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When Does Flirting Become Emotional Cheating?

Have you ever wondered if the seemingly harmless flirting you’re engaging in with your attractive work colleague is harmful to your relationship?

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Or what about that icky, uncomfortable feeling when, say, a specialist makes flirty and super-flattering comments to you in a completely unethical, power-imbalance environment? Then there’s your local butcher who (this one applies to me: true story) makes suggestive comments and innuendoes whenever you order your weekly meat?

Flirting scenarios, while extremely varied, can be fun, ego-boosting and sexy, but when it’s with a third party, when does it become damaging for your relationship? And what about emotional cheating – does flirting fit in this category and does it necessarily even lead to extramarital affairs? So many questions… For answers, I approached a clinical psychologist who wishes to remain anonymous. Her answers are sobering indeed, for those of us who love a good flirt.

flirting, emotional cheating, relationships

Q: When does harmless flirting turn into more? Is it about a power imbalance?  

A: Flirting can be fun, it can make you feel good, but it can also be problematic. One sure sign that it’s time to stop flirting with someone is when your partner becomes upset.

It’s also not okay if it’s not mutual and consensual. So, if someone is flirting with you, but it makes you feel uncomfortable because it seems inappropriate, perhaps because it’s your boss or more senior person in the workplace or your friend’s partner, bring it to a stop.

You can give a clear signal that you don’t welcome the sexual innuendo by being brisk and impersonal in your interactions with the person doing the flirting. Flirting isn’t just about what’s said, body language is just as revealing. Body language includes the admiring glance, the sexy smile and the lingering touch.

flirting, emotional cheating, relationships

Q: Is ongoing flirting with someone you find attractive a form of emotional cheating?

A: If you are single, then flirting with someone you find attractive can be exciting and fun. It might even be the start of a great relationship. But if you are already in a relationship, flirting with a third party can be a form of emotional cheating.

To test out whether the flirty exchange is harmless fun or something that would upset your partner, imagine he/she is able to hear what’s being said – as well as see your body language. If that thought makes you uncomfortable and you realise that the flirting could be harmful to your relationship, then it’s time to get back to being business-like.

If you love to flirt, my best advice is to try having those sexy exchanges with your partner –  he/she is bound to enjoy it!

Images via Sydney Morning Herald, The Brunette Diaries and Eharmony

March 5, 2015