Cheating Versus Flirting – 6 Easy Ways to Tell the Difference 29

Are you – or your partner – cheating by flirting? How do you tell the difference between harmless flirting versus emotional cheating? Here are six signs of harmless flirting, five ways to know if flirting is hurting your love relationship, and five signs of emotional cheating…

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“When a spouse places his or her primary emotional needs in the hands of someone outside the marriage, it breaks the bond of marriage just as adultery does,” says marriage counselor Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Relationship. “An emotional affair can be just as dangerous to a marriage [as a physical affair], and often a more complicated situation to remedy.”

One of the best ways to differentiate between flirting versus cheating is to figure out where your primary emotional needs are being met. Are you emotionally satisfied by flirting with people of the opposite sex, or by your partner? (It’s better to be satisfied by your partner!)

If flirting or emotional cheating has negatively affected your relationship, read Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.

6 Signs of Harmless, Innocent Flirting

Harmful flirting is cheating on your partner when your body language goes beyond innocent winks, smiles, and teasing. Innocent flirting is something you’d do with someone of the same sex; harmless flirting doesn’t hold the promise of physical intimacy.

  1. Innocent flirts do tease or talk to friends or colleagues of the opposite sex in front of their partners (versus hiding their interactions, which isn’t good).
  2. Innocent flirts don’t make romantic innuendos or promises to people other than their partners.
  3. Innocent flirts make eye contact for short periods of time (they don’t stare meaningfully into another person’s eyes for long moments).
  4. Innocent flirts don’t laugh at jokes, tease, or nudge their flirting partner in suggestive or “hidden innuendo” ways.
  5. Innocent flirts don’t lie to their partners about who they spend time with, or what they talked about.
  6. Innocent flirts treat everyone the same way. They don’t reserve certain touches or moments for a particular person (unless it’s their partner!).

Note that doing just one or two of the above doesn’t mean you’re an innocent flirt…it’s a combination of factors that can change flirting from innocent to hurtful, and that can really hurt your relationship.

5 Signs Flirting is Hurting Your Love Relationship

You flirting is affecting your relationship when…

1. Your partner isn’t comfortable with your actions

If your partner feels hurt, betrayed or angry because of your flirting, then you need to reevaluate your definition of flirting versus emotional cheating. If your partner is the flirt and you think he or she is lying, read 4 Ways to Tell if Your Husband is Lying About Cheating.

2. Friends or colleagues misinterpret your actions

If your coworkers think you’re leading someone on or cheating on your partner, then you may be crossing those flirty boundaries. Pay attention to what the people around you say with regard to your behavior….they may be more objective than you are.

3. Your flirting partner misunderstands your signals

If your flirting partner thinks you want more than to share a joke, then you’re crossing over flirting into emotional cheating. If your flirting partner makes a pass at you or thinks you want to cheat on your partner, then you’ve gone too far.

4. Your flirting partner contacts or visits you regularly

If the person you flirt with calls you at home or visits your desk or workplace regularly, then you’re not longer “just friends.” If your flirt is a colleague of the opposite sex and you’re getting strong intimate vibes, then your flirting isn’t harmless.

5. You’re flirting for the wrong reasons

If you’re flirting to manipulate your partner’s feelings, attract people of the opposite sex, get a job, or increase your self-esteem, then you may have crossed the line into emotional cheating (or just flirting for the wrong reasons). Harmless flirting doesn’t usually have strings attached, nor is it manipulative.

Are you trying to control your boyfriend’s behavior? Read How to Stop Being a Controlling Girlfriend.

5 Signs of Emotional Cheating

1. Having long lunches or extended drinks after work with colleagues of the opposite sex – and work or business isn’t on the agenda.

2. Engaging in thorough discussions of problems at work, in your family, or at home with someone other than your spouse.

3. Sharing jokes and gossip with friends or colleagues of the opposite sex, and excluding your partner.

cheating versus flirting easy ways to tell the difference

Cheating Versus Flirting – 6 Easy Ways to Tell the Difference

4. Spending as much time buying the right gift for a friend or colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your partner.

