Is Flirting Cheating?

People dancing in a club - is flirting cheating?

“Is flirting cheating” is a question most of us have asked ourselves at some point. Instead of a proper introduction, try picturing this: You and your wife (or long-term partner) are going dancing. There are lots of people and everyone seems to be having a good time. At one point during the party, your wife goes to the bathroom and you dance by yourself. 

A couple of minutes later, a woman approaches you. She starts dancing with you and you play along – she’s attractive, kinda your type, she even sparks a conversation, asking you a bit of this and that while you’re both dancing. 

This is flirting, no doubt. You seem to be having a lot of fun, but you have no intention of bringing it any further than this brief encounter where you exchange a couple of teasing, enjoyable sentences. You don’t exchange numbers or anything, even though you know you can. Soon after you notice your wife is coming back and you say goodbye and move away from the woman. 

You greet your wife, kiss her, continue dancing and then offer to get yourselves some more drinks. 

On your way home, you start feeling a little guilty, and there are two voices in your head: one of them tells you it was just mindless fun, a self-esteem boost, while the other one that your flirting is a type of cheating. What voice do you listen to? Will you even tell your wife? And then you also ask yourself: Did I just cheat on my wife? Is flirting cheating? 

Some questions are harder to answer

Well, turns out that some questions don’t have an easy, black and white answer. Some questions like to dwell in that greyish, troublemaker zone. “Is flirting cheating” is definitely one of them. And, in order to answer this question, we need to at least attempt to answer a couple of others with it as well. 

What is flirting? 

What usually constitutes as flirting is a behavior that signifies to the other person that you’re sexually (physically) interested in them. And, it’s usually characterized as a behavior that’s “casual” or “without serious intent”. 

But, we all know this is not always the case. People usually meet and fall in love by flirting first! So, while it can be a harmless behavior as it usually is considered and defined, its outcomes can lead to something much more serious. 

And this is precisely why people ask themselves the “Is flirting cheating?” question in the first place. 

Now, another question imposes itself here… 

What actually constitutes as cheating? 

Well, in its essence, cheating has to do with subverting or eschewing the rules for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage.  

According to Dr. Gary Brown Ph.D., a marriage and family counselor, “cheating is dependent upon the agreements you have with your partner.” 

So, is flirting cheating? 

Dr. Brown tells Bustle magazine how “innocent” flirtations outside of the marriage/relationship can be considered a form of “micro-cheating”, and it can be both live and via text messages. 

But, as we saw earlier, for flirting to become cheating, it should also signify some sort of breaking of boundaries and marital/relationship agreements. 

And flirting comes in a lot of forms – whether it’s eye contact, touching different body parts, giving and exchanging compliments, exchanging phone numbers… So, even if you agree with your partner about flirting outside of marriage, how can one know what exactly is allowed and what isn’t? 

Experts would agree that it mostly depends on what kind of relationship you’re in and, as mentioned before, the limitations (and allowances) you’ve established with your partner. So, whether you consider the palette of flirting possibilities as cheating is up to you and your partner, but bear in mind that the boundary is always thin, and micro-cheating might still be lurking around the corner. 

I suggest we take a look at some of the situations when flirting can turn into cheating that you should have in mind next time you get the flirting itch. Even if you’ve talked things through with your partner and you’re still not sure about the boundaries between flirting and cheating, spare your partner some pain and potential bad times by considering these flirting red flags.

When Do You Risk Turning Flirting Into Cheating?

Cheating isn’t always a strictly physical affair. Sometimes the emotional involvement with somebody that’s not your partner/spouse can hurt a lot more than the physical deed. 

Here I’ve compiled a list of the potential situations and acts that might put you in jeopardy of crossing some established flirting-outside-of-marriage boundaries with your spouse. Let’s take a look and see if you might recognize yourself in them. 

When You’re Being Secretive About It

Remember the definition of cheating and gaining unfair advantage? Well, being secretive about a flirtatious activity and doing all your best for your partner not to find out definitely slides into the category of micro-cheating and potentially, even full-blown cheating. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve deleted text messages or emails from somebody you’ve been flirting with, just for the sake of keeping them away from your spouse? 

Well, that’s a solid red flag, buddy. 

