Partners Who Don't Maintain Eye Contact at Intimate Moments

The dynamics that constitute the bond of a couple go beyond love. In this article, you'll find information, studies, and theoretical perspectives to help you discover how to build happier and more meaningful relationships.
Partners Who Don't Maintain Eye Contact at Intimate Moments
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 22 February, 2023

Elena has been with her partner, Andrew, for almost twelve years. She adores him and he loves her even more. However, there’s one thing that really annoys her. Andrew is unable to maintain eye contact when they talk about any intimate topics or their emotions and feelings. In addition, she criticizes him for being unable to look her in the eye when they have sex.

Elena doesn’t doubt Andrew’s’ love. In fact, he shows it to her on a daily basis in infinite ways. However, she finds the lack of eye contact hurtful. But, he doesn’t see it as important. He’s one of those people who assume that, when it comes to conferring affection, eye contact isn’t important, and it’s enough simply to be physically present. Yet, in reality, this lack of connection can lead to doubts and confusion.

This particularity is more frequent in the male sex. In many cases, they eventually accept, albeit reluctantly, that it’s an issue. Indeed, in the context of a couple, eye language constitutes a basic pillar that establishes and enriches the relationship.

So, if it’s so important, why are there those who don’t carry it out?

The gaze is an emotional connection channel but it’s a mechanism that not everyone masters.

Man supporting his partner symbolizing my partner does not look during intimate conversations
Visual language as an emotional connection mechanism establishes itself in childhood.

Why some partners don’t maintain eye contact at intimate moments

When someone avoids looking at you when you talk to them, you usually assume that they’re shy. But, when two partners have been in a relationship for some time, lack of eye contact can’t be due to shyness. After all, they’re both lovers and the closest of friends.

The absence of eye contact during the most intimate moments will always have a negative effect on a relationship. While it can be accepted, it’s a painful acceptance. MacEwan University, in Canada, conducted a study that claims we need to establish eye contact to transmit information and consolidate social interactions.

In effect, with eye contact, we not only validate our emotions but also provide information about our thoughts. Consequently, an “I love you” will never be genuine enough if, when they say it, they avert their gaze or looks at the wall.

Let’s find out what might lie behind this kind of reaction.

If we educate children in good emotional communication that values eye contact, this pattern will be preserved in adulthood.

1. Gender and emotional education

Interestingly, research has shown that, a few months after birth, girls seek and maintain eye contact for longer than boys. The boys’ behavior was unchanged over time. This information was provided by a study conducted by Rebecca Leeb and Gillian Bramwell.

Does this mean that the genetics and sex of each individual determine their ability to maintain eye contact or not? The answer is no; not at all. Although children look at each other for less time, it’s the education they receive in emotional matters and social interaction that determines this factor.

If our parents allowed us to grow up in communicative contexts that reinforced us when we expressed what we felt and needed by looking each other in the eyes, it’s natural that we’ll continue to do so when we’re adults. Therefore, enjoying a solid emotional education in childhood motivates us to become interlocutors who take care of eye contact.

2. Difficulty managing intimate moments

Some people don’t look at their partners during intimate conversations because they find it difficult to do so. They may be bright and witty, and great conversationalists, yet not too clever when it comes to expressing their emotions. They’re the kinds of figures who struggle to talk about their feelings and share their needs.

Moments of intimacy make them uncomfortable because they don’t like to show their vulnerability. In fact, to do so embarrasses them because it makes them feel weak and flawed. It could also be that they haven’t acquired adequate skills in this area. It’s important to point out that this difficulty also causes them suffering. Moreover, they’re aware that these moments can put a strain on their relationship.

3. The avoidant attachment style

Some people experience difficulties in establishing secure, trusting bonds based on mutual care and the correct expression of their feelings and needs. This is known as avoidant attachment. It also manifests itself in the inability to maintain eye contact during the most emotional conversations.

This is because they don’t know how to handle these situations. Therefore, they try to avoid, escape, or distance themselves from them.

4. Possible associated disorders

The origin of an elusive gaze in contexts of emotional vulnerability almost always originates from cultural and educational factors. It often affects men more than women and is triggered by the type of emotional education received.

However, we can’t rule out any associated psychological or neurological disorders. Although in these cases, more associated variables should appear, and not just the lack of eye contact. For instance, alexithymia. This disorder means the sufferer is unable to recognize and express their own emotions and those of others. Autism spectrum disorder can also be correlated with this characteristic.

It’s possible that an individual’s lack of eye contact could be due to conditions such as autism or alexithymia. However, many more associated characteristics must also appear. For example, the inability to understand the emotions of others or to show empathy.

Man looking at his partner
Eye contact is the bond that nurtures non-verbal communication between a couple.

What can you do if your partner doesn’t maintain eye contact at intimate moments?

If your partner doesn’t look at you during intimate conversations or while you’re having sex, communication, and understanding are paramount. Therefore, you need to correctly express your needs. Here are some useful strategies you might like to adopt.

Aspects that you must understand

The fact that your partner doesn’t look at you when you talk about emotional issues doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. It’s just that they’re simply not proficient in these skills and experience great discomfort during these types of interactions.

  • It’s not a good idea to force them to look at you. In fact, this can cause more tension. Give them some space, treat them with respect, and try to establish visual contact with them without imposing it.
  • Create a scenario of trust in which it’s comfortable for them to talk about what they feel and need without judging.

Aspects that your partner should understand

Your partner needs to understand how much you value eye contact and the role it plays in how you feel. Likewise, it’s also positive and healthy that they understand the value of vulnerability, opening up emotionally, and making eye contact an essential part of everyday language.

However, taking this step can be complex and even a little perturbing. However, you’ll grow as a human being and your relationship will be more rewarding.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Geary, D.C. (2002). Chapter 2: sexual selection and sex differences in social cognition. In: McGillicuddy-De Lisi, A., De Lisi, R., editors. Biology, Society, and Behavior: The Development of Sex Differences in Cognition. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing, pp. 23–53.
  • Jarick M, Bencic R. Eye Contact Is a Two-Way Street: Arousal Is Elicited by the Sending and Receiving of Eye Gaze Information. Front Psychol. 2019 Jun 4;10:1262. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01262. PMID: 31214077; PMCID: PMC6558178.
  • Swaab, R. I., & Swaab, D. F. (2009). Sex differences in the effects of visual contact and eye contact in negotiations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 129-136.
  • Wood, Julia (2011). Gendered Lives: Communication, Gender, and Culture. Wadsworth.
  • Leeb, R., & Rejskind, F., (2004). Here’s Looking at You, Kid! A Longitudinal Studyof Perceived Gender Differences in Mutual GazeBehavior in Young Infants. Sex Roles. 50. 1-14. 10.1023/B:SERS.0000011068.42663.ce.’s_Looking_at_You_Kid_A_Longitudinal_Study_of_Perceived_Gender_Differences_in_Mutual_Gaze_Behavior_in_Young_Infants

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.