5. Discussing intimate issues with friends of the opposite sex, not your partner.

It can be tricky to differentiate harmless flirting versus emotional cheating when you and your partner disagree on the definition.

However, the most important way to love your partner is to act in ways that reassure him or her…which may mean stopping even the most innocent of flirtatious behaviors.

Is your relationship healthy? If not, read How to Be Happy Even in an Unhealthy Relationship.

If you have any thoughts on emotional cheating versus innocent flirting in love relationships, please comment below…I can’t offer advice, but you will find it helpful to express your thoughts and feelings. Writing helps you gain clarity and insight.

Be strong enough to let go, and patient enough to wait for what you deserve.

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29 thoughts on “Cheating Versus Flirting – 6 Easy Ways to Tell the Difference

  • MT

    I’ve been having a terrible time with a married man flirting with me at work. I finally got him to acknowledge the sexual tension between us, and told him he had to stop acting like he was, but he still has been pushing my buttons. He has this joke-y bit where he talks about wanting to fight with me, wanting to wrestle me. I called him out on not being so great at upholding his vows, and he became very angry with me. Things have cooled off now, but the worst part is I miss his attention and am still thinking about him all the time. It’s definitely emotional cheating, but I’m not sure he sees it that way–I wish we could still be friends but he doesn’t seem good at respecting boundaries.

  • Megan...

    My boyfriend says he flirts with other girls but he says he doesnt take it far but a talk or a 2 second eye contact. But we are doing a long distant thing and so he wont tell me pretty much anything. What does this mean? Is he cheating?

  • Laurie Post author

    Dear Marc,

    It sounds like you’re learning the difference between flirting and cheating, but you still tend to keep your friendships with other girls. This makes your girlfriend uncomfortable – and rightfully so. I would be uncomfortable if my husband had friendships with other women, even if he wasn’t cheating or flirting! It’s just more loving and secure to know your boyfriend or husband isn’t emotionally involved with other girls.

    Questions for you:

    Why do you think your girlfriend is having trouble rebuilding trust in you?
    What does she say she needs from you, in order to win back her trust?

  • Marc

    I didn’t know filirting is considered cheating. I’ve been flirting with other girls thru Snapchat and I don’t know none in real life and they stay in different states. I threw a couple flirting lines to them and tell them their beautiful. Then one day she wanted to check my phone so I just gave it to her to prove I have nothing to hide and she saw them and cried and told me I cheated.
    We discussed it and I told her I was sorry and told her I won’t Flirt or talk to them anymore and she took me back. But she doesn’t trust me anymore. She would sometimes cry and it would hurt me deeply. She soon stopped.

    A month later I still talked to one of those girls because she’s always been my friend but I never flirted with her. Soon she found out I still talked with her by looking at the notification on my phone and she broke up with me. We both agreed to break up because I broke her heart twice and I guess she couldn’t take it anymore. We’re trying to become friends but soon we’re going out again. What do I do to make her trust me again and for her to forget what I did.

  • precious

    Well i think my man is cheating cus he was talking to this lady that works at his job i read it in a text, it’s more than flirting, is he wrong for that or could he be cheating

  • Rob

    Is it flirting when a man tells a women that “If I wasn’t already married I’d say we visit it together… Haha 😂😂😂 “. Followed by ” But I’m a good guy, and not that guy”? Because apparently to my wife that’s some serious flirting! I felt like I was doing the Honorable thing by being upfront with the fact that I was married!

    • sabrina

      Rob, honorable? Being up front with your martial status is when the woman “comes” on to you with more in mind then flirting. Then you tell her, “no thanks, I’m not interested, I have a wonderful wife, whom I love and respect”. Telling this woman, “if” I wasn’t married….is more then flirting, it’s highly suggestive. If this was being “honorable ” then you would not have had to cover your tracks by saying, “I’m a good guy, not that guy”. It’s interesting you didn’t say, “bad” guy. Bad is the opposite of good, isn’t it? So on top of proposition in this women, you told her you were a good guy, who is interested in her, although your married. This is more then just serious flirting. You may have a problem with being a womanizer. I would suggest, if you want to remain married, that he seek help with learning appropriate behaviors towards woman. Some day this sexual suggestive verbal will back fire. There will be that one woman, who is NOT married to you, that will give you hell. You may find yourself in a sexual harassment suit. One last thing, if you said this in front of your wife, your a real jerk. That’s when “wifey” says, he’s not married anymore, you can have him.