You’re afraid that your wife/partner will think you’re onto something should she discover them? How would you feel if she did the same? Ask yourself these questions, and try to answer them. If the answer is “terrible”, or “hurt” or “uneasy”, then that’ll tell you a lot about the thing you’re doing. 

NOTE: If you’re in an open relationship or an ethically non-monogamous one, then the story is a bit different. Also, there are couples who have an agreement that they have a range of free activities they can do outside of marriage. Again, it comes down to the agreement you have with your partner. But, if everything’s out in the open, then why be secretive about messages in the first place? One exception would be a rule where you don’t share these activities with your partner. But, if you’re afraid or think that your spouse will still get angry or hurt despite the agreement, then maybe it’s time to talk it over again. 

When You Risk Making It Into Something Sexual 

Of course, sometimes you can’t notice this right away; sometimes it’s a matter of process and you gradually become aware that both of you are bringing your flirtation to a more sexually charged space. 

Consider your sexual fantasies – affairs often have to do with fulfilling sexual fantasies and constructing a story about the other person. If you notice that your continuous flirtations and communication with some person happen in ways that actually feed your sexual fantasies, then you should definitely turn on the alarms. 

Remember foreplay? If your flirtations sound like what you would be doing during foreplay, if there are more or less subtle sexual overtones, then I’d advise you to take a step back and assess what you’re actually doing with this person. Are you just flirting or beginning to answer your question of “Is flirting cheating?” with a big, juicy YES. 

When You Attempt to Rationalize It 

If you find yourself excessively rationalizing the communication you’re having with someone or justify a purported friendship as in “She’s only a friend”, and also maybe having some “unexplained” feelings of guilt about this person, well maybe it’s time to reconsider the role this person has in your life. 

When You Spend a LOT of Time Together

The same goes for somebody that you spend a lot of time with. You could be doing this on social networks or in real life – regardless of where it happens, the amount of time you spend with somebody can say a lot about the nature of your relationship. 

Ask yourself – are you spending more and more time with this person, even more than you are with your spouse? Are you sharing intimate details from your marriage with them that you wouldn’t tell your spouse? If this is the case, I’d definitely ask myself whether this was just a regular friendship or if there’s something more to it.

When Your Spouse and/or Your Friends Are Concerned Over It 

If your wife or partner ever found out about it and she’s concerned about the nature of your friendship or encounter, then it’s also time to reconsider the relationship you have with that person, as well as to communicate it with your wife. 

Whether it’s the content, the time (or both) you’ve been sharing with this person, there was something she deemed inappropriate. And that’s enough. You should definitely validate the feelings and concerns of your spouse, even if you consistently don’t see it that way. 

The same goes if your friends (or other family members) voice their concerns towards this issue. Friends and family members can often be the voice of reason since they see things from a more neutral perspective, even though they’re close to you and they love you. They can help you realize things you keep missing, either because you’re rationalizing or because you unconsciously choose to be ignorant of them. 

What Are Some Other Types of Micro-Cheating? 

Micro-cheating can encompass a number of different behaviors. Let’s see what might be counted as a type of micro-cheating and what you can do about it. 

Becoming Obsessed With Someone’s Social Media Profile 

Sure, it’s totally normal to follow a wider circle of friends, colleagues, acquaintances, as well as strangers on social media. Some of them you’ll also find attractive, no doubt. 

The problem arises when your motives change. So, for example, if you have a bit of a crush on a social media friend, and you spend hours of the day checking their social media profile, sometimes even on a daily basis, well, my friend, then that’s definitely the beginning of what’s called “micro-cheating”. 

You may or may not reach out to them, but if you deliberately check their profile/site on a daily basis, and start to develop an obsession with their personality and/or looks, you got a bit of a red flag there for sure. 

And a major red flag is if you spend more time on your phone doing this than you do with your actual partner, like for example you’re both lying in bed at the end of the day and you’re scrolling like crazy reading all the Facebook posts or liking all the Instagram photos your online crush has posted in her lifetime. 

If you notice yourself doing this, ask yourself, why is it that you’re doing it exactly? 

Are you dissatisfied in your relationship? 

Do you have emotional issues or issues in the bedroom with your partner?

Do you want to start seeing other people? 

Whatever it is, don’t let it slide like that if it keeps repeating itself over a prolonged period of time, because it will affect your relationship at some point. 

