Cheating Versus Flirting – 6 Easy Ways to Tell the Difference

Are you – or your partner – cheating by flirting? How do you tell the difference between harmless flirting versus emotional cheating?

Here are six signs of harmless flirting, five ways to know if flirting is hurting your love relationship, and five signs of emotional cheating…

“When a spouse places his or her primary emotional needs in the hands of someone outside the marriage, it breaks the bond of marriage just as adultery does,” says marriage counselor Gary Neuman, author of Emotional Infidelity: How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Relationship. “An emotional affair can be just as dangerous to a marriage [as a physical affair], and often a more complicated situation to remedy.”

One of the best ways to differentiate between flirting versus cheating is to figure out where your primary emotional needs are being met. Are you emotionally satisfied by flirting with people of the opposite sex, or by your partner? (It’s better to be satisfied by your partner!) If flirting or emotional cheating has negatively affected your relationship, read Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.

And, here are several signs of flirting, ways to know if flirting is hurting your love relationship, and indications of emotional cheating…

6 Signs of Harmless, Innocent Flirting

Harmful flirting is cheating on your partner when your body language goes beyond innocent winks, smiles, and teasing. Innocent flirting is something you’d do with someone of the same sex; harmless flirting doesn’t hold the promise of physical intimacy.

  1. Innocent flirts do tease or talk to friends or colleagues of the opposite sex in front of their partners (versus hiding their interactions, which isn’t good).
  2. Innocent flirts don’t make romantic innuendos or promises to people other than their partners.
  3. Innocent flirts make eye contact for short periods of time (they don’t stare meaningfully into another person’s eyes for long moments).
  4. Innocent flirts don’t laugh at jokes, tease, or nudge their flirting partner in suggestive or “hidden innuendo” ways.
  5. Innocent flirts don’t lie to their partners about who they spend time with, or what they talked about.
  6. Innocent flirts treat everyone the same way. They don’t reserve certain touches or moments for a particular person (unless it’s their partner!).

Note that doing just one or two of the above doesn’t mean you’re an innocent flirt…it’s a combination of factors that can change flirting from innocent to hurtful, and that can really hurt your relationship.

5 Signs Flirting is Hurting Your Love Relationship

You flirting is affecting your relationship when…

1. Your partner isn’t comfortable with your actions. If your partner feels hurt, betrayed or angry because of your flirting, then you need to reevaluate your definition of flirting versus emotional cheating. If your partner is the flirt and you think he or she is lying, read 4 Ways to Tell if Your Husband is Lying About Cheating.

2. Friends or colleagues misinterpret your actions. If your coworkers think you’re leading someone on or cheating on your partner, then you may be crossing those flirty boundaries. Pay attention to what the people around you say with regard to your behavior….they may be more objective than you are.

3. Your flirting partner misunderstands your signals. If your flirting partner thinks you want more than to share a joke, then you’re crossing over flirting into emotional cheating. If your flirting partner makes a pass at you or thinks you want to cheat on your partner, then you’ve gone too far.

flirting cheating4. Your flirting partner contacts or visits you regularly. If the person you flirt with calls you at home or visits your desk or workplace regularly, then you’re not longer “just friends.” If your flirt is a colleague of the opposite sex and you’re getting strong intimate vibes, then your flirting isn’t harmless.

5. You’re flirting for the wrong reasons. If you’re flirting to manipulate your partner’s feelings, attract people of the opposite sex, get a job, or increase your self-esteem, then you may have crossed the line into emotional cheating (or just flirting for the wrong reasons). Harmless flirting doesn’t usually have strings attached, nor is it manipulative.

Read When You Bring Out the Worst in Your Boyfriend for ways to cope when you can’t seem to get along.

5 Signs of Emotional Cheating

  1. Having long lunches or extended drinks after work with colleagues of the opposite sex – and work or business isn’t on the agenda.
  2. Engaging in thorough discussions of work problems with someone other than your spouse.
  3. Sharing jokes and gossip with friends or colleagues of the opposite sex, and excluding your partner.
  4. Spending as much time buying the right gift for a friend or colleague of the opposite sex as you do for your partner.
  5. Discussing intimate issues with friends of the opposite sex, not your partner.

It can be tricky to differentiate harmless flirting versus emotional cheating when you and your partner disagree on the definition. But, the most important way to love your partner is to act in ways that reassure him or her…which may mean stopping even the most innocent of flirtatious behaviors.

If you’re curious about online interactions, read Is Your Husband Cheating on Facebook With His Female Friends?

Fix Your Marriage

If you have any thoughts on emotional cheating versus innocent flirting in love relationships, please comment below…

Before You Go...

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Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen
I'm a full-time freelance writer and blogger in Vancouver, BC. I created the "Quips and Tips" blog series; my degrees are in Education, Psychology, and Social Work. I welcome your comments below, but I don't give advice. I can offer you a prayer and a blessing, though! You'd be surprised how helpful a prayer can be....

