Hot Take

Why It’s OK To Flirt With Other People While In A Relationship

According to a psychologist, it’s totally normal — but one word is crucial.

A man and a woman flirt while talking at work.
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You're at the grocery store when you notice the cashier is very cute. Next thing you know, you're engaging in some friendly banter and some heavy eye contact. In other words, you're flirting your butt off. But hang on — you're also married. So, is it even OK to flirt with strangers now? What does this mean about how you feel about your partner?

First, relax. Being attracted to someone other than your spouse is completely normal.

"Throughout a person's life, they're very likely to meet many people they would date, be attracted to, and enjoy in a romantic way — including after they have gotten married," Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP, board-certified clinical psychologist and author of the book Letting Go of Your Ex, tells Scary Mommy. "It's part of human nature to meet people we find compelling and good-looking over time."

It's not only human to find other people attractive, but it's also super normal to flirt with them, says Warren. However, what could be construed as not normal or healthy are the reasons someone in a committed relationship might want to flirt with another person in the first place.

Another contentious point is whether flirting breaks an agreement already in place between you and your partner. "Flirting can be a source of conflict in a relationship when it's inconsistent with the boundaries or expectations of a romantic relationship," Warren explains.

Here are some essential things to keep in mind when it comes to flirting with other people while in a relationship — including the one word that can make or break it all.

Set some boundaries before you flirt.

If you happen to be a flirty person (or a Libra), sometimes you just can't help but flirt with anything that breathes. But if you're in a committed relationship, Warren says it's critically important that a couple set some boundaries and have an agreement about how they will act with other people they find attractive and what "cheating" means to them.

"Whether and when flirting causes conflict or tension in a relationship is really based on the expectations of the couple," Warren explains. "For example, for some couples, it's unacceptable to flirt with attractive others if there is the intention of actually starting a relationship or having a sexual encounter with the person, whereas other couples may choose to actively have polyamorous or sexually open relationships where flirting and sexual encounters with other people are welcome."

The bottom line is that it's really up to the couple to decide what is acceptable to do with other people they meet and are attracted to.

"Implementing healthy boundaries really starts with respectful, honest communication," Warren says. "Talking about how each person feels about flirting, what would be considered acceptable and clearly unacceptable, and establishing what will happen if boundaries are violated helps couples have greater transparency about how they will act when they meet people [who] they'd date if they were single over the course of their lives. It's also helpful to revisit the conversation over time so that, when the couple find themselves in challenging situations, they can process and discuss how to handle it as a team."

Once you know your boundaries, then it all boils down to your intention within those boundaries. That’s the word of the day, folks: intention.

Flirting can spice things up for your relationship.

According to Warren, for couples who have more open relationships, many report that flirting or even having extramarital romantic relationships makes their sexual lives more exciting, engaging, and authentic.

"So, for some couples, flirting may enhance their confidence or primary relationship in a meaningful way," Warren says. "It is really going to come down to each person's values—what matters to them about life, what leads them to fulfillment, and how they want those values reflected in their lifestyle."

If flirting with another person allows you to show up for your partner in a way that will benefit the relationship and your sex life (without crossing the boundaries that you've set), go ahead and smile or wink at the hot bartender.

Recognize when flirting is not OK.

Flirting that intentionally violates a relationship agreement is most likely to cause damage