5 Ways to Know if Flirting is Hurting Your Relationship

When does flirting cross the line and become emotional cheating? These six signs of harmless flirtation and five signs of emotional cheating will help you quickly and easily see the difference. I also share the most common reasons people have affairs, to help you protect your relationship.

Here’s an easy way to tell if flirting is harmful: if it makes your partner uncomfortable, it is not good for your relationship. Flirting crosses the line into cheating on your partner when your body language goes beyond innocent winks, smiles, and teasing. It is also not harmless flirtation when the involved parties are emotionally entangled or invested in each other – or when one person thinks the interactions (winks, touches, gazes, lunches, after work drinks, etc) are more meaningful.

Flirting can lead to more than friendly banter – regardless of what you think or your partner says. Flirtatious people may not intend for their behavior to lead to more than a sweet interchange, but the other party may see it as more. To learn more about relationship styles, read Why Your Boyfriend Cheated: A Relationship Style That Leads to Affairs.

Here are several signs of harmless flirtation, which isn’t cheating. Then, I list a few signs of emotional cheating, plus a link to more information about cheating on your partner by having friends of the opposite sex. And I saved the best for last! Five ways to know if flirting is hurting your relationship.

Harmless Flirting Versus Emotional Cheating

Flirting isn’t necessary sexual. It’s similar to teasing and gentle “ribbing.” My elderly neighbor flirts with me all the time, in a nonsexual-yet-warm way. Flirting is a type of connection that can make people feel good about themselves – but if it’s done poorly, it can be seen as cheating on your partner.

Harmless Flirting or Emotional Cheating
Is Flirting Cheating?

6 Signs of Harmless Flirtation

  1. You tease or talk to friends or colleagues of the opposite sex in front of your partner.
  2. You don’t make romantic innuendos or promises to others.
  3. You make eye contact for short periods of time (in other words, you don’t stare meaningfully into someone’s eyes for long moments).
  4. You laugh at jokes, tease, or nudge your flirting partner in non-suggestive ways.
  5. You don’t lie to your partner about who you spend time with.
  6. You treat everyone the same way. You don’t reserve certain squeezes or moments for a particular person.

Flirting isn’t cheating when you’re an “equal opportunity flirter.” That is, you flirt with women, men, elderly folks, salespeople, colleagues, and your relatives.

5 Signs of Emotional Cheating

  1. You often have long lunches or extended drinks after work with colleagues of the opposite sex – and you don’t often talk about business.
  2. You discuss your work problems thoroughly at work with colleagues of the opposite sex, leaving nothing to talk about with your spouse.
  3. You share jokes and gossip with friends or colleagues of the opposite sex, not with your partner.
  4. You spend as much time buying the right gift for a friend or colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your spouse.
  5. You share intimate issues with friends of the opposite sex, not your partner.

“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 Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity: How to Avoid it. “An emotional affair can be just as dangerous to a marriage [as a sexual affair], and often a more complicated situation to remedy.”

Flirting is harmful if it leads to emotional bonds with people that are more intimate than the bond you have with your partner. To learn more, read What is an Emotional Affair?

5 Ways to Know if Flirting is Hurting Your Relationship

  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 understanding of flirting versus cheating.
  2. Friends or colleagues misinterpret your actions or relationship. If your coworkers think you’re leading someone on or flirting with emotional cheating, then you probably are. Pay attention to what the people around you say with regard to your flirtatious behavior.
  3. Your flirting partner misunderstands your signals. If your flirting partner thinks you want more than to share a joke, then you don’t know the flirting versus cheating difference. If your flirting partner makes a pass at you, then you’ve gone too far.
  4. You see the person you flirt with often. If the person you flirt with calls you at home often or visits your work regularly, you may have blurred the flirting versus cheating line. If your flirting partner is a colleague of the opposite sex and you’re getting strong sexy vibes, then your flirting isn’t harmless.
  5. You’re flirting for the wrong reasons. If you’re flirting to manipulate another’s feelings, attract people, get a job, or increase your self-confidence, then you may have crossed over into emotional cheating (or just flirting for the wrong reasons). Flirting harmlessly doesn’t usually have strings attached, nor is it manipulative.

Why People Cheat in Relationships

An affair is seldom the result of one single cause. Why people cheat depends on their personality, background, family history, and lifestyle. Here are the most common reasons for cheating in a relationship…

An affair can be:

  • The result of anger towards the partner
  • An attempt to find intimacy, excitement, or passion that’s lacking in the marriage
  • The result of a fear of intimacy in marriage
  • An attempt to find a way out of an unhappy relationship
  • The result of a fear of getting older
  • The consequence of growing up in a family in which cheating was “normal”
  • A result of addiction issues
  • An effort to fix the marriage

If you’re coping with the aftershocks of cheating (emotional or physical), read A Family Therapist’s Advice for Recovering After an Affair.


