Is Flirting Cheating In a Relationship? 30 Must-Knows to Decode Your Gray Area

Have you ever wondered if flirting is cheating when you’re in a relationship? Here are some guidelines and how to define it in your own partnership.

is flirting cheating in a relationship

Do you flirt with an attractive friend when your partner isn’t around? And if you do, is the flirting considered cheating?

Or a better way to put the same question is, do you enjoy having a happy conversation with an attractive friend or coworker?

Most people press the panic button when it comes to flirting. And almost always, that’s because they don’t understand what flirting really is all about. So, let’s get into what flirting is and how to decode this gray area. [Read: Friendly vs. flirty – 34 subtle flirting signs to tell if someone is flirting with you]

What is flirting?

Flirting is a simple idea. It’s a conversation where you attract the other person using your charm and your conversational skills.

If you attract someone while talking to them, you’re already flirting with them. Of course, sometimes, that could happen unintentionally too. [Read: How to flirt with a guy without really flirting at all]

If you flirt with someone, it doesn’t have to mean that you’re interested in sleeping with them. You’re just having an interesting conversation that makes you realize just how attractive you really are.

Even when you decide to go out with your own partner, you dress up and wear something that may show a bit of skin. But your partner already knows how you look naked. 

So why are you revealing your assets to other guys? It’s because you like looking good, don’t you? And that’s exactly what flirting does on the inside. It makes you realize your own sexuality. [Read: Ways to look really sexy without trying]

Why do people flirt?

Perhaps the question we need to ask in order to get the answer to our original question is, why do people feel the need to flirt with others in the first place?

There are a few reasons for this:

1. They don’t realize they’re flirting

2. They are trying to grab back some of the excitement of the early days of their relationship

3. They genuinely like another person

4. For a confidence boost and because it seems exciting or taboo

[Read: 15 very obvious signs of flirting between a guy and a girl]

The first option is quite troublesome – if someone doesn’t realize they’re flirting, they could be going around flirting with everyone and everything and never realizing it!

Let’s explore the others in turn.

Firstly, if someone is trying to grab back some excitement because their relationship has gone stale, they’re showing intention. They’re aware they’re flirting with someone else and they’re playing with fire. 

Surely the effort could be better put into improving the state of their current union, rather than trying to start another one on the side? 

In this case, you have to ask whether they are trying to start something else or see it as harmless fun. Would you see it as harmless fun if you were the boyfriend or girlfriend of this person? Most people wouldn’t. [Read: Micro-cheating – what it is and signs you’re accidentally doing it]

Secondly, if they genuinely like another person, there are major issues. This will lead to physical cheating, i.e. putting body parts where they shouldn’t go. In this case, the intention was there from the start and the line has been crossed.

Finally, some people flirt because they want a confidence boost. There is probably some issue within the relationship which makes a person feel the need to do this.

Talk it out, figure out what the problem is, and don’t try and mess with hearts and minds just for a quick fix of excitement. [Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship & ways to fix a lack of it]

Flirting and the need to feel appreciated

All of us need to feel appreciated. And that’s why we dress up, use makeup, work out, or get a better job. Somewhere deep inside all of us, we need reassurance from someone else to feel good about ourselves.

When you get into a relationship, you feel great about yourself because you’ve found someone who truly loves you and finds you exciting.

But as time goes by and the sweet and sexy compliments start to become a routine, it forces you to look for reassurances from outside the relationship. 

If an attractive colleague compliments how good you look in a new dress, you feel good about it even though you already know you’re wearing a cute outfit, don’t you? That’s the power of reassurance.

And it’s the same feeling you get when you flirt with someone else. It helps you realize how sexually attractive you still are, and that makes you feel more confident and sexier. [Read: 15 things you MUST know if you’re married and flirting]

Do you need a third person to excite you?

Sure, in a long-term relationship things can get a little same old, same old on occasion, but you should be boosting excitement together, not apart.

