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Reactance Theory: The Cause of Your Partner's Wandering Eye

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Remember when you were still in the courting stage of your relationship? When your partner chased you relentlessly, until you found out that he had eyes not only for you but for virtually every other woman?

Women are often dumbfounded by this sequence of events. First a man chases her but when he has her, he seems to want every woman except for her. This might lead women to believe that they are the root of the problem when, in fact, it could be due to reactance theory.

“When people feel that their freedom to choose an action is threatened, they get an unpleasant feeling called ‘reactance’. This also motivates them to perform the threatened behavior, thus proving that their free will has not been compromised,” ChangingMinds.org reported.

When you are pursued by a man, he does it willingly, it’s his choice. When commitment is established, however, he may realize that there are things he is no longer able to do and other women he may no longer pursue.

In his book The Power of Losing Control: Finding Strength, Meaning, and Happiness in an out-of-Control World, Joe Caruso writes, “There’s an important distinction to be made between decision and commitment. Decisions are firm but not binding; they allow us to ‘change our mind.’ A commitment, on the other hand, is backed by the power of will and has the effect of becoming a way of life.” Men may perceive choice very differently than they do commitment because in contrast to choice, commitment is binding.

“The story of the forbidden quince [fruit] underscores a general human tendency to want what we cannot have. Reactance theory (Brehm, 1966) posits that people respond forcefully to threats to their own liberty by doubling their efforts to maintain their sense of freedom and autonomy. Hence, forbidding people from having something typically makes them desire it more. One implication is that being prevented from paying attention to alternative relationship partners may make those alternatives seem all the more enticing,” said the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

If you’re told not to think about something in particular, what is the one thing that you can’t stop thinking about? If you’re told you can’t do something, what is it that you want to do?

When men commit to monogamous relationships they cannot think of or be with other women, which may make them think about and desire them even more. People seldom like limitations. This could be a reason why they are unfaithful, or at least desire to be.

This isn’t a reflection of you, they may just want to test their “free will.”
People often seem to focus on what they don’t have instead of appreciating what they do. They imagine that the grass is greener on the other side but every “other side” comes with its own set of realities. Rarely is something what it seems.

Making a commitment means taking a leap of faith, according to Caruso. So when someone decides to commit to you, make sure they consider you the “greenest grass” out there.


ChangingMinds.org. Web. November 23, 2011.

The Power of Losing Control: Finding Strength, Meaning, and Happiness in an Out-of-Control World by Joe Caruso. Book.

Forbidden Fruit: Inattention to Attractive Alternatives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Web. November 23, 2011.

Edited by Jody SMith

Add a Comment1 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Perhaps I expect too much but this is a cliched story. Perhaps a more useful angle would be describing practicle ways of dealing with these situations and appropriate approaches to ones relationships? It always bugs me when we hear about "issues" but authors fail to provide useful advice for the reader.

November 29, 2011 - 8:30am
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