  • Francois

    Well I am hurting. My wife is having an emotional affair / flirting with a guy at work. While I’m not perfect, what gets me is the kind words and gestures she send him via whatsapp, I mean I cannot remember when last she told me I am good looking. It’s clear they have lunches together at work and she has confided to share her bad days with him during these lunches – messages I found on her whatsapp. This is the second guy I found that she had been emtionally flirting with on whatsapp. The first affair I left alone and didn’t confront her about it, I mean I also want to give her her space and all that. This current affair though there’s been clear sexual innuendoes from him to her, and while she didn’t openly accept it neither did she reject it. I am a Cancer and by nature emotional, and while I doubt there has been physical sex there has been emotional sex. I am really hurting and after 8years of marriage (high school sweethearts) and 2 awesome sons, it seems it could br time to call it quits. I have had many opportunities to commit adultery and I do have short / on the spot chats with women at work, but I have never to date had an emotional affair with the opposite sex during out marriage. Any advise would be appreciated. For now I am not on speaking terms with my wife and considering to move out in the next week or two.

    • Perkyppeper

      You should confront her. She either doesn’t know she’s doing it or she doesn’t know that you know and thinks she’s getting away with it. As a woman I can tell you it’s not harmless flirting if she consistently communicates with him outside work. Confront her and ask her what’s going on. One thing I know is when I don’t get enough attention from my husband. I often think maybe someone else will give it to me but I never do it. So talk to her and tell her no point in lying or disguising anything. Better to tell you the truth so you can fix it together whatever it is.

  • Chris

    My wife flirted by face to face and emails while I was on night shift and sitting next to her. This lasted 2 months. It was a work colleague he stopped it then started it again. I saw her Facebook messages to her boss regarding him.

  • Terry Cooper

    Is it just as bad to allow flirts that are far beyond innocent even though you are the one doing it. My wife has been getting messages from an old fling from before we met. Things like when she told him she was married he said that should have been us, ive been trying to find you for the last few years, she asked why, his reasons were I remembered how good you was but we never had enough time alone together, she replied with no we didn’t have much time together but those were go times. She knows I know about the first part but not the last because she was telling me about it and making fun of him and when talking about it said that if he got inappropriate she would cut him off but clearly hasn’t. I thought the trying to find you for three years was stalkerish and the that should have been us married was inappropriate enough but I wanted to find you because of how good you was is pretty far out of bounds. I think not discouraging it is the same as encouraging it.

  • Laurie Post author

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on cheating versus flirting in a relationship. Your stories and experiences will help other readers cope with their own situations – and will show them they’re not alone. This is so important and meaningful!

    If you suspect your partner is doing more than flirting, then it’s an issue in your relationship. You need to honor how you feel and talk to him about it. It’s difficult to start these discussions, but they’re important.

    Here’s an article to get you started:

    What to Do About Your Relationship Problems

    I hope it helps, and wish you peace and wisdom as you move forward.

  • Tina

    What can you say if you caught your husband surfing internet with terms such as “how to know if a girl likes me”? Is it flirting or cheating if he’s looking for signs a woman likes him?

  • Nina Lintott

    Is it too far when ur husband messages a girl the following? My wife is out with her Sister and I’m stuck at home with ethan and his friend. I thought talking to you would solve my boredem.

    Is that cheating or harmless flirting?

    • Terry Cooper

      Yes and no just talking depends on what they talk about, but if he invites her or she offers to come over then yes. Also depending on if its a mutual friend or not.