If you’re looking for an ego boost or excitement outside of your relationship, it’s time you look at your relationship and see why it isn’t meeting your needs.

Reflect inward and find out why you want attention, and why your partner isn’t fulfilling your wants.

Do you feel trapped? Does your partner’s opinion of you not matter to you anymore? Or, are you trying to play mind games with your partner by flirting with other people?

Many think that flirting is part of a healthy life and that it bears no reflection on the state of their long-term relationship. Maybe that is true, but would the flirting partner feel the same if their boyfriend or girlfriend were doing it too? Read: The affair fog – how to know if your lover is under someone else’s spell

Why does flirting feel so good?

Before we even get to chatting about whether flirting is cheating, let’s get to why flirting feels so good. Here are 4 good reasons.

1. It helps keep your sexuality alive and makes you feel better about your own attractiveness.

2. You become a better flirt, which makes you a better tease and a better conversationalist.

3. It makes you feel more confident about yourself and your own abilities.

4. It doesn’t leave you frustrated or restricted by your relationship.

[Read: All the signs of a boring relationship and ways to bring the fun back]

If you can flirt naturally, it shows that you have all the charming traits in you already, and that makes you a really good catch. So, when is it harmless, and when is it detrimental to your relationship?

The difference between harmless flirting, touchy flirting, and talking dirty

Is flirting cheating? Well, it depends on the kind of flirting you have in mind. There are main types of flirting you could indulge in when you’re talking to someone outside the relationship.

1. Harmless flirting

This is the kind of flirting where you use your gestures and your voice to have a happy conversation. You tease and you laugh, and you have a great time.

When you’re harmlessly flirting, you have no attention to capture any romantic or sexual attention from who you flirt with.

This is perfectly acceptable even when you’re in a relationship. If your partner can’t handle it, it only means they’re insecure or feel offended when you give anyone else your attention. [Read: 15 obvious signs of flirting between a guy and a girl]

2. Touchy flirting

Touchy flirting is harmless flirting taken one step further. You exercise your hands and almost all the time, your hand’s resting on some part of your friend’s body. You may place your hand causally, but it could definitely be misinterpreted by everyone around.

This is because touchy body gestures are used in a way to express interest in someone or to demand their attention toward you.

Flirting through body language can be difficult to translate, which is why there is so much room for misinterpretation. [Read: How to flirt by touch & use subtle body language to seduce anyone]

3. Talking dirty

When anyone talks about flirting, every prudish mind thinks of this kind. Flirting is casual. Talking dirty definitely isn’t. 

If you talk dirty, compliment the other person sexually, or try to get them to sleep with you, then that’s completely unacceptable when you’re already in a relationship. 

So, if you do indulge in a bit of flirting with others when your partner isn’t around, restrict it to the harmless kind. It’s safe and fun, and no secure partner takes offense to it. [Read: How to talk dirty to your own guy]

What’s considered cheating in a relationship?

A lot of people are on the fence about this particular question. The reason is that cheating can be different things for different people. There isn’t an objective list of behaviors that are clearly “cheating” or “not cheating.” 

For many people, sex with someone else is cheating, kissing someone else is cheating, and exchanging flirtatious text messages is cheating. 

Even pretending you are single when you are most certainly not is cheating. And telling someone else that you have feelings for them is cheating.

To know when flirting becomes cheating, it really lies in the intention. If there is an intention to hide your relationship or play down its seriousness, it’s cheating. [Read: What is considered cheating? The painful types & ways to set boundaries]

Is flirting when you’re in a relationship really cheating?

Look at it this way, how would you feel if your partner was texting someone in a way which was considered flirty? You know the type of messages – either sexting or just plain old compliments followed by winking and love heart eyes emojis.

Because that’s your partner forming a romantic or sexual connection with someone other than you. You’d be heartbroken, right? Of course, you would. You wouldn’t shrug it off, you’d scream blue murder and demand they stop!

