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.
6 Signs of Harmless Flirtation
- You tease or talk to friends or colleagues of the opposite sex in front of your partner.
- You don’t make romantic innuendos or promises to others.
- You make eye contact for short periods of time (in other words, you don’t stare meaningfully into someone’s eyes for long moments).
- You laugh at jokes, tease, or nudge your flirting partner in non-suggestive ways.
- You don’t lie to your partner about who you spend time with.
- 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
- You often have long lunches or extended drinks after work with colleagues of the opposite sex – and you don’t often talk about business.
- You discuss your work problems thoroughly at work with colleagues of the opposite sex, leaving nothing to talk about with your spouse.
- You share jokes and gossip with friends or colleagues of the opposite sex, not with your partner.
- You spend as much time buying the right gift for a friend or colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your spouse.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.