Is Flirting Cheating? How to Set Boundaries With a Partner

When is flirting considered cheating? A relationship expert explains how a simple flirtation could affect your marriage and how to set boundaries
by Sarah Finley
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare
is flirting cheating

Flirting can seem totally harmless, but if you’re in a committed, monogamous relationship, your partner could consider it emotional cheating, affect their self-esteem, or cause a breakdown in trust. 

But is flirting cheating when married and could it mean the end of your romantic relationship? We speak to relationship expert Jack Hazan, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of Modern Therapy Group about when to talk to your significant other about their flirting habits.

Is it okay to flirt with others while in a relationship?

We’ve all set our own boundaries in our relationships, and whereas some couples may see flirting with the opposite sex as just a bit of fun, some could see it as a breach of trust.

It’s important for couples to discuss boundaries and understand what values are important to both partners as a couple, the real deal breakers, and things that seem to not have any impact on overall relationship satisfaction. 

“Flirting with someone else while in a monogamous relationship can be okay, but it can also be risky,” says Hazan. “There’s a fine line between flirting and cheating on your partner. This form of cheating would be more emotional, but it can hurt just as much as physical cheating.”

People flirt all the time, whether they are single or in a relationship — and it could just seem like harmless fun. However, this flirtation could be the start of something more serious, such as an affair.

Is flirting disrespectful to your partner?

Many people would say yes, especially if the flirtation with the other person is obvious and in full view for their partner to see. They could be flirting with someone else to make their partner feel jealous if they’ve hurt them, but the partner could see this as micro-cheating and it could feel like a breach of trust.

Even if you think it’s just harmless flirting, Hazan says that spinning the situation around is a great way to help you understand how flirting could be perceived. “Thinking of your partner flirting with someone other than you can put it into a different perspective,” he says

Is flirting a sign of a cheating partner?

It could be just that you are naturally a flirty person and it’s just part of your personality, whereas for others flirting could seem completely out of character. So, when is flirting considered cheating?

“It might not technically be cheating, but it can be viewed as if the person is showing interest in someone else. Either way, it can still be hurtful,” says Hazan. 

Plus we all have different boundaries, and according to some research, 70% of people never communicate what their boundaries are, and what constitutes cheating to them. 

Communicating both of your flirting boundaries will give you both a sense of how you’ll feel if you flirt with someone and if either of you sees it as emotional infidelity or just a bit of fun.

If when your partner flirts it makes you jealous and it’s affecting your mental health it may be time to speak to a licensed marriage counselor and discuss your boundaries in a safe space together.

What is the difference between flirting and cheating?

There is a clear difference between flirting and cheating. “Flirting is when you interact with someone to attract attention with potential sexual implications. Cheating is doing anything in a relationship with someone other than your partner that expresses romantic interest. This could be done emotionally or physically,” says Hazan. 

Moraya Seeger DeGeare, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Paired’s In-House Relationship Expert. 

“If you’re finding yourself flirting often, you can ask yourself, ‘What am I getting out of this behavior? What am I hoping will happen by flirting?’,” she adds. Furthermore, a big difference between flirting and a more significant emotional affair is who you go to when something exciting happens. 

“Are they the first person you pick your phone up to text? Notice if you often share something big in your life with this person before your partner. Now you’re not only flirting with them but also prioritizing communication with them. This is when you want to be more introspective about the role of this flirty relationship in your life,” says Seeger DeGeare.

Is flirting with someone you work with cheating?

Having a flirtation with a coworker may boost your ego — and make the work day more interesting — but if you’re in a committed relationship and don’t want to take it any further or upset your partner. 

“Since flirting with someone you work with is the same as flirting with someone in any other sense, it can count as cheating,” says Hazan. “However, it depends on what you and your partner’s boundaries for the relationship are.”

Some people have a “work husband” or “work wife”, which can be seen as a bit of fun, especially if the primary partner sees the funny side and isn’t jealous. However, it’s essential it doesn’t go any further, especially if work parties and alcohol are involved. The bottom line is if the flirting crosses a line and you are giving your coworker the wrong impression then your flirting could be considered cheating.

Is flirting via text or social media cheating?

Left the heart emoji on a friend’s Instagram post and wondering why your partner is upset with you? Some of us consider sending flirty text messages or social media messages a form of cheating, as it could be giving that person the impression that you like them more than friends.

“Social media and texting make it easy to have these encounters from the comfort of home or anywhere on the go,” says Hazan. This includes sending DMs and comments on social media apps, he adds. “Other forms of flirting on social media are sending pictures or commenting/responding with certain emojis.” 

Often, someone who might not flirt in real life will feel less embarrassed or shy on social media, Seeger DeGeare points out. “So flirting in the DMs feels private and less intimidating. If your relationship has not defined this boundary as safe, it can be just as painful, if not more painful, than in real life. Because the partner can now read every word you wrote, and it can be hard to recover from reading your partner's sexy words to another, compared to just seeing them laugh at someone's joke at a bar,” she adds. 

“When a couple is doing affair recovery work and mending the relationship, sometimes the betrayed partner can move past the one time someone had drunk sex. But what can keep the couple stuck from moving forward in healing, is thinking about how their partner was flirting and expressing these feelings to one another when sitting next to each other in bed,” explains Seeger DeGeare who has supported many couples in healing after an affair. 

Again, Hazan explains that in the end, it depends on which boundaries you’ve set in your relationship, and whether you’ve crossed them. 

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