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Is Flirting Cheating?

The answer to this isn't black and white.
PHOTO: getty images

Is flirting cheating? If you're in a relationship, and either you or your partner flirt with someone else, it can be a tricky situation. On one hand, it's not like anyone did anything physical to be construed as capital-c Cheating, but on the other hand, it's not nothing. Depending on your relationship, you and your partner's boundaries, and other factors, flirting can still potentially cause a lot of pain and hurt.

Depending on who you ask, you might get different answers about whether or not flirting while in a relationship counts as infidelity. Because it's not just a black and white "yes" or "no" and people do have varying feelings about it, we asked ten experts to give their take on whether or not flirting counts as cheating.

It depends on the intention...

"Someone might simply be a very outgoing person and friendly with others but have no desire to lead someone on outside of their significant other. Yet, someone else might be trying to feel out how far they can go to get someone else's attention, how much they can get away with, or what level of connection they can get with someone else. It's a question of the intentions of and integrity in the heart of the person. If someone does not mean to be flirting but is merely friendly, and it bothers their significant other, their significant other can share how they feel and both can work to address what a solution might look like that they can both agree to." -Michelle Croyle, MA, LPC.


It's not technically cheating, but it could be very hurtful to your partner...

"While flirting may technically not be cheating, it could be viewed as a breach of fidelity because you are showing interest in someone else. The very thought of looking outside of the relationship and acting on it, even mildly, can be viewed as hurtful by your partner. It's also a slippery slope that you may not be able to stop if it progresses beyond flirting." -Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, M.S., LCPC

For some couples, flirting could add excitement to the relationship...

"Each couple is different and will have different ideas about what is and isn't okay in relationships. In healthy relationships, couples set and adhere to clear and consistent boundaries around many behaviors, including flirting. Some couples will find flirting offensive and akin to cheating. Other couples might find it adds to the excitement in their relationship. What matters is that the topic is discussed openly and both individuals in a relationship know and agree on the boundaries around what is and is not acceptable." -Natalie Mica, MED, LPC

It depends on the relationship rules and expectations...

"Flirting can absolutely be perceived as cheating, but it depends on the relationship rules and expectations. Some couples don't view flirting as cheating because it doesn't pose a threat to the relationship infrastructure and doesn't break any of the relationship rules; Others view flirting as problematic and disrespectful. It's up to couples to have conversations about their views on flirting so they can develop rules and guidelines for their relationship." -Tiffany C. Brown, PsyD, MA, CAMS-II.

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No, it's not cheating, but it's important to be aware of behaviors that may break your partner's trust...

"No, flirting is not cheating. Some people are gregarious, charismatic, or just enjoy flirting knowing that nothing will come of it. However, I work with clients on helping them distinguish between behaviors that are considered cheating and behaviors that break trust. Flirting can break trust and make a partner feel insecure. In this case, it's important for each partner to negotiate their needs and compromise." -Anita A. Chilipala, LMFT

It should be encouraged in a healthy relationship...

"[Flirting is] a healthy way to check in that you’re still attractive to others, even when you’re not really trying to attract them. I wouldn’t encourage too much flirting in the presence of your significant other, however. It’s not a competition and shouldn’t feel threatening. We all know when we have good fun-loving intentions that cross the line. If you get that pit of your gut pang of crossing the line, back off and correct it. Jealousy can hinder happiness, as can cheating. That’s why you don’t want to give your significant other any reason to believe you’d walk down that selfish road to heartbreak. Once trust is broken it’s very hard to get back, so flirt responsibly." -Ingrid Sthare, relationship coach

It's not "officially" cheating, but the same dynamics are there...

"Although flirting may not officially be considered 'cheating', the same dynamics may be at the root of flirting and cheating. If you find yourself flirting with someone who isn’t your partner, ask yourself: 1. What am I getting out of this interaction? Maybe it’s attention, maybe it’s respect, maybe it’s admiration. 2. Am I missing those things from my partner? Often times, the dynamic within your relationship may create an opening to where flirting may be an enticing behavior to help you satisfy a desire or longing, but only temporarily. 3. How can I ask my partner to help me meet these needs? If you don’t ask yourself the deeper questions, flirting may become a gateway drug to cheating down the line. We must look within for contentment, not from superficial attention that ultimately won’t satisfy." -Christie Tcharkhoutian, EdD, M.A., MFT.


If you wouldn't do it in front of your partner, don't do it when they're not there...

"I think the biggest misconception is that cheating has to be physical— that's not the case. It can be emotional, and it can be flirting. When you crack open a door of being flirtatious, that can allow an opportunity for physical cheating. A rule of thumb in relationships is if you would not flirt with someone in front of your partner, then don’t do it when they are not there. The second rule of thumb: if you do not want them flirting with other people, then you also shouldn't flirt with other people. Regardless of if it leads to physical cheating or not, it is a matter of maintaining boundaries and having respect for your relationship and your partner." -Sophia Reed, PhD, NCC

If the flirting is secretive or breaking boundaries of the relationship, it's a breach of trust.

"In couples counseling, we define 'cheating' or infidelity as anything secretive that breaks the boundaries of the primary relationship. If the couple is comfortable with flirtation and can can do so without being threatened by it, then it's certainly not cheating. However if one partner isn't comfortable with the other flirting, then it's certainly a breach of security in the relationship. The real questions are: how far are you willing to take the flirtation, how frequently are you flirting, and how is this impacting the primary relationship?" -Ebru Halper, LPC, NCC

Most people would feel threatened by their partner flirting.

"Although the term 'cheating' is usually associated with more explicit behaviors like having sex with someone else or having an emotional affair, most partners in a committed intimate relationship are going to feel threatened by their partner flirting. Nobody does well in a relationship where they don't feel that they come first in the eyes of their partner. Obviously, there are degrees of cheating. No one would disagree that flirting is on a different level as having sex with someone else. But flirting still needs to be taken off the table if it causes your partner distress." -Gabrielle Usatynski, MA, LPC

Bottom Line

Every relationship is different and depending on what you and your partner have set out as boundaries, spoken about, and also how you both feel, the answer to "is flirting cheating?" may differ from couple to couple. What doesn't change though, is that communication and respect are of utmost importance when it comes to maintaining a healthy dynamic. If you both think flirting is healthy and it turns you on to see your partner flirting with other people, good for you guys! If you're more sensitive about your partner flirting with other people when you're not there, you guys gotta talk it out and come to a mutually respectful understanding. You shouldn't have to grit your teeth and suffer just because your partner likes the thrill of flirting if it genuinely hurts you, and a loving partner wouldn't want to inflict that pain on you.


Quotes have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.


This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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