When your relationship and future happiness are on the line, sometimes subtle differences can make a big difference. You may feel like you’re casually flirting, but sometimes it crosses a line. Knowing the difference between being a lighthearted flirt and wrecking your relationship can be tough. We’ll help you sort out the differences. You can keep the one you love and still say something nice to a pretty girl now and then.
What is the difference between flirting and cheating? Flirting is, by definition, acting like you’re attracted to someone. Whether this is because you have a genuine interest, or just for fun, makes a dramatic difference. Cheating, on the other hand, is typically behaving in a way that makes your partner feel like you’re being unfaithful. Cheating is usually hidden. As you can see, there’s room for overlap between the two.
Did I Just Cheat?
Every relationship is different. Couples need to have mature discussions about what, for them, is cheating behavior. For example, an open relationship might not consider sleeping with a stranger cheating. Meanwhile, a religious and traditional couple may prefer not to interact with any members of the opposite gender at all. People might refuse to interact except to thank someone for a service or pay at a cash register. In that case, shaking hands might be cheating.
There are no set rules about how you choose to conduct your relationship, but you do need to be on the same page. If you must ask if your flirting was crossing a line, then the person you should ask is your partner. However, if you feel like you did something wrong, and you guiltily hide it from them, that’s a significant sign you’re in troubled waters.
How Do You Feel About It?
The first thing you need to understand is your motivations. Determine what you feel okay with, both for your own actions and for your partner. How far is too far for you? What could they do to alienate you and make you feel like they cheated? Ideally, you should hold both of you to the same standard.
You also need to consider your motivations and emotions about flirting. When you do it for a lark, it doesn’t feel bad. Perhaps you simply like to see people smile, but you always conspicuously show your wedding band and cut them off if things seem at all serious.
Alternately, you may feel you can flirt when your partner is there, but not if they’re gone. Another way to look at it is that it’s none of their business what you do when you’re not with them. That’s not healthy.
Do I Have to Have a “Healthy” Relationship?
Honestly, no. Lots of people have unequal and unhealthy relationships. It’s a terrible idea. Nevertheless, people certainly do as they like. If your partner consents, it’s usually healthy, but not always. Abused women choose to stay with partners who hurt them, but the consent lacks the element of safety and rational, coherent thought. Without safe and sane, consensual isn’t complete.
How much is ‘too much,’ when it comes to a possessive partner. While it can be hard to draw a solid line, there are some essential guidelines. If your partner controls you in ways, you don’t want they’re over-possessive. Likewise, if you feel bad even thinking about things you enjoy because they might not approve, then it’s a problem.
It’s often better to get out of an over-possessive relationship, but sometimes you can work with your partner to repair the issue. This is especially true if you’ve caused it by breaking faith with them at some point in the past.
Choosing the harder path, working through everything together, can take more time than you expect. Fortunately, there are lots of resources to help you get back to the right path. Visit a relationship counselor if you need to do so. Try to look at your relationship as a work in progress and a journey you share with one special person, rather than a problem to be solved. Defeatist thinking leads to problematic results.
The difference between over-possessive and prudent has to do with motivation. If you’ve chosen a partner who has trauma and ‘baggage,’ their seeming over possessiveness can, in fact, be caution. Our past experiences shape us. If they are polite and non-demanding about their firm requests that you reel in the flirting and other activities, you can bet they’re trying to work past trust issues.
One of the surest signs of real love is intentional caring. If you go out of your way to think of little things you can do for your love, then you have their best at heart. Acting with courtesy and intent to make them feel loved and able to trust, you should always be the goal. If you’re not invested enough to show you care, then perhaps the relationship needs reexamining. Rather than flirting or cheating, you may be better off with someone who makes you feel like you’re in love.
Show Don’t Tell
Words are just words, though they can hurt someone. If you want to assure your partner that no words you might say to another mean as much as they do to you, show it. Be present when you’re with them. Listen to their concerns. Don’t go out of your way to do things they might feel are unfaithful.
The old saying about actions speaking louder than words is true. All the flowery sentiment in the world won’t save you if you can’t back it up.
Say it Too
It may seem silly to mention this after what we just said about words, but you do need to express things verbally too. When you love someone, say so. Introduce them to other people in your life as your spouse. When they do something for you, thank them.
Most vital, if you wonder whether they’d ‘approve’ of things you do like flirting, talk to them about it. Guessing isn’t a guarantee, so instead, choose to be sure. There’s no reason to cause you or your spouse extra stress.
Crossing The Line
Whatever limits you set, there are some regular ‘tells,’ that you can look out for. If you find any of these things are true of your flirting, it’s definitely time to reconsider your actions.
- Misinterpretation- If your friends, family, coworkers, or spouse think you’re ‘up to something,’ then it’s certainly because you gave them a reason to believe this.
- Hook Line and Sinker- If your flirting partner(s) assume you have a serious interest, then you may have crossed a lie with them. Clarify and don’t continue flirting with that person.
- Too Much Time- If you’re spending a lot of time with your flirt-partners, especially alone, then you may be on the path to emotional infidelity at the very least. Keep it public and casual.
- You Want More- If you catch yourself daydreaming of the person you flirt with, or you know you want a relationship with them, then it’s a problem.
You may be uncomfortable with these indicators. Should you find yourself rationalizing why they don’t apply to you, then you need to look at your actions and choices. You’re never obligated to stay in a relationship you don’t want, but don’t string someone along either as a partner or a flirt.
Where Does it End?
Sometimes flirting or cheating is a sign of something else. People can have a tough time admitting they’ve fallen out of love. Pushing a spouse away is cruel and unnecessary. Honesty is always the best policy. If you need to end it, be brave and say so instead of trying to force their hand and make them into the villain subtly.
Conversely, you may have grown apart but want to save the relationship. Acting out can be a sign that you want their attention. Instead of trying to get them to notice you, sit down with your love, and discuss it. Admit if you’ve done something wrong or want to. Explain what you want and need from them.
Saving your love life isn’t something that happens by accident. Regardless of whether you need a fresh start or a chance to renew your bond with a long time spouse, you have to address your needs. The one thing you should never do is settle for being miserable.
Flirting and cheating are not inherently the same thing, but they can be if you take it too far. Emotional honesty is one of the hardest things to achieve as an adult and one of the most essential. To be happy you must know who you are, what you want, and where to get it. Otherwise, you’re doomed to failure.
Don’t torture yourself or hurt someone else. The pain of a breakup, or admitting a mistake is temporary. Choosing unhappiness, however, can last a lifetime. Live with intent and always look carefully at your private motivations. Self-reflection can save you a lot of heartaches. Opt for a healthy relationship, and you’ll never regret it.
Flirting for fun can be an excellent way to relieve stress and even bolster other people’s egos. Unfortunately, it can go wrong quickly. It’s best to avoid the issue entirely with solid boundaries.