When you and your spouse first met, you were captivated by their charming personality. Maybe he made you feel like a princess, or maybe she made you feel like you were the only man in the world. It felt great to receive so much focused attention from someone who quickly became so special to you–and such a big part of your life.
Now, you’re married and building a life together, but lately you’ve noticed that your spouse has begun to pay that same kind of flirtatious attention–the kind you thought was reserved only for you–to members of the opposite sex. Maybe he flirts with his female co-workers, or maybe she’s a little too touchy-feely with male friends.
You might have begun to feel uncomfortable after noticing that your spouse freely compliments members of the opposite sex on their physical appearance or their talents. The problem is, those compliments quickly careen out of “appropriate” territory and straight into flattery.
If your spouse flirts openly with the opposite sex, it’s upsetting, disheartening, and can make you question whether he or she is trustworthy. Your spouse’s flirtatious behavior might make you wonder whether he or she is pursuing–or engaging in–an affair. Luckily, there are several things you can do to understand why your spouse is flirting–and to address the issue with your husband or wife.
Identify the root of your spouse’s flirtation
Chances are, your spouse’s flirtatious behavior is part of what drew you to them in the first place. But now, you’re wondering whether that same flirty quality is going to draw in someone besides you. This is an important question to ask yourself.
Consider whether your spouse flirts with most people (or everyone) of the opposite sex. Is the flirtation focused on many people, or just one particular person? Once you land on an answer, you’ll understand more about what you’re observing.
People who are flirtatious across the board tend to have a sense of neediness deep inside themselves. That’s what flirting is about–getting attention from others. Flirting gets us attention, and it gets our attention when others flirt with us. It makes both the giver and the receiver feel good.
If your spouse tends to flirt with many different people of the opposite gender, that’s something you’ll want to (gently) help your spouse see in themselves. Self-awareness is very healing; if your spouse realizes what they’re doing, they can do something to correct it.
On the other hand, if your spouse appears to be focused on one particular person, that could be a red flag–and it’s definitely something you need to pay attention to (and possibly address with your spouse). It might not mean anything, so be careful not to jump to conclusions or point the finger at your spouse until you have assessed the situation further.
Don’t put pressure on your spouse
When it comes to any flirty behavior you might have observed in your spouse, don’t nag or blame. Putting pressure on your spouse can make the issue worse or make them shut down completely. The one thing you don’t want to do is snuff out your spouse’s spirit; after all, that’s one of the things you love about them.
When it comes to problematic flirting, humor can be a great, light-hearted intervention. You can intervene by flirting back with your spouse (not flirting with someone else to get even). Doing this helps you serve as a mirror to them, giving them a glimpse of what the flirting looks like from the outside. Flirting isn’t nearly as adorable on an adult in a marriage relationship as it is on a dating teenager; acting the behavior out yourself might be just what your spouse needs to recognize that.
If this strategy doesn’t work, you may need to be a little more straightforward. Still, take a humorous approach to the situation. Let’s say your husband is flirting with a woman named Carol–or, conversely, your wife is flirting with a man named Jim. After the exchange, when it’s just the two of you, you can laugh and say something in good humor like, “Did you get a load of Jim’s/Carol’s face? I think he/she was a little embarrassed!”
Do be vulnerable
Nagging and pressuring your spouse won’t fix your issue, but vulnerability might. Be honest with your spouse about how it feels to watch them flirt with other people. You can say something like, “It makes me feel so bad when I see you flirting with Jim/Carol. Am I not meeting your needs? What can I do to change this for you?”
It wouldn’t hurt to ask your spouse whether they feel like you don’t give them enough attention or affirmation. Let them know the situation is troubling for you, but that you’d like to help create a solution. Most of all, resist the impulse to attack your spouse; being vulnerable and opening up is the key to solving the problem.
Remember it’s your right to ask questions
If your spouse is flirting with other members of the opposite sex, you have a right to question his or her behavior. We all experience challenges in our marriages from time to time, and this one isn’t uncommon. The bottom line is, if you’re questioning your ability to trust your spouse–and questioning whether they’re honoring you through their behavior–you need to address the issue.
See the book, High-Maintenance Relationships, for more specific guidance on managing and improving your relationship with a flirtatious spouse. The chapter titled “The Flirt” will guide you through the anatomy of flirting; it also includes a self-test and tips for what you can do about an uncomfortable situation with a flirtatious spouse.
Is your spouse a flirt? Has either of you had an issue with flirting in the past, and how did you overcome it together? Share your stories in the comments section below!