  • George

    I have a best friend female of 34 who I have made it clear to that I would like to be more than just friends with, we have previously slept together but she has been unsure whether to proceed with a relationship as she might want children and marriage and I am male 47 , divorced and although marriage is maybe on the cards more children would need some thinking about. This has been going on a long time but now she has started flirting with a delivery man who arrives at the same time everyday, in front of me. He is married, long term and happy but flirts back and now in fact is rearranging his whole day so he doesn’t miss his coffee with her…. I have just had a chatwith her saying that although she hasn’t committed to a relationship with me she has called me a very dear friend and it sucks that she would behave this way in front of me knowing my feelings for her and it lacks respect….I have since made sure I am not arround to observe this behaviour and have withdawn. I don’t think she actually wants the guy, she does not llike unfaithful people so what on earth is she thinking?

  • Steve

    My wife has embarked on a Facebook emotional affair with an “old school friend” I was alerted to this by a wayward text which she sent to me by accident where she said “I think steve’s been unfaithful ” major slip up. I am Steve! So having checked the mobile phone bill I find no less than 129 texts from her to the “old school friend ” sent over just a 4 day period. Deciding I wanted to know a bit more information about what was going on before confronting her, I put some software on the pc to monitor the activity. Well shocked I was. Basically she was logging into Facebook every morning, the minute I left for work, and indulging in conversation with the “old school friend ” some of which was pretty innocent,and some of which made my stomach churn. Eg: if he ever found out he would make my life a misery” and “I love my kids, that’s it” they also shared intimate chats about how many people they had slept with. So, having confronted my wife and having been told “we’re just mates, there’s nothing going on” (despite me showing her that I had the key logs), I decided to monitor the pc activity a little more closely with software that took screen shots so I coukd see BOTH sides of any chats. What I then saw was how this “old school friend” was encouraging her to make sure she deletes the messages properly in case I see, and to make contact via WhatsApp instead. Unfortunately for my wife I also caught her trying to get him to ask her questions that she could answer to avoid me being able to make any sense of the conversation (she still believed that I only could see what SHE was typing. Wow it was then that I found out that she had gone and got an iPhone behind my back in order that they could chat via facetime or WhatsApp without me knowing! Regrettably for her, I found a strange number she had dialled from her own phone which turned out to be the “new iPhone number” I sent her a WhatsApp message to this number and she replied “hi, hard getting used to this bloody fone.” followed by “if we don’t chat today,I’ll be back tomorrow after 2”. She thought it was him who sent the message as she had told him on Facebook that “nobody knows about the phone “. So I finally front her with all of this, only to be told “there’s nothing going on” well it certainly doesn’t look that way to me! I showed her the WhatsApp message she sent to me thinking it was him and she still denied that it was her. After much persuasion she finally conceded that it was her and was meant for the “old school friend” but again said there’s nothing going on. I would love to hear people’s opinion of this situation?

    • Ria

      Steve, in my opinion the fact that she’s lied a few times about the nature of her relationship…the purchasing of a ‘secret’ phone….the constant denial when confronted by your evidence..all seems to indicate that should the opportunity present itself for her to physically cheat without repercussions…she’ll probably take it. You can try speaking to her and requesting that she cuts contact with him…send his wife (I’m assuming he’s in a relationship) copies of the texts and let her deal with him-though that could result in her kicking his ass out and thus freeing him to actively persue your wife! Will you ever trust her? Will you always be wondering whether the person she’s speaking with is a new man or just an innocent chat. Maybe counseling?
      We can all give opinions…..but ultimately you’re living with the situation….so you either take control of it and move things in the direction you wish it to go -be that to work on bringing your marriage back to a path that you walk together, or choosing to part ways- or you allow the situation to control your emotions and life. Good luck….I do hope it works out for you

  • Laurie Post author

    I agree that communication is very important in relationships, but I don’t think flirting is always a sign of cheating or unmet needs. Some people are natural flirts, and it’s just their way of connecting harmlessly with other people.

    Harmless flirting is about not overstepping boundaries, and not making your partner feel uncomfortable.

  • jealousy

    When your partner cheats or flirts through someone else, it means that he has needs that were not met in your relationship. This needs maybe needs that involves only you or both of you in your relationship. That is why, to avoid the act of cheating, it is important to constantly communicate with each other as to what is happening in your relationship.

  • Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Wow — and I think that’s the problem with getting emotional attached to people outside our primary love relationship! Those connections have the potential to get deeper and more important….especially if it’s not just innocent flirting.
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post…Establish Good Financial Habits – 6 Ways to Make Money Saving Tips Stick =-.

  • Lea

    These signs on emotional cheating totally apply. A “best friend” of my ex-partner and he himself always talked about how they had a brother/sister relationship while I was together with him. The signs were obvious, but he always denied everytime I complained. I finally left him and about a year after we broke up, they got together.

  • Christina

    I think the point is this- as said in 1- if your partner is uncomfortable with all of these actions, and especially if you feel guilty and are hiding things, those things should tip you off that something is ‘wrong’. If you have a good friend who happens to be the opposite sex, but your partner is okay with that and you have always acted a certain way with them and continue to do so, then there should be no guilt on your part or worry about it. What this article talks about is new behavior- when all of the sudden your spouse starts to pull away and turn to someone else. And not to be rude, but if you are reading this article you are either thinking that your spouse or you are cheating emotionally, which I believe is some of that guilt.

  • roughneck

    Sounds like you married the wrong person. Although it is good to have close friends, both male and female. You get different perspectives from them. But, you should put your spouse first and foremost. Above friends, family, and your kids. That, my friend, is the ONLY way to make a marriage work. And, do division of yours and mine.

  • olivia

    i agree. i have a really good friend of the opposite sex and even though we used to date, we were good friends before that too. it ended pretty well with both of us feeling the same way, that we should go back to being friends. we’re still just like we were before, and yes we do meet most of the requirements of an emotional affair but that doesnt mean anything. we have no feelings like that anymore and we love eachother like brother and sister do. my boyfriend knows that even though we spend alot of time together and used to date, there is nothing going on. he is pretty good friends with my close freind too and trusts us. all im saying is some people may meet these requirements but it doesnt mean anything is going on.

  • Heather

    I disagree with some of the signs of emotional cheating. This almost implies that the only person you can have any type of meaningful relationship with a friend of the opposite sex. I would argue that I do all but maybe number 3, and the tail end of number 5 (I talk to my partner *also*) with my best friend, who happens to be a straight male instead of a female. But I’m not having an emotional affair with him-my feelings and his are completely platonic, and most of the time would be described as brotherly/sisterly. He was in my life first, before each our respective new partners, and he has always been there for me as a good friend and always will. I take time to pick out the right present, and so does he, because we want to make each other happy and it feels good to have picked the right present. I like to do things with my friend, both with our significant others and assorted friends and family members in tow and without. We have long lunches to catch up when we haven’t been talking lately because life got busy. We worked for the same company, so we discussed issues there in depth. Just like we’ve discussed the most meaningful things in our lives with each other- we know about each other’s pasts, the hurts and the joys, we know each other’s presents, the insecurities and what’s going well, and we know each other’s dreams and goals and fears for the future. We’ve known each other so long we can be each other’s sounding board, and we can look each other in the eye and tell them the truth when they are wrong without fear of damaging the relationship. We can communicate with just a look across the room, and know what the other one is thinking. We matter to each other. I hope one day he will be the godfather to my children and give him a formal position in my life.

    And nearly everything I just described could be said about both my mom and my sister (well, they never worked at my company, but still). He’s my best friend. It’s not my fault he wasn’t born a girl. But it’s not an emotional affair either- unless you’re about to claim I’m having an affair with my mother and sister as well.

    My fiance loves my best friend and has no insecurities- he sees the way we look at each other and can tell there is nothing fishy there. My best friend’s girlfriend doesn’t like the idea of me- she’s afraid that we’re having an emotional affair (probably from reading too many articles like this one) since we meet all the “signs”. But the signs are often signs of a close relationship- and everyone deserves to have several of those in their lives. If I have room in my heart for a mother, grandma, aunt, and 5 siblings that I have close relationships with- I have room for a best friend as well. This only enhances my emotional and social stability, and gives me plenty of opportunity to love my fiance with everything that I am, no holds barred.