You also have to ask whether the other person, i.e. the recipient of the flirtation, knows about the relationship.

If they don’t, you’ve crossed the line already. You’re hiding your relationship and that’s unforgivable. If they do and they’re still partaking in it, do they consider it flirtation? Why are they texting someone else’s boyfriend or girlfriend?

But here is the best rule you can follow. If you even have to ask yourself, “Would my partner be okay with me doing this?” then you are probably nearing the cheating zone.

So, just to be safe, don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to tell your partner that you’re doing. It’s pretty simple, actually. [Read: Flirting while in a committed relationship and what you need to know]

Is there such a thing as innocent flirting? 

Yes, flirting can be innocent, lighthearted, and playful. If it’s just a social interaction that involves casual, friendly banter, compliments, or teasing without any serious intent or expectation to pursue a romantic or sexual relationship, then it’s just fine.

Innocent flirting can create a positive and enjoyable atmosphere, boosts people’s self-esteem, fosters social connections, and builds rapport with people.

The most common type of innocent flirting is banter, which is healthy for both platonic and romantic relationships. [Read: Playful banter – what it is, how to do it & secrets to keep the flirty talk going]

Sometimes it happens and people aren’t even aware that they are giving off flirtatious cues. They might just think that they are being friendly, and not flirtatious. 

However, flirting also varies from culture to culture and person to person. So, it’s important to respect personal and cultural boundaries if you think that you’re engaging in innocent flirting.

The perception of what is innocent flirting and what crosses the line into emotional cheating depends on a lot of variables. That’s why partners should communicate and develop boundaries for both people to abide by. [Read: 38 Signs your man is crushing on another woman and has feelings for her]

Times when you should avoid flirting

Although playful banter and harmless flirting can create a calm and positive atmosphere, there are definitely times when you should just avoid flirting overall. Here are a few.

1. Your partner is insecure or you’re dating someone who’s extremely jealous.

2. You’re talking to someone who will misinterpret your conversation or assume that you’ve started falling for them even if you’re only trying to have a fun conversation. [Read: Top 20 reasons for divorce that most couples overlook]

3. Your partner’s friends are around, and they would want nothing better than to exaggerate the situation and spread false stories about you.

4. Your relationship is going through a rough patch, and you need to focus on building your relationship instead of sweet-talking someone else.

When does flirting cross the line?

Even though flirting is a gray area when it comes to cheating, there are times when it goes too far. Here are the situations. [Read: What is considered cheating? The painful types and ways to set boundaries]

1. Flirting with physical contact

If you are laughing hysterically and accidentally put your hand on someone’s arm, that’s not too bad. But if you are purposely sitting closely, on their lap, or even cuddling with that person, then that is going too far.

2. Hiding or lying about flirting

As we said earlier, a good litmus test for cheating is whether or not you would be comfortable telling your partner what you’re doing. So, if you find yourself lying or hiding the flirting from your partner, then you’re doing something wrong.

3. Flirting to establish intimacy

Maybe you and your partner have drifted away from each other, and you aren’t feeling close to them. And you still crave the intimacy you don’t have with them, so you try to find it from someone else.

In a relationship, your partner should be the go-to person if you need intimacy. But if you find that your first instinct is to reach out to someone else to fill that role, then there is a big problem.

A third party should never take your partner’s place. If you are flirting in order to feel close to another person, that’s not acceptable. [Read: Emotional attachment – how it works and 34 signs you’re getting attached and close]

4. Putting your partner second to the person you’re flirting with

When you’re in a relationship, your partner should be your top priority. But if you have put your partner farther down on that list and you think the person you’re flirting with is more important, then that is a bad sign. That’s not how it should be.

5. Complimenting and trying to elicit feelings

There’s nothing wrong with complimenting people. In fact, it’s a perfectly nice gesture that makes people feel good about themselves. [Read: 20 funny compliments you can use to flatter and make them laugh]

However, if you are constantly doing it to only one person, then there is a pattern. And you are trying to get a positive reaction out of them.

