"When I saw my husband kissing his old girlfriend, it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back," says Irene, 28, her voice filled with anger. Irene and Larry have been married for nine years and, for the most part, they've been happy ones, she insists. "Larry's had a crush on me since we were 10," Irene recalls. "He was always sensitive and generous with me -- buying me flowers and telling me how much he adored me."
But Larry has one habit that, as far as Irene's concerned, has gotten so out of control it overshadows everything else: He's an incorrigible flirt. "Why, if he says he loves me, does he ogle other women at parties and in public?" she wants to know.
While Larry insists his ogling is harmless, Irene is embarrassed by his actions and can't help but wonder if her husband secretly finds the other women more attractive. "I'm jealous," she admits. "This isn't the first time I felt like throttling him," she says. "Isn't there some way to get him to stop?"
She's so angry that she and Larry have virtually stopped talking to each other, and their once-satisfying sex life has vanished.
Larry can't wait to defend himself against his wife's unreasonable accusations. "She should know me by now," says the 30-year-old owner of a local music store. "No matter what she thinks, my kissing Kim was harmless. It meant nothing," he insists. "Besides, it's natural to notice a pretty woman, I can't help myself."
Larry says he's not being rude and doesn't understand why his wife is so infuriated with what he considers fairly innocuous behavior. "That's the way guys are," he continues, "and I think it's time Irene stopped making a federal case of it. She's always on my back, and now she refuses to even talk to me, let alone make love."
Larry firmly believes that the many things he does for Irene should be enough to prove his loyalty: "I've told her a million times I love her. Doesn't that count for anything?"
A roving eye
"Just because many men ogle other women doesn't mean that's the right thing to do," notes Evelyn Moschetta, a New York marriage counselor. While it is natural for a man to notice attractive women, and vice versa, such behavior is rude and offensive, to Irene as well as to the other women involved.
It's not surprising that Irene stewed with resentment and her anger built a wall of silence between them. Many times, what starts out as a small issue in time chips away at the harmony of an otherwise good marriage. What's more, contrary to what Larry thinks, his roving eye is well within his control. If Larry notices a pretty woman, he should be discreet.
Do you find yourself in a no-win argument similar to Irene's? The following steps can help:
* Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he truly doesn't understand how humiliating his actions are. In a quiet moment, explain that his behavior hurts you deeply. Once he hears you speak, calmly and without hostility, he may well act with more sensitivity.
* Change roles. If he still has trouble relating to your feelings, ask how he would feel if someone made wisecracks or flashed lewd looks at his sister, or even his daughter, in the same way.
* Consider the impact your own anger has on his behavior. While you are understandably outraged, could your fury be provoking him to prove that he is not under your control? When Irene "gets on Larry's case," as he claims she often does, he digs in his heels and becomes even more resistant to change. He'll be less contrary if she backs off a bit and tries a less confrontational approach.
* Is it really a threat? If, despite all your attempts, your spouse continues to behave poorly, remind yourself that he does love you and his behavior, while obnoxious, doesn't seem to pose any real threat to your marriage.