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Teresa is known as a flirt. In fact, she is rather proud of that reputation. After all, a little flirting is fun, friendly, kind of exciting, and completely harmless, right? It seemed that way until things went wrong and left her wondering when her flirting had crossed the line.
Teresa’s regular flirty attitude bothered her husband Steve. And when Rick, Steve’s co-worker, thought her intentions went beyond flirting, things blew up. She wasn’t sure when, but her flirting had crossed the line and now her marriage is a mess, and Steve and Rick no longer speak to each other.
Can you relate to this story in any way? Maybe you’ve lived it or even watched it play out in all it’s sad drama. Whatever the case, flirtatious behavior has a very, very fine line between being harmless and becoming problematic, and most people have a difficult time seeing it.
What Is Flirting and Why Do People Do It?
Before looking at when flirting crosses the line it’s important to understand what flirting is and what it isn’t. For instance, flirting isn’t just being nice to someone. Nor is it necessarily any of the following:
- Joking and teasing in a fun way.
- Asking questions to get to know someone better.
- Complimenting someone about something you genuinely admire.
- Offering to help someone when your expertise or time can be of benefit.
But wait – couldn’t these actions be flirting? Yes, the certainly could be under the right circumstances.
The most defining attributes of flirting are the motivation, intention, and emotional response associated with the behavior.
Most people have definite ideas about what flirting is and why people do it. While most consider it a way to show romantic interest, some think it’s a harmless and playful way to interact with other people.
The truth is that it can be both, but determining which it is also isn’t just up to you. The person with whom you are flirting and the person you are committed to are big factors in interpreting your flirtatious behavior.
So, if flirting is so complicated, why do people do it?
There are a few primary reasons people flirt:
- Show romantic interest and create intimacy
- Increase their own self-esteem
- Increase the self-esteem of others and create positive feelings
Flirting doesn’t necessarily mean you’re unhappy in your relationship, looking for someone else, or have anything other than innocent intentions. For many people flirting is part of their communication style and one of the ways they relate to other people.
They may find the positive and interested reaction they get from others when they flirt gratifying. From their perspective they are creating this connection and giving attention to someone who may want or need it, and/or making themselves feel better by enjoying the reaction their attention creates.
In these cases, flirting isn’t a reflection on the feelings about their partner but rather on their feelings about themselves.
When Flirting Becomes A Problem
Determining when flirting crosses the line means understanding and being aware of several things, the biggest of which is how your partner feels about your behavior.
Your partner deserves respect and consideration and if your flirtatious behavior makes them feel uncomfortable or sends a message that you may be available in a romantic way, then you have gone too far. It’s in this way that flirting can often feel like cheating even if you have no intention of becoming physically intimate with someone else.
So, if you’re wondering if your flirting has crossed the line ask yourself the following questions:
- How does my partner honestly feel about the way I’m acting? If you don’t know you will need to ask – don’t assume you know the answer. Just because they haven’t said anything doesn’t mean they aren’t bothered, feeling belittled, or insecure.
- Is it possible that you are sending the wrong signals? In the case of Teresa, the person with whom she was flirting, Rick, assumed she was romantically interested in him even though she wasn’t. Flirtatious behavior is subject to interpretation and just because you feel your intentions are innocent doesn’t mean they will be perceived that way by others.
- Why are you flirting? This is a big one. Understanding your own behavior and the motivations behind them is crucial in determining what and how you may need to change. Are you flirting to make your partner jealous? Or are you flirting because you are unhappy in your relationship and looking for attention? Perhaps you are flirting because you want to feel wanted. Maybe you consider flirting and raising someone’s interest in you something of a game. Whatever the case, none of these reasons are healthy for you or your relationship. Using other people for selfish purposes and hurting someone you love in the process is destructive to everyone involved.<
Answering these questions will help you understand if your behavior is appropriate or if your flirting has gone too far.
You also need to consider things in a larger context. If your relationship is being negatively affected by your flirting, if you feel like you need to hide certain conversations, or if you are becoming too emotionally connected to someone else, you have crossed the line.
One of the biggest problems with flirtatious behavior is the doors that it can open up for other actions like cheating. It’s entirely possible for flirting to ignite a spark between two people that can lead to the development of an emotional or physical affair.
In these cases, Dr. Kurt often hears the cheating partner say things like, “It just happened.” Here is what else he had to say,
The truth is that cheating doesn't 'just happen.' People do things, often unknowingly, that make it more likely, and flirting is one of them. While you should definitely care how your partner feels about your being flirtatious, you shouldn't decide whether it's okay or not just based on what they say. I regularly hear partners say they don't care. Whether this is really true or they just don't want to be bluntly honest I'm never quite sure, but what I am sure about is that they don't truly understand the risks and negative aspects of flirting. People who are in committed relationships and still flirt are seeking external validation and acceptance. When these needs are so great that you're willing to act inappropriately there's a problem. And it's a psychological problem involving your self-identity that's being masked as 'just being friendly and having fun' when that's not what it really is - it's insecurity.
Is Flirting Ever Okay?
This is a tough one because within relationships partners often have not only different answers, but also different definitions of what flirting is.
In order to determine if any kind of flirting is okay you will need to talk to your partner and come to some agreements.
- What defines flirting?
- What’s the purpose of flirting?
- Are each of you okay with it?
- When do you each consider flirting to have crossed the line?
When one partner has a flirty, playful personality and is used to communicating in a flirtatious manner, asking them to change their behavior can be difficult. In fact, it may actually be part of what you love about them.
But each of you owe it to the other to show respect and maintain the integrity of your relationship. Overt flirting and allowing others to think you may not be committed to your partner because of your behavior isn’t acceptable.
Anything that makes your partner uncomfortable or has the potential to compromise your relationship is not okay. Your best bet is to direct your flirtatious behavior toward your partner and make it fun. This can reinforce the feelings of closeness between you and enhance your attraction to each other.
If you chose to flirt with others I offer this word of caution – it is very easy for circumstances to be misread and your behavior misinterpreted by others leading to big issues.
As I mentioned earlier, the point at which flirting crosses the line can be extremely difficult to see. Most people have a very hard time striking the right balance and will often end up with problems on their hands stemming from their behavior.
The easiest way to ensure that your flirting never crosses the line is simply to not do it. For some, however, that’s not easy and they may not even want to try to stop. Be careful though, flirting poses a big threat to the health and happiness of your relationship and it’s just not worth it.
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