6. You tell them things your partner doesn’t even know

Self-disclosure is something that you do with another person to build emotional intimacy. Of course, we keep some things to ourselves. But if you find that you are telling another person things about yourself – or anything else for that matter – that you’re not telling your partner, that crosses the line too. [Read: 33 emotional needs in a relationship, signs they’re unmet and how to meet them]

7. You’re constantly flirting

Occasional flirting is pretty normal. It’s fun to be friendly and tease other people for the fun of it as long as it’s innocent fun. But when it becomes a habit and that’s all you do with this other person, then that is something your partner would not be happy about.

8. You have inside jokes with your flirty person

Inside jokes are a sign of emotional intimacy. They indicate that two people share something that is unique just to the two of them, and they can be quite personal. 

If you have inside jokes with someone else that you don’t have with your partner, ask yourself if you would like your partner to do the same. Probably not. [Read: Coworker crush – why we fall for colleagues and how to pursue it or drop it]

9. You find yourself thinking about the other person when you’re with your partner

Just because you’re in a relationship doesn’t mean that you’ll never find anyone else attractive. Of course, you will. But there’s a difference between merely thinking about it and thinking about it constantly. If another person is occupying your thoughts more than your partner, then there is a problem.

10. You’re hiding that you have a partner

This is definitely bad if you are married and take off your wedding ring around another person. But you don’t have to be married to hide the fact that you are in a relationship.

So, if you “conveniently” omit your partner from your conversations with someone else on purpose, you are subconsciously *or consciously* trying to appear single. And that will give them the impression that you are available to date them. [Read: Sneaky people – 20 subtle signs and what defines sneaky behavior in someone]

11. You’re acting or feeling like you have something to hide

Maybe you haven’t really done anything wrong overtly, but you still feel guilty. And because you feel guilty, you might start acting weird or suspicious. 

You might guard your phone a little more than normal. Or you are stalking them on social media. Whatever it is, you are acting differently because you think you have something to hide. [Read: 34 sneaky signs your boyfriend likes your friend and what you must do ASAP]

Does flirting always lead to cheating? 

No, flirting doesn’t always lead to cheating. As we discussed earlier, sometimes people just flirt innocently and have no romantic or sexual desire for the other person. Heck, a cute 21-year-old guy might flirt with a 90-year-old woman just to make her feel good.

But even between people who are attracted to each other, flirting doesn’t necessarily mean that they will cheat.

Flirting is jutting a natural response to feeling attraction. But the outcome of that attraction and flirting is in those people’s control. [Read: How to forgive yourself for cheating and not telling – 9 must-know steps]

So, exactly when does flirting become cheating for you?

There really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question. So many people have different perceptions of what it really means to cheat.

Perhaps the best answer to this entire quandary is to have your own boundaries and rules and to make them clear to a partner quite early in your relationship. [Read: Boundaries in a relationship – 43 healthy dating rules you MUST set early on]

That doesn’t mean that you should sit down on date two and tell them in no uncertain terms that you consider this, that, and the other to be cheating. But once you start to build up a relationship, it’s important to be on the same page.

As we said a few times, if you have chosen to intentionally flirt with another person, you are betraying the love and trust your partner has in you. How would you feel if they were doing it behind your back? 

That’s the question you have to ask yourself. Perhaps then you can gain a better perspective on where you consider flirting to stop and cheating to begin.

Maybe you feel you are doing nothing wrong, and maybe you are simply having a harmless flirtation with someone who you know you have no feelings for. Is this the right thing to be doing when you have someone sitting at home waiting for you? [Read: 18 signs you’re accidentally having an emotional affair with someone else]

When is it okay to flirt with others while in a relationship?

As you know, flirting can be innocent. But there are times when it’s okay to flirt with others and other times when it’s not. But first, you and your partner need to have an open, clear understanding that this is acceptable in your relationship.

