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What Is the Difference Between Flirting, Cheating, and an Affair?

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Kaitlyn has a background in psychology and writes articles that teach you how to lean on your body, mind, heart, and on those around you.

What is the difference between flirting and cheating? And what constitutes an affair?

What is the difference between flirting and cheating? And what constitutes an affair?

What Is an Affair? Cheating vs. Flirting vs. Affair Defined

The definition of flirting is often very broad and can be subjective. Because flirting lies in such a gray area and has very fluid boundaries, it can cause a significant strain on a relationship when a couple is not on the same page regarding the definition and implications of flirting.

While flirting does not necessarily mean that you or your partner is cheating, it can become a gateway to more serious actions. So a couple should come to a mutual understanding of flirting: whether it's ever harmless, when it starts to cross the line, and what behaviors are completely unacceptable.

Here's a comparison of flirting vs. cheating vs. a full-blown affair to help you get started on defining your boundaries.

By Juan Pablo Arenas. CC0 Creative Commons.

By Juan Pablo Arenas. CC0 Creative Commons.

What is Considered Flirting?

Flirting can mean many behaviors, including but not limited to buying someone a drink, giving compliments, non-sexual hugging, and playful banter between platonic friends. Flirting is only “harmless” when you’re comfortable telling each other about it without feeling shame, anxiety, or fear. The minute you realize that you feel uncomfortable or even slightly guilty about telling each other about your harmless flirting, it’s a big red flag that something more serious is going on.

A healthy relationship is all about mutual respect, and flirting causes strain in a relationship, usually because partners underestimate the stress caused by feelings of jealousy or insecurities triggered by their behavior. So if you choose to commit to each other, you need to agree on appropriate behavior towards people outside of your relationship.

By CC0 Creative Commons.

By CC0 Creative Commons.

When Flirting Starts to Cross the Line

You can be reasonably sure that flirting becomes something more serious when you are so emotionally invested in flirting with others that you prioritize it over working on your relationship. Sending suggestive messages or e-mails, making arrangements to meet up, and making secretive phone calls are all considered crossing the line into inappropriate behavior. Here are a few other major red flags to tell you when you’re treading into dangerous territory.

1. Rationalizing

Do you feel the need to justify your relationship with someone you’ve been hanging out with? “They’re just a friend” is not a statement you need to say when you’re having an innocent conversation with someone. Even if it may seem like your friendship with someone is platonic, if you’re feeling twinges of guilt and find yourself rationalizing your behavior with that person, there’s a high chance that your “friendship” isn’t as “friendly” as you think.

2. Your Partner Doesn’t Approve

Another major red flag is when your spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend, has told you that they don’t like the way you behave around someone or that they disapprove of you having an overly friendly relationship with someone. That usually means that your interaction with that person isn’t as appropriate as you thought it was and is coming between you and your partner. It doesn’t matter whether you think your partner’s concerns are justified or not. The point is that they don’t like it, so their observations and concerns should be respected.

3. If Your Friends Bring It Up

When you’re personally involved in something, it’s easy to lose perspective of what’s going on. This is when third-party opinions come in handy. So, if your friends or family start reminding you that you’re committed to someone else or to be more careful about how you’re interacting with someone outside of your current romantic relationship, you can be sure that they see red flags even if you can’t.

4. If You Have Inappropriate Intentions

If your partner is putting you down or making you feel bad and, instead of working harder on your relationship, you’re flirting with other people who will make you feel good about yourself or so you can get the attention you’re not getting from your partner, you’re entering very dangerous ground in terms of staying loyal to your current relationship.

You may not be doing it consciously, but try to understand why you’re flirting with other people. Even if you’re flirting to make your partner pay more attention to you, that is manipulative and toxic behavior.

By CC0 Creative Commons.

By CC0 Creative Commons.

How Do You Define Cheating?

Cheating is generally defined by any behavior where you are emotionally and/or physically disloyal to your current committed relationship. Being attracted to other people doesn't necessarily mean that you're cheating, but when you act on your attraction, either by flirting with the intention to get closer to that person or pursuing them by any other form of communication—that is cheating.

If you're in a monogamous relationship, sex with another person outside of the relationship is always cheating, even if there's no emotional attachment to that person. There is no grey area in regards to whether sex is cheating, unlike flirting, though both can be equally destructive to a relationship.

By Josh Willink. CC0 Creative Commons.

By Josh Willink. CC0 Creative Commons.

When Does Cheating Become an Affair?

Cheating becomes a full-blown affair when there are repeated instances of cheating that almost always include sexual activity and emotional attachment to the other person. Seeking sexual or emotional satisfaction outside of the relationship on a regular basis is always an affair. A person can have an affair with more than one person at a time as long as the above points are met.

A Mutual Understanding Is Crucial

Flirting, cheating, and affairs are defined differently from person to person. Relationship history and individual values will also influence how we define these concepts. So remember to sit down with your partner to discuss and define exactly what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior towards others outside of the relationship.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 KV Lo