Seeking Emotional Support in Someone Else Rather Than Your Partner 

Your partner shouldn’t fill all social roles in your life, that’s for sure. Friends, family, coworkers are there for different parts and needs of your life. A healthy romantic relationship isn’t one that will cut you away from all these social ties. 

The same goes when you have issues and life gets you down. Your partner isn’t the only place you can or should turn to. But, you should have in mind the following: if you keep reaching out to someone that you find attractive on some level – whether it’s an ex-lover, a friend, a coworker, etc.- and you find yourself looking forward to listening to their advice more or seeking their attention every time a problem arises, then you should think twice. 

When you feel like this crush understands you better than your partner, then that’s definitely a way to enter the arena of micro-cheating. 

Instead, ask yourself why you feel like you’d rather tell your deepest concerns to someone else, and especially a crush, rather than your partner. 

Keeping in Touch With Potential Love Interests

Micro-cheating comes in all shapes and sizes. Keeping up with back-up potential romantic interests is a part of its repertoire. 

Maybe you’re afraid your current relationship will fail and you’ll be left by yourself? So why not keep an old or potential flame currently (and secretly) burning? 

But this in itself is hugely problematic. It’s understandable that you don’t want to end up alone, especially if you’re facing major relationship difficulties, but it can also be a sign of refusing to commit to your partner fully. 

Is it because you want your relationship to fail? 

Or you don’t take it seriously enough? 

Maybe you think it’s just beyond saving? 

Whatever it is, keeping old tabs still in your browser is a form of micro-cheating that you need to address ASAP. 

The same goes for your exes! 

Playing Down a Serious Relationship

Have you ever been in a situation where you’re having a conversation with someone you like and you find yourself hiding the fact that you’re married or in a serious committed relationship? Like, for example, you take off your wedding ring, or you secretly put in their number in your phone… Micro-cheating guys. No doubt about it. 

Even if you have no intention whatsoever of doing anything physical with these people – why hide it if it’s all so innocent and friendly? Why downplay your relationship? 

The same goes if you somehow badmouth your partner because it makes you seem more available in the eyes of others (and in yours as well). Respect your partner and don’t badmouth them in front of other people, no matter how bad your relationship has become. Instead, settle it with them first, or find a confidante, like a close friend, a relative, or a therapist. Nobody deserves to be talked about behind their back. 

Making New Dating Profiles or Keeping the Old Ones 

It should go without saying that this is a major case of micro-cheating, but I thought I should repeat it just in case. 

Sure, you may enjoy that extra bit of attention from the sea of attractive people ready to flirt and mingle out there, but, man, you’re in a relationship remember? What’s the point of having a profile on a dating app, unless you’re openly non-monogamous or looking for a threesome? 

Otherwise, it means you’re looking for trouble, aka it shows intent towards other people that are not your partner and shows a lack of respect towards your partner. 

Deliberately Hanging Out With Someone Just Because You Find Them Attractive

Of course, you can’t shut yourself out from every person that you find attractive, that’s not the point I’m trying to make at all. But, if you find yourself going out only because this person that you find really attractive will be there and you go out of your way just to flirt with them, and this keeps happening… well, micro-cheating, again. 

Knowing the different forms and arrays of micro-cheating will help you identify some of your more questionable behaviors towards other people in your life. It will also help you deal with habits that can be detrimental to your relationship or that will serve to further undermine it. By succumbing to different forms of micro-cheating you’re risking hurting your partner by breaking their trust and making them feel disrespected. 

Final Thoughts 

While the line between flirting and cheating can sometimes be thin, as we saw from this article, the bottom line is that every relationship is different. 

This means that, ultimately, when you ask yourselves the question “is flirting cheating?”, it comes down to the boundaries you’ve set and agreed upon in your relationship. 

One thing remains certain – proper communication and respect for your partner leads to a healthy relationship and mutual growth. 

And, of course, the dynamics in your relationship will change over time, and maybe both of you will want to occasionally flirt with other people. 

And in the end, you might even end up flirting outside your marriage/relationship, and it may even turn you on. But, if at one point it starts to bother your partner, then it’s probably time to reconsider it and stop. 

Why make your partner suffer through one of your whims? Because if it continues long enough, and your partner becomes more and more aggravated, it will affect your relationship. 

What’s more, if it becomes too big of a pleasure, and even leads you to commit adultery, then you should definitely reconsider the relationship you have with your partner, and communicate all of this to them. 

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