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

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. | Source

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.

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