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8 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    I agree that communication is very important in relationships, but I don’t think flirting is always a sign of cheating or unmet needs. Some people are natural flirts, and it’s just their way of connecting harmlessly with other people.

    Harmless flirting is about not overstepping boundaries, and not making your partner feel uncomfortable.

  2. jealousy says:

    When your partner cheats or flirts through someone else, it means that he has needs that were not met in your relationship. This needs maybe needs that involves only you or both of you in your relationship. That is why, to avoid the act of cheating, it is important to constantly communicate with each other as to what is happening in your relationship.

  3. Wow — and I think that’s the problem with getting emotional attached to people outside our primary love relationship! Those connections have the potential to get deeper and more important….especially if it’s not just innocent flirting.
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post…Establish Good Financial Habits – 6 Ways to Make Money Saving Tips Stick =-.

  4. Lea says:

    These signs on emotional cheating totally apply. A “best friend” of my ex-partner and he himself always talked about how they had a brother/sister relationship while I was together with him. The signs were obvious, but he always denied everytime I complained. I finally left him and about a year after we broke up, they got together.

  5. Christina says:

    I think the point is this- as said in 1- if your partner is uncomfortable with all of these actions, and especially if you feel guilty and are hiding things, those things should tip you off that something is ‘wrong’. If you have a good friend who happens to be the opposite sex, but your partner is okay with that and you have always acted a certain way with them and continue to do so, then there should be no guilt on your part or worry about it. What this article talks about is new behavior- when all of the sudden your spouse starts to pull away and turn to someone else. And not to be rude, but if you are reading this article you are either thinking that your spouse or you are cheating emotionally, which I believe is some of that guilt.

  6. roughneck says:

    Sounds like you married the wrong person. Although it is good to have close friends, both male and female. You get different perspectives from them. But, you should put your spouse first and foremost. Above friends, family, and your kids. That, my friend, is the ONLY way to make a marriage work. And, do division of yours and mine.

  7. olivia says:

    i agree. i have a really good friend of the opposite sex and even though we used to date, we were good friends before that too. it ended pretty well with both of us feeling the same way, that we should go back to being friends. we’re still just like we were before, and yes we do meet most of the requirements of an emotional affair but that doesnt mean anything. we have no feelings like that anymore and we love eachother like brother and sister do. my boyfriend knows that even though we spend alot of time together and used to date, there is nothing going on. he is pretty good friends with my close freind too and trusts us. all im saying is some people may meet these requirements but it doesnt mean anything is going on.

  8. Heather says:

    I disagree with some of the signs of emotional cheating. This almost implies that the only person you can have any type of meaningful relationship with a friend of the opposite sex. I would argue that I do all but maybe number 3, and the tail end of number 5 (I talk to my partner *also*) with my best friend, who happens to be a straight male instead of a female. But I’m not having an emotional affair with him-my feelings and his are completely platonic, and most of the time would be described as brotherly/sisterly. He was in my life first, before each our respective new partners, and he has always been there for me as a good friend and always will. I take time to pick out the right present, and so does he, because we want to make each other happy and it feels good to have picked the right present. I like to do things with my friend, both with our significant others and assorted friends and family members in tow and without. We have long lunches to catch up when we haven’t been talking lately because life got busy. We worked for the same company, so we discussed issues there in depth. Just like we’ve discussed the most meaningful things in our lives with each other- we know about each other’s pasts, the hurts and the joys, we know each other’s presents, the insecurities and what’s going well, and we know each other’s dreams and goals and fears for the future. We’ve known each other so long we can be each other’s sounding board, and we can look each other in the eye and tell them the truth when they are wrong without fear of damaging the relationship. We can communicate with just a look across the room, and know what the other one is thinking. We matter to each other. I hope one day he will be the godfather to my children and give him a formal position in my life.

    And nearly everything I just described could be said about both my mom and my sister (well, they never worked at my company, but still). He’s my best friend. It’s not my fault he wasn’t born a girl. But it’s not an emotional affair either- unless you’re about to claim I’m having an affair with my mother and sister as well.

    My fiance loves my best friend and has no insecurities- he sees the way we look at each other and can tell there is nothing fishy there. My best friend’s girlfriend doesn’t like the idea of me- she’s afraid that we’re having an emotional affair (probably from reading too many articles like this one) since we meet all the “signs”. But the signs are often signs of a close relationship- and everyone deserves to have several of those in their lives. If I have room in my heart for a mother, grandma, aunt, and 5 siblings that I have close relationships with- I have room for a best friend as well. This only enhances my emotional and social stability, and gives me plenty of opportunity to love my fiance with everything that I am, no holds barred.

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