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8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Know if Flirting is Hurting Your Relationship”

  1. Inck,

    I totally agree that TV shows, movies, and lots of blogs and websites make cheating in relationships seem okay! And, to make things even worse, they don’t reveal how destructive, painful, and heartbreaking affairs are. Cheating doesn’t just ruin relationships, it literally ruins people’s lives.

    I suppose we have such a cavalier attitude towards affairs because people like reading about them and watching that kind of stuff. Maybe it’s the same reason we keep glorifying top models and movie stars, power and fame. Were focusing on the wrong things in life and it’s destroying us.

    I also think affairs and cheating in relationships are used as entertainment because it’s kind of like when you pass an accident scene… You just can’t seem to tear your eyes away. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t stop looking at it because it’s so horrible.

    I don’t know, but I have found that for me it really helps to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. I’m really careful about the movies that I watch and the books that I read, because I don’t want to be reminded about how bad things can get in the world or in relationships. And I write about painful subjects, but not to encourage people to cheat! Rather my hope is to help women stop glorifying men and relationships, and start glorifying God instead.

    Thanks again for your comments about cheating and relationships… I’d love to hear from you again, so feel free to come back anytime let me know how you are!



  2. I feel tv shows movies even websites make it seem ok to flirt and even cheat in relationships. I have found sites that i do not want to name where men and women set up profiles. They start by harmless flirty interaction and look for an affair, its heart breaking. Why are we making it ok to flirt and cheat?

  3. No matter how much we know about the reasons why people cheat in relationships, we’re still hurt and devastated when we find out we’ve been betrayed.

    It really hurts, and it does feel like your life is over.

    But is it possible that you’re better off now that you know the truth?

  4. Hi,

    I’ve Been with my boyfriend over 2 years now he was the love my life I gave everything was his personal shopper and secretary as he couldn’t read write English very well he was from Kurdistan so use ask me to do very thing For him ordering online shopping for him & his girls & for his family back home.
    He was the love on my life he had ex wife & 2 girls. He used fix my car he was my mechanic. He told me he ex wife treated like crap & he hated her he only talks to her because if girls… Little I knew at time I find out he was sleeping with his ex wife whilst he was with after she got suspicious she Facebook me asked, I told him about the message he told me she crazy just to ignore her so I did …. After 6 months went by she message me again this time I said to to him if messages me again I will tell the truth & did… This was beginning of was about unfolded.
    She told me he’s does this all time makes out he’s got female friends but he’ll have a relationship at point I couldn’t believe what hearing so I went on his Google account started looking at his pictures realize that he had been going clubbing & having one night stands as saw pictures and location of different hotels in west super mere. My world fell apart I was devastated my life ended at moment in time however I told ex wife that even been with him. What didn’t know at time he was already one step ahead of me. He was telling his ex wife that I was his gym partner & I fell in love with him & I was abscess with him that I was crazy so he playing both of us at same time
    I started to digging into his past by talking to ppl guess What …he’s done this fair few times his targets generally asian woman mostly because their will no repercussion if he walks away because of family honour, most won’t say anything or cause a scene.
    Same old story… It’s your fault

  5. i married to an alcoholic who will flirt with anyone who moves, man or woman. cheating is in his blood, his dad and mom both cheated. big flirts too. Stay away from men who flirt! It is never harmless.

  6. I’ve been married 3 yrs goin on 4. Husband always was a big flirty bear but never cheated until he started drinking after the kids were born. Now he always avoids, me I know he is cheating I jus haven’t proved it yet. When I confront him he does laugh nervously everytime and says I’m not cheating on u woman. He flirts in front of me all the time, I feel like I’m goin insane. I feel like I’m stuck btwn a rock and a hard place. I feel lost and confused. some woman out there jus don’t care and will flirt with married men. Bad news.

  7. It’s heartbreaking to know that we can know why people cheat in relationships, and still not be able to stop it. At some point, we have to realize that some people have reasons of their own for cheating – and they won’t change. We can’t do anything, say anything, or be somehow better so they stop cheating. Why they cheat stops becoming an issue. The fact is that they are cheating…and that means we need to end the relationship.

    My prayer for you is for strength, courage, and wisdom. May you have peace as you decide what to do in your relationship, and may you have clarity as you move forward in your life. And may you know that you are worth more than being in a relationship with someone who cheats.


  8. Every month he is looking for a woman. Yet he is married to a great woman. heis now transporting a female coworker to worn and did not discuss it with his wife and was caught. He did not even apologized. He claims it is innocent, when she calls he deletes her calls and texts, immediately