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In counseling, I frequently get asked questions about flirting. Is it okay? Is it wrong? Is it cheating? How to make a partner stop? And one of the most common places people flirt today is on social media. This problem is well illustrated by Angie whose husband flirts on Facebook constantly.
Take a look at Angie’s question about why her husband flirts on Facebook and what to do about it, and my advice to her that follows.
What Flirting On Facebook Can Look Like
My husband has has some problems with "flirting". About a year ago, I found a secret Facebook page and email address he was using to talk to other women. He promises he's never cheated, which I think I believe. We went to a few counseling appointments and seemed to have a handle on it. A couple of weeks ago I found a couple of text messages in his phone to 2 women making suggestive/flirtatious comments. We really do have a great marriage and he says he feels like he gets everything he needs from me. He can't figure out why he has this need to get validation from other women. It's leaving me confused and hurt that he doesn't know why. We have to figure out how to stop or I'm afraid it will lead to some bigger problems. What do we do?" -Angie D.
Angie isn’t alone in this problem. Many people feel flirting on Facebook and other social media platforms is harmless and has nothing to do with their happiness or commitment to their relationship.
Unfortunately, this is just not true and Angie is right to be concerned that her husband’s behavior could lead to bigger issues.
This is a fairly common marriage problem now days, especially because of the popularity of social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat. I usually hear from at least one guy a week who's gotten himself into trouble with relationships that started online and then went too far.
You're right that one of the primary drives for this behavior is your husband's desire for validation. But he's not alone. We all seek validation – just in different ways. You're also right that it can easily lead to bigger problems. The relationship connections being made on social media are now the largest source of affairs.
Here's what to do. Your husband needs to go back to marriage counseling so he can have a professional help him discover why his need for validation is so strong that he risks his marriage to satisfy it. It would be good for you to go with him as well. Chances are that there are things the two of you will need to address together.
With the right help, he'll learn how he can put limits in place that will help him stop the flirting and find validation in healthier ways. Lastly, you both need outside help to examine the dishonesty that's occurred and repair the damage it's done.
Why Social Media Flirting Is So Dangerous
One of the biggest problems with flirting on social media sites like Facebook is that it can be really hard to recognize what’s happening. Many partners don’t even realize their behavior has crossed a line and could be jeopardizing their relationship.
Flirting in person is easy to discern. And it’s often situational and short-lived. Of course, this doesn’t make it okay. Flirting is disrespectful to your partner and a form of micro-cheating, but recognizing the behavior and why it’s inappropriate is fairly straightforward.
Digital flirtation, however, can be much more subtle and easier to explain away or justify. After all, it’s through a screen and actually starting an affair isn’t likely, right? Wrong.
The biggest risk from online flirting comes in the form of emotional affairs. Building an emotional connection is often mistaken for friendship until it’s too late and boundaries have already been crossed. Social media makes this kind of relationship extremely easy to begin, hide, or justify as, “I’m just friendly,” or “there’s nothing to worry about” (until there is).
The 24/7 opportunity to reach out for connection to someone outside your relationship can be very tempting and validating, as can be seen in the case of Angie’s husband. Although sex and physical intimacy is an extremely important part of a healthy relationship, the bulk of what keeps a relationship going and two people together is the emotional connection and intimacy. Social media makes it very easy to break the commitment of having that with your partner, almost without realizing you’re doing it.
So, if your husband is flirting on Facebook, or you are, don’t wait until things have gone too far to make a change. Consider Angie and her dilemma. Be smart and put a stop to it before you have bigger problems to contend with.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published November 12, 2009 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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