8 Reasons Why Flirting With Others While In A Relationship Is Risky

Updated August 21, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

If you ask a set of people whether they think flirting with someone other than their partner is considered cheating, chances are you'll receive a wide variety of responses. Their answers could range anywhere from “absolutely” to “maybe” to “it depends” and so on. Sometimes, two people in a relationship even find that they have different views than one another on this topic. Why are these responses so different from person to person and couple to couple? A variety of causes could be at play; nevertheless, it can be important for couples to be on the same page to avoid conflict and hurt feelings. 

Is Flirting Innocent Behavior Or Does It Signal Something More?

What Is Flirting?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, flirting is defined as "to behave amorously without serious intent." Amorously is an adjective that means "inclined or disposed to love, especially sexual love." So, flirting could be defined as "to behave, with the inclination of sexual love, without serious intent."

Studies show that flirting is much more than fun bantering at parties, bars, and workplaces. In fact, flirting is a universal and essential aspect of human interaction. Anthropological research has found that flirting is found, in some form, in all cultures and societies around the world. Furthermore, the research shows that flirting is a basic instinct that is part of human nature and that if we did not express interest in people through flirtation would not progress to reproduction, and the human species would become extinct. 

Flirting And Cheating

Although many people believe that playful flirting with someone while you're in a relationship is harmless, there can be downfalls to entertaining such an idea – for example, temptations to take it to the next level. Now, what is cheating? Most would gravitate to the obvious example of two lovers secretively meeting each other away from their partners engaging in forbidden sex. However, cheating can be non-physical as well. Many think that if there's no physical contact, it's not cheating. One can have an affair with no sexual intimacy whatsoever. 

While some believe that an emotional affair is harmless, most marriage experts view an emotional affair as a form of cheating without having a sexual relationship. Emotional affairs are often gateways to sexual infidelity, with about half of such emotional involvements turning into full-blown affairs. Flirting, in fact, could be construed as an emotional affair. Therefore, it can be important to discuss boundaries and expectations around flirting with your significant other.  

Flirting With Others While In A Relationship Can Be Risky: 8 Reasons Why

  1. It Could Lead To Cheating

As discussed before, emotional affairs are many times gateway affairs that could result in a sexual affair. What may seem like an innocent flirtation that you're sure won't go any further can very well turn into something more, and it may be wiser not to risk it at all. Even if you have the most benign intentions and are completely and utterly head over heels for your partner, the subtle changes with flirtation can lead to negative outcomes.

  1. You May Already Be Cheating

Some individuals consider flirting to be cheating. However, you might not know their stance unless you’ve outright asked them about it. The reality is that if you're flirting, you could already be emotionally cheating on your significant other. Until you’ve had a discussion with them about it, it may be a gray area not worth taking a chance on. Take a look at some red-flag indicators to help you decide if the innocuous flirting has stepped over the line.

  • It has a sexual agenda. If there are sexual overtones, no matter how slight, you may want to take a step back.

  • You're rationalizing. Do you feel the need to justify speaking with the person?

  • Your intentions are wrong. This may be conscious or subconscious but look at your intentions.

  • Others voice their concerns. Are your friends and family worried?

  • Your partner doesn't like it. They may be jealous, but if so, you might be putting out the signals to incur such emotions.

  • It's secretive. If you're keeping it from your partner, then you may already know it is wrong.

  1. Your Partner Could Be Jealous

Some people flirt for the mere goal of making their partner jealous. This is a risky behavior that can backfire eventually. Intentionally causing a partner to experience jealousy can hurt your partner to the point that the relationship is damaged. They may not want to be part of the relationship anymore or experience negative effects like low self-esteem. Relationships that are healthy are meant to build people up, not tear them down. 

