripture we see interactions between the Divine and humanity where He sees beyond skin to what is happening in the heart. In John 4 we find a story of Jesus encountering a Samaritan woman at a well. While she’s bending over to draw water, I suspect Jesus isn’t looking down her shirt! He’s not gawking at her and he’s not checking her out. He even reads her mail in a sense and knows her promiscuity. Opportunity perhaps? No, Jesus sees beyond all that to this woman’s heart. My hope is that we can all begin to see people through the lens of image bearers. May God work in us to see beyond boobs, hair, butt and body, to instead see people as He does; broken, beautiful and in need of a relationship with Him.

12 thoughts on “Looking, Noticing and Seeing

  1. I never knew, until I got serious with my relationship with Christ and my freedom from sexual sin, the difference between Noticing, Looking, & Seeing. I used to walk through the mall with my now ex-wife (now how’d that happen) checking out the pretty women. I thought it was normal. Don’t you simply ask forgiveness after each lustful leer? How little did I understand REAL Repentance and REAL Integrity. Thank God for this ministry and what it’s shared with us about TRUE Christian Manhood

  2. This is a great post! I enjoy reading this blog and Shelley’s blog on rlforwomen.
    My husband and I discussed looking, noticing, and seeing.
    My thoughts on this went a different direction, not to how a husband views other women, but to how he views his wife. While this post talks about not objectifying, I feel like many of the resources written for Christian wives just tell us to make sure we are available and that we look good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that he is going to see beautiful women so I better make sure I am one of them. I try but I often feel defeated. This isn’t his fault. He’s never once blamed his “looking” on my appearance, he diligently works his recovery, and he tells me often that I’m beautiful. But often his even “noticing” will trigger an idea in my head that I haven’t done enough to be attractive. It would be interesting to hear you and/or Shelley speak sometime to how a man should view his wife. And to why “make sure you look good and are available” is the advice many give to hurting women. Thanks to you and Shelley for your transparency. It helps more people than you know.

    • I think I feel as you do. When I’m around other women AND with my husband my heart plummets to my gut in fear. I automatically feel unattractive and notice so easily the beauty in other women.

      I guess, in truth, I am on this site now searching for what porn addicted husbands think of their wives? Are they still attracted to us? Is our childbearing stretch marks so distracting? Are our less than perky bobs a show stopper? The dimples in our thighs a distraction?

      3 kids later (one of which is only 4 months) I’m 5’6″ and 150lbs. When I’m alone I feel like. ..hey mommy not so bad. Hold me up to light against the never ending youth of pornography and I just scored last place.

      How husbands do you feel about your wife? And what of us when we are old? How do you think will you feel then?

      • I’m a sex addict for 20 years and now in recovery and working on my relationship with God. I hurt my wife so bad and she has told me exactally, the things you have said and think. As I continue to work my recovery, my wife is more attractive inside and out and more precious and value her more today than I did yesterday. It will take time for the insurities to fade and God, fellowship and your husbands sobriety and growth with intamency and empathy will help.

  3. How about this: not just seeing others as Jesus saw them, but seeing them as Jesus himself?

    As in, “…whatever you do unto the least of these, you’ve done unto me…”

    Will we see others as souls, or will we continue to defile the Lord’s body, one look at a time?

  4. I have been on the other side of things. I have been flat out told by my husband he looks, notices, sees because it builds his sex drive & makes him feel good and he seeks this outside the marriage because he doesn’t get it from me. I used to work out non stop, stay trim and fit, wear lingerie, take enticing photos of myself and send them but only to find out he was seeking & fulfilling this desire or need with other women whether it was in porn, women out jogging, women at work, magazines or wherever. I have to say once your husband tells you its all because you don’t do it for him and he does it to build his sex drive it makes this a very painful thing to go through and it destroys any hint of intimacy. Its selfish and destructive.

