Is Flirting Cheating? A Look into the Boundaries of Cheating in Relationships

Is Flirting Cheating? A Look into the Boundaries of Cheating in Relationships

A look into the boundaries of cheating in relationships



We’ve long exhausted the phrase “attraction is natural.” You may tilt your head at someone’s perfectly chiseled jawline or giggle at a barely-there, halfhearted joke because it escaped luscious lips. But does a gentle brush of the arm and fleeting compliment count as cheating if you’re in a relationship? The answer is hardly simple.


The debate on whether or not flirting is cheating is a long-drawn one that has yet to see a unanimous conclusion. Whether you consider flirting virtually harmless or an act that crosses the line will ultimately depend on your boundaries. 


But what do others think?



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Defining relationship rules

Every relationship has its own defined set of boundaries. What sets off warning signals for you and your partner may not send off the same signals in another relationship. Identifying these boundaries is a simple case of open communication and expectation-setting. Consider what crosses your line.


According to Plymouth Meeting marriage therapist Jeanae Hopgood, “For others still, [infidelity is] any emotional closeness that should be reserved for a primary partner or significant other.”


When is flirting cheating?

According to 25-year-old part-time research assistant and law student Pae, “Cheating would be any form of the betrayal of your partner’s trust, in relation to romantic and sexual relationships.” In most cases, flirting becomes cheating when you act behind your partner’s back and openly defy their expectations. The act of flirting may not be the catalyst itself as opposed to the underlying dishonesty.


Whether this defiance of boundaries is emotional or physical is subjective, though previous studies have suggested that women are more likely to be upset over emotional infidelity, while men are more upset by physical infidelity.



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Does monogamy or polyamory redefine cheating?

Ultimately, infidelity is subjective and can vary significantly across monogamous and polyamorous relationships. As far as myths go, most individuals who adhere to monogamous setups assume that it is “impossible to cheat” in polyamorous relationships. However, this is far from the case! 


Despite identifying as monogamous, Pae believes that a one-on-one setup does not significantly influence his definition of cheating, “as monogamous and polyamorous relationships both put a premium on the consent and knowledge of each party.” He adds, “Secret, impermissible relations may still occur in polyamorous relationships, and thus, could be considered a form of infidelity.”


As confirmed by editor and sex educator Drew, who considers themselves primarily non-monogamous, the two worlds aren’t so different. “When it comes to cheating, non-monogamy puts less emphasis on what the act is or how you feel about it. Since no two people’s definitions of cheating are exactly the same, it’s more about the boundaries you’ve discussed.”


RELATED: Can A Polyamorous Relationship Work? We Hear Straight from These Polyamorous Couples


So, how do you define your personal relationship boundaries?

Many tend to forget the second half of the saying, “communication is key.” Communication can only take you as far as you comprehend it. So, what if you and your partner define cheating differently? 


Drew, who discusses the nuances of different relationships on Now Open: The Podcast, recommends getting introspective with your partner. “What does cheating look like to you? What feelings does it inspire? What experiences contributed to your ideas on it? What do you need to feel secure and loved in a relationship? Be open to untraditional, difficult and out-of-the-box answers. That’s how you work through what society has taught you relationships should look like and connect in ways that feel truly authentic to you.”


Pae mirrors the same sentiment, saying, “I cannot stress enough the importance of setting commonly agreed-upon boundaries with your partner. It is important to both be on the same page so there can be no confusion as to which acts constitute a betrayal of trust. Only those in the relationship can define what is and what is not cheating. You draw the same lines together.”



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What should I do if my partner is flirting with someone else?

Difficult discussions are as they suggest—difficult! But in lasting relationships, they’re also necessary. If your partner’s relationships with people outside of yours are bothering you, it’s imperative to speak up. 


Keep your discussions structured. Should it feel necessary, don’t hesitate to invite a professional to mediate. After all, you aren’t fighting one another—it’s the two of you against the problem!


Take turns having the floor and, most importantly, take a break if you become overly emotional.


RELATED: Sex in Relationships: How Much Does it Matter?


The bottom line

Whether you and your partner consider flirting as cheating is entirely up to your personal boundaries. While inappropriate flirting can take an emotional toll on you and your partner, practicing healthy conversations is the key to relationship survival.



Copy Zoë Isabela Alcazaren

Art Macky Arquilla

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