Flirting: Is It Cheating, Or Not?

Experts weigh in on this age old topic.


It could happen to any of us. A new, attractive colleague walks into the office, a good looking stranger sits next to you on the train or even your one of your good friends passes you an unexpected comment.

A suggestive gesture, a touch on the arm or sneaking in a look and your eyes suddenly meet and linger, all common signs of flirting I think we can all agree. Despite this, flirting is completely subjective and what one may think is harmless fun, another may not.

Whilst these kind of acts can be considered as nothing bad and even sometimes encouraged for those singletons out there, for those in relationships it can be hard to figure out when the line is crossed between meaningless chat and damaging behaviour.

So, we ask the time old question - if you’re in a relationship, flirting cheating?

Most relationship experts say the short answer is that it depends on a fair few factors. Jess McCann is a dating coach and author and her opinion is that flirting is not cheating or micro-cheating. The line is only crossed when this playful back & forth turns physical or emotional, saying that flirting then is “more of a respect issue than anything else.”

According to Caitlin Killoren however, it is up to couples to decide where the boundaries lie. The relationship-theory researcher & writer says that “Each relationship will establish different boundaries around what’s acceptable and what’s betrayal,” and that “there’s an inverse correlation between relationship satisfaction and flirting. The less secure a couple is, the more things they’ll flag as flirting.”

So if you’re happy and satisfied in your relationship, theoretically you are less likely you see any flirtatious behaviour from your partner as upsetting or threatening. Although we are not out of the woods yet, Killoren says there is one big old red flag that consistent flirting has ended up crossing the line into the cheating world and that is secrecy.

When the flirting is surrounded in secret messages or going out of your way to hide your actions from your partner, it has probably turned sour and you are most likely cheating and no longer flirting.

So it looks like flirting isn’t necessarily cheating every single time it is conducted and that it’s in the couples hands to establish ground rules on what counts and what doesn’t. We still can’t help but feel like there are some questions still left unanswered:

Why do people flirt in the first place if they’re happy and secure with their partner?

Can flirting ever be healthy for your relationship? Maybe solve some problems?

If your partner is flirting and it’s ticking you off, what do you do?

Why do people flirt in the first place?

There are various reasons behind why people feel the need or want to flirt and it’s not always about physical attraction or wanting anything more from their actions.

McCann says that most people flirt for attention or just to have fun if anything it’s a confidence booster for most people. “It’s a form of communication between people that feels good to both the flirter and the flirtee. Most of the time, there is no long-term objective behind it.”

The subject of the actual flirtation may not always be on the same page regarding intentions, or lack thereof, from the flirter and this raises more questions and can result in deeper issues stemming from the entire interaction.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz, MD says that flirting can also be an invitation to another person to respond to your sexual invitation, even if that is not the intention of the act. She says “[Getting] attention back is very seductive and can push the flirter to do more than they meant to at the start.”

Is flirting ever healthy for your relationship?

This is subjective to each couples thoughts, feelings and desires. In some relationships, flirting can be a totally healthy thing, Killoren says that if both you and your partner are both gregarious and charming people, it’s likely that they will enjoy the occasional flirt and perhaps even enjoy watching each other do so. It can fuel fires that are already present in your relationship, as long as just the flirting is as far as it goes.

It isn’t for the majority of us however and some couples will find flirting very hurtful even when it doesn’t disagree with your current relationships view on the act. “If you did not start your relationship on those terms, but suddenly try to impress or entertain your partner with flirty asides to others, it might not land with the intended effect...”

Steps to take if your partner is flirting and you are not a fan.

Sometimes flirting can go too far and one's partner may not be aware that it is upsetting the other. They may be getting too friendly with a co-worker or friend and you are not impressed, it is very normal to feel this way.

As a couple, you have to define what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to flirting, if you’re not feeling secure all of a sudden since the flirting began that’s when it’s time to be honest and make yourself heard.

“Tell them it hurts your feelings and ask them not to [flirt anymore],” Dr Saltz says. As well as this, also refrain from doing it yourself, it is only fair if you are unhappy with your partner doing it that you hit the nail on the head too.

Maybe it’s also time to have a conversation about why it has started in the first place, it’s a good idea to get on the same page about it to stop hurt feelings & jealousy festering. “If one of you feels a desperate need to flirt and get that attention, take a look at why that is,” Dr. Saltz says.

Is there maybe a deeper issue that needs addressing or some unmet needs? Now is the time to get that conversation going before any kind of action turns into something problematic and even into actual cheating.


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