    I have heard all the justifications- half the population is women, you don’t have control over what you notice about a women, all men do it, if I’m not ok with then something is wrong with me or I’m insecure, jealous, there’s nothing wrong with noticing looking at how a woman is built, all men fantasize its healthy, all men masturbate its normal, all men look at or watch porn. He involved his family to gain their support and they even said if he wasn’t doing these things they would think he is gay and that its normal.

    Before any of this came out he lied an hid it for many years and still does from time to time. We have attended counseling and marriage seminars but I firmly believe that until a man truly commits his heart to God and to this battle its like putting a tiny Band-Aid on a massive deep cut. It will only just barely cover the surface and never really addresses what’s underneath.

  5. I don’t quite understand why you think sometimes noticing is okay? If it results from a residual of the addiction of looking at girls, then why should a little noticing be any more acceptable than a lot of noticing women? You say “some noticing is normal,” but could it be tha it is normal simply because we all have been affected by sin? I ask these questions not because I have the answers, but because I am trying to figure this out. Thanks.

    • Hey Joe, where you gonna go with that gun in your hand? (courtesy of the great theologian Jimi Hendrix, and others who covered the song).
      Anyway thanks for chiming in. And good question.
      I think there is a reality of brokenness, original sin, and residue from the addiction that would lead us to wink at sin. Indeed we might be looking through a cracked lens (pun entirely intended), excusing “a little noticing”, and as such the bar should be set much higher. To that end, why I wrote about moving towards “seeing”.
      My perspective on this, and thus my writing, comes from the tendency to shy away from legalism and Christian beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-bible-ism. My point wasn’t to excuse sin, but simply to speak to the reality of lived experience as we do life on Earth trying to honor God. I think of it in a Pauline way: I’m not above bad things on good days, but God I’m trying. And somewhere at the intersection of my spirit and God’s Spirit, at the crossroads of my effort, discipline, accountability, humility and willingness melding with God’s sanctifying work in my heart, I’ll not notice. And perhaps that isn’t until death.
      Hope that clarifies. Thanks again!

  6. I feel so lost. I have a past of being broken by men addicted to pornography. I am married to a good man, but it really hurts when my husband looks and he doesn’t even realize what he’s doing. He tells me he is just noticing people, but he just about always looks the way of the attractive women. Then tells me he wasn’t looking. It really seems as though he doesn’t even realize what he is doing. Yet I see it and I’ve seen him look so many times. There have been times I’ve seen him look, then he says he wasn’t looking, and I start to feel like I’m going crazy, because I just saw him look. Am I seeing things? We are at a stalemate and I don’t know what to do. This is really hurting our marriage.

  7. I cannot begin to describe what a gut-wrenching 35+ year journey this has been for me. I used to walk a runway as a strong, confident woman, and this very specific subject has turned me into a pathetic prisoner. Even several years out from a nuclear discovery and recovery, he still claims it’s a “decision” he makes for me and our marriage (multiple times a day) when he “chooses” to not notice any further. This not only makes me want to throw up, it is utterly agonizing for women. Hear that guys!! AGONIZING!! It makes us feel like we’re in some sort of sick competition, replaying the nightmare over and over, every day, everywhere we go. It brings back the betrayal all over again. Have some freaking mercy!! And then women are made to feel like they have to muscle through, get their big girl pants on, be mature, and deal with it – – all while our hearts are squirting blood. We’ve done everything! We look good, watch our weight, dress well every day, whatever. It doesn’t matter what we do, we’re still told that you’ll still “notice” “because you’re a guy.” Trust me, we just lose respect for you every time you “notice” other women. Personally, I do NOT believe that God designed His daughters to bear such an excruciating, defeating, humiliating burden. “Hey girl! I’ve hand picked this man for you! Oh by the way, I’ve wired him to look at other women and rip your guts out. But you be sure to stay faithful in your marriage to him, K?!” Yeah, I don’t think so. If a man can refrain from “noticing” his daughter, sister, or mother, then his brain is most definitely capable of the rewiring that gives his wife the TRUE covering, safety, protection and loyalty she desperately craves. And that’s the only way she wants intimacy, oh by the way.

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