Flirting is healthy for a relationship, but both of you should be aware of each other’s abilities to sweet talk someone else. You need to have a great relationship with your partner, and both of you should have a lot of trust and love in the relationship.

And most importantly, don’t set different rules for yourself and your partner. If you’ve flirted with someone behind your lover’s back, your partner has every right to do the same thing too.

After all, you’ve flirted now and then and you know it was harmless, so why restrict your partner from having a pleasant and interesting conversation when you’re not around? Set the same boundaries for yourself that you have for your partner.

What to do when flirting might have crossed the line into cheating

Maybe you flirted intentionally, and maybe it was accidental. Either way, you have realized that you have crossed the line and you want to do something about it. Here are the steps you can take. [Read: Opposite sex friendships – 24 rules, boundaries, and where we go wrong]

1. Be honest with yourself

Sometimes people can lie to themselves. For example, if you’ve been flirting and you think it’s no big deal, maybe you aren’t paying close enough attention to the situation. 

So, the first step is to open your eyes and hold yourself accountable for your actions. Take personal responsibility for your flirting and decide to make a change so you won’t hurt your partner further.

2. Stop flirting

Once you’ve become honest with yourself and you have stopped pretending that you’re not doing anything wrong, then you need to simply stop doing it. Just stop flirting so it doesn’t cross over into full-blown cheating. [Read: 29 truths to stop cheating and resist the temptation to be unfaithful]

Sure, it won’t be easy. But you have to if you don’t want it to go any further. If you don’t stop, it’s like apologizing for doing something and then not changing your behavior. Why even bother apologizing if you’re not going to change? 

3. Explain it to the person you’re flirting with

If you and your partner are very well aware that the two of you were flirting with intentions that aren’t innocent, then you will have to talk to that person too. If you stop flirting with them, they will wonder why.

However, if you don’t think the other person knew your intentions weren’t completely innocent, then maybe you don’t have to talk to them about it. But you just don’t want to leave them wondering why you suddenly changed your behavior toward them. [Read: 19 truths to stop liking someone or crushing on them if they’re not into you]

4. Talk to your partner if you feel the need to

If you feel like your flirting has gone too far, then you are probably feeling guilty for it. That’s understandable. You could keep it to yourself or you could talk to your partner about it. 

It may or may not hurt their feelings, so you should weigh the advantages and disadvantages of telling them. [Read: How to communicate with your spouse without resentment or fighting]

If they have been neglecting you, then maybe this is a way to open up a conversation to work on the relationship to make it better.

When to seek professional help

Most people don’t think that they need therapy for flirting. After all, it doesn’t seem like such a serious offense. And it’s not, as long as it’s innocent.

But if it’s not innocent flirting and you had a romantic or sexual intent behind your flirting, then you should figure out why. And some people can’t do this on their own and need some professional help from a therapist. [Read: Relationship therapy – 25 clues to know if it’ll help your romance]

If you flirted because you’re unhappy in your relationship, then this needs to be examined. What needs to be changed and improved? If you think your relationship is in trouble or on the verge of ending *but you want to save it*, then going to therapy can help.

Another circumstance that might warrant some therapy is if you are a repeat flirting offender. In other words, if flirting with no-so-innocent intentions is a habit for you, you need to figure out why.

Perhaps it’s rooted in low self-esteem or self-worth. And getting attention from other people by flirting with them makes you feel better about yourself. Well, you should work on trying to love yourself more, and a therapist can help you do that too.

[Read: Reasons couple’s therapy isn’t working for you]

So, is flirting cheating? Well, it all depends on the way you look at it. If it works for you and your relationship and makes you feel attractive, then go for it. But if you feel like it affects your relationship negatively, then hold your reins back and do something else to feel good about yourself.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life. And while you’re at it, check out MIRL, a cool new social networking app that connects experts and seekers!

Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...