Is Flirting Cheating? When It's a Warning Sign in a Relationship

Businessman and woman smiling at each other in office

A cute barista makes your coffee, and you wink at her as you're leaving the shop. A new employee in your office has beautiful blue eyes, and you decide to wear your cutest outfit the day you'll be meeting with them. When does flirting become cheating when you're in a committed relationship? It depends on the type of flirting and the intentions behind it. Learn more about how to recognize when flirting is a problem and what to do about it.

Flirting Styles

Infidelity usually begins with flirting, which is why flirting style and motivation for flirting are important. Flirting can be categorized into three main flirting styles that vary in terms of intention and behavior.

Physical

The physical flirting style tends to be used more when the motivation behind it is sexual contact. Those who use this style use more body language than verbal communication, such as putting their arm around the person, or touching their knee or arm.

Sincere

This flirting style comes from a desire to create an emotional connection and can lead to emotional cheating. Examples of this style of flirting are asking personal questions to get to know the person better, and showing an interest in their life.

Happy young woman traveling by train and smiling

Playful

Someone with a playful style of flirting tends to see the purpose of flirting as just fun with no intention of a further connection. This might be done through merrily punching the person on the arm, laughing at their jokes, or using terms of endearment in a perfunctory way. This type of flirting could still bother your partner, even though you don't have any intention behind it. It can also send the person you're flirting with the wrong message.

Social media, email and texting now make it easy to flirt discretely and blur the lines between a platonic friendship and flirting. Moreover, some extramarital emotional and sexual affairs have been found to start through casual contact on Facebook.

Is It More Than Flirting?

Though it might be difficult to distinguish between innocent flirting and behavior that is bordering on cheating, there are some warning signs. You might want to have a conversation with your partner if you notice him or her:

  • Flirting in a way that makes you uncomfortable, such as physically touching the person in your presence.
  • Engaging in a long conversation with the person while you are at a party, and when you ask them about it, they get defensive or evasive.
  • Spending a lot of time texting or Facebook messaging with the person.
  • Dressing more attractively when you know they will be seeing this person.
  • Being less flirtatious with or attentive to you.

You can also gauge if your own flirting behavior could be starting to jeopardize your relationship. Do you find yourself:

  • Not revealing to the person you flirt with that you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?
  • Dressing nicer on occasions when you know they will be there?
  • Hiding from your partner that you had any kind of interaction with the person?
  • Feeling like you have something to hide?
  • Flirting only when your partner is not there?
  • Noticing that it could be negatively affecting your relationship?

In short, if you flirt or interact with someone in a way that you would not if your partner were present, then it is probably more than playful flirting. You would then want to ask yourself what this means for you, and if you have the desire to continue the relationship.

If You See the Signs

If you see your partner flirting with someone else in a way that is bothersome to you, the best thing to do is to approach them directly. You can state the facts and how they make you feel. For instance, "You were touching Michelle a lot at the party last night and it made me uncomfortable." How your partner responds to your feelings and concerns is an indication of how much they value you and the relationship.

If you know that you want to remain in a long-term relationship with your partner, make that known to them. You can say, "I love you and I want us to remain an exclusive couple." Having an open discussion on the nature and limits of your relationship are important so that you're both on the same page.

If You Are Doing the Flirting

If you find yourself flirting in a concerning way, it is important to be honest with yourself and your partner. Your willingness to be honest is a testament to the strength of your relationship.

You can try telling your partner, "I have a confession. I've been flirting with Jessica and I think I've been sending her the wrong impression. I want to be with you, and I promise to maintain a platonic boundary with her in the future." You might then tell the person with whom you've been flirting, "It seems like our flirting has gotten more frequent. We need to stop because I have a girlfriend and I want to be faithful to her."

Behaviors that would not be considered flirting on their own include being kind, such as smiling or helping someone carry something, or complimenting someone on a strength of theirs, like being talented or organized.

Couple flirting in the street

Be Honest in Your Relationship

Even though you're in a relationship, you will still find other people attractive, and others will find you attractive. If you want to remain monogamous, it is important to acknowledge that you think someone is attractive, but not engage in behavior that jeopardizes your relationship. Establish the boundaries for your relationship with your partner; and decide whether any type of flirting would be acceptable.

If you want to get married, how you communicate while you're dating can set the stage for your communication in marriage. This is the time to start practicing direct and honest communication. Additionally, it is important to continue to flirt with your partner no matter how long you've been together. Continuing to do the things that first attracted you to each other helps keep the relationship alive and satisfying.

Communication Is Key

It can be challenging to navigate relationships with others outside of your romantic relationship. However, establishing boundaries and keeping lines of communication open is how you can maintain a strong relationship over time.

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Is Flirting Cheating? When It's a Warning Sign in a Relationship