  1. It's Not Fair To The Other Person

Flirting with others when you're in a relationship may not just be about your partner; it can also affect the other person with who you're flirting. They may take this behavior the wrong way and think that you're interested in them. They may have high hopes of something more, like a future relationship—whether physical or emotional. They might also get the wrong idea that if you're flirting with them, then your relationship with your partner is crumbling, if not completely over. It’s not fair to lead someone else on.                                                                                                                                                            

  1. It Can Affect Your Career

Flirting with a friend in the workplace can be a very common scenario. With people being together eight hours a day, five days a week, it can be fertile ground for flirting and all the temptations that come with it. Whether it’s the extra smiles directed at the other person, the special treatment, the touchiness, or making an effort to remember things they have in common, different behaviors can constitute workplace flirting. They might even take it to the next level and ask the other person about their relationship status or give their own. Flirting at work can be risky on many levels. If the flirting relationship goes sour, those individuals may still have to see each other every day, which could make going to work arduous and uncomfortable. Even more, if the other party is disinterested, it could be perceived as harassment, which could have detrimental consequences, up to and including the loss of one’s job or even legal filings.

  1. It Could Be An Escape

The reason long-term relationships survive the calamities of life is because both parties are willing to stand strong through positive and negative times. The need for excitement and impulsivity is often in the past because a stronger foundation has been built. Flirting typically has excitability intertwined in it. Many times, flirting with others when you're already in a relationship is a sign that you’re lacking something in the relationship. In this way, you may be trying to escape from your relationship by looking to someone else to fulfill those unmet needs. 

Holding eye contact, remembering their every word, not looking around the bar at anyone else but the person in front of you, leaning into them while flashing your pearly whites, a touch of a hand or arm, sending a clear message that you are attracted—these are the thrills that lure people to flirt. However, that passion often quickly fades rather than leading to a stable, long-term relationship.

  1. It Can Affect Your Intimacy With Your Partner

Flirting with someone else while you're in a relationship can have a negative effect on your intimacy. The main reason for this is that the "fantasy" flirting you're engaging in might be so alluring and addictive that you expect the same level of passion with your partner. However, life with your partner may not be so simple. You may both have responsibilities to attend to including kids, jobs, and parent-teacher conferences, all of which can put a fork in the spokes for what the fantasy illusion of the flirting has given you. When you don't the same reaction from your partner as you did with the person you were flirting with, intimacy can be negatively affected in the relationship. 

  1. It Can Destroy Your Relationship

Flirting has the potential to end your relationship should it remain unchecked. While some couples are okay with certain levels of flirting, others are not, and have strict boundaries around it. If you’re aware that your partner isn’t okay with your flirting with others, yet you continue to engage in this behavior, it could lead to the end of the relationship. Your partner may feel they can’t trust you, or they may start to think they’re not enough for you. For this reason, it may not be worth it to entertain flirting with others while in a relationship. 

Getty/AnnaStills
Is Flirting Innocent Behavior Or Does It Signal Something More?

Online Counseling With Regain

If you're finding yourself flirting while in a relationship with someone else, it can't hurt to figure out if it's innocent talk or a deeper, more personal issue causing it. Talking to someone who understands confusing issues such as this could be very beneficial. It may be comforting to know that online counseling is available if you need help or have questions about flirting or relationships in general. At Regain, it's simple to connect with professional counselors from the comfort of your home. Online counseling is available anywhere you have an internet connection and at any time. Getting the mental health support that you need is often more accessible and convenient with Regain.

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling 

Those who are experiencing a range of issues in their relationship can benefit from online therapy. In one study, researchers found evidence that couples therapy via videoconferencing was “a viable alternative to face-to-face interventions, especially for those couples who may not have access to the treatment they require.” The therapeutic alliance increased significantly with time for both groups and participants experienced improvements in relationship satisfaction, mental health, and all other outcome scores over time.

The Takeaway

Being in a relationship can be very different from being single. You may not be able to engage in behaviors that were once acceptable, such as flirting. Discussing these issues with your significant other and setting boundaries can help ensure the relationship is healthy. A couples therapist can intervene and offer guidance when there are issues in the relationship and help both individuals express their needs clearly to the other person.  

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