The issue of flirting while you are married is pretty controversial. Some relationship coaches say that people who are married and flirting are disrespecting their partner and stealing attention from their spouse. Others say that married flirting is harmless fun that can even help a marriage thrive and boost self esteem.
So which is it? Is flirting while married a recipe for disaster or harmless fun? The answer is it depends.
The Case for Flirting While Married
Many psychologists and counselors believe that flirting is harmless fun, so long as boundaries remain intact. Psychologist Dr. Michael Brickey, author of Defy Age, goes as far as saying that flirting can help you stay married. The reason? It boosts self esteem and adds spice and panache to your life.
Even if you are already the most confident person in the world, flirting can still make you feel good about yourself. We like getting attention from members of the opposite sex. If you’ve been married for a long time, then flirting can remind you that you are still desirable. For women who have recently had kids, a bit of flirting can really do wonders for morale. It is a reminder that they are more than just a walking milk machine with 20 pounds to lose.
On the flip side, seeing your spouse flirting with someone else can help you feel good about yourself. For example, a husband and wife go out to a dinner party. The wife spends the night flirting with the men at the party – but she goes home with her husband. The husband can get the satisfaction of knowing that all those men wanted his wife, and she went home with him.
When you feel good about yourself, it is going to reflect positively on your marriage. In this sense, flirting may not just be harmless, but good for marriage.
You Don’t Go Blind When You Say “I Do”
Nor do your hormones suddenly turn off for everyone except your spouse. It is unfair to expect your spouse to suddenly never notice a sexy man or woman again. As Gray Miller points out, if a woman has always been turned on by firemen, the idea that saying the words “I do” will turn off that chemical response is ludicrous. You might say that flirting with someone you find sexy is especially dangerous as it fuels sexual fantasies. But sexual fantasies can be very healthy, even when they don’t include your spouse. Sexual fantasies decrease sexual inhibition and increase sex drive. Remember, most of us don’t want our sexual fantasies to be acted out (rape is one of the most common sexual fantasies).
Miller also notes that married people are often under a lot of pressure to “turn off” their flirting habit when they get married, even if flirting is something they’ve done all their life. That flirtatious nature was probably one of the things that attracted you to your spouse in the first place, and it would be unfair to think it can easily be turned off.
The Case Against Flirting while Married
Even all the advocates of flirting while married warn that proper boundaries must be respected. There is a big difference between flirting for fun and flirting for an ulterior motive, such as the desire to harm your spouse or fulfill needs which aren’t being met at home.
For example, flirting can build sexual fantasies – which can be a healthy thing. But, fantasies can be used to increase the distance between spouses, like when the husband is imagining his secretary instead of his wife during love making. Psychologist Dr. Schwartz says, “Each of those fantasies along the gradient represents a increasing psychological distance from the relationship.”
Likewise, just as flirting for a self-esteem boost can be a good thing, it can also be a bad thing. You shouldn’t have to rely on the interest of others to feel good about yourself. There are many healthier ways to boost your self esteem. And, if the attention of your spouse isn’t doing it for you, then it is a sign you’ve lost interest in your spouse.
Flirting Because of Spouses Have Lost Interest
A lot of times, married people begin flirting because their relationships have lost flair and become dull and routine. They seek fun and an ego boost by flirting outside of the marriage. What they should really be doing is working on their marriage.
Christina Pesoli at the Huffington Post writes that flirting while married is “energy robbed from your marriage. She says,
“All of the sexy banter, flirty texts, and inside jokes? Those are hot in more ways than one. Not only are they steamy, they're actually stolen — as in the time and energy that you are putting into those rightfully belong to your marriage. Just as a flame deprived of oxygen cannot continue to burn, your marriage cannot continue to thrive when you are denying it the basics necessary to sustain it.”
Signs Flirting Has Crossed the Line
Yes, it can be healthy to flirt while married, but the exact same things which make it healthy can also cause it to ruin your marriage. That is why you have to be very careful not to cross the line if you are married and flirting. Here are some of the signs that flirting has gone too far.
You Are Secretive About It
If you only flirt when your spouse isn’t around, you delete flirty emails, or your spouse doesn’t know about the online chatroom you are in, then your flirting isn’t healthy for your marriage.
You Spend More Time Flirting with Others than Your Own Spouse
Flirting is healthy when it playfully builds up sexual tension for your spouse. By contrast, if you are flirting with others in order to fulfill some unmet needs, then you are harming your marriage. You should flirt with your spouse and find ways to increase the romance.
You Are Flirting to Make Your Spouse Jealous
Think that flirting with someone else will make your spouse get jealous, and thus notice you more? It doesn’t work like this! Instead of arousing your spouse’s interest, you will just cut a riff between you two. If you want your spouse’s attention, try to bond over something that you both enjoy.
You Are Flirting to Hurt Your Spouse
This type of activity is vindictive and is a sign of deep troubles in your marriage.
Your Spouse is Hurt By Your Flirting
Even if you are only flirting for fun and have no intentions of taking the flirting any further, you should stop if it hurts your spouse’s feelings. Marriages survive based on respect, and you should respect your spouse enough to stop flirting. If you think your spouse is overreacting, sit down and have a discussion about what he/she considers flirting and where the boundaries are.
The Flirting Starts to Escalate
At Glamour, they give a good description of how flirting can escalate into an affair (which could be a physical or emotional affair). It starts out as fun and both enjoy the flirting. Then it becomes excruciating, like foreplay before sex. There will come periods where you two flirt more seriously, and then one pulls away. This excruciating sexual foreplay continues. At one point, maybe one of your doesn’t pull away and it turns into a full-blown affair.
You Rationalize It as Meaningless
If you are married and flirting online, you might rationalize it as meaningless since it only occurs in virtual chat rooms. But sexual tension can escalate online just as it does in person. That is why studies show that online cheating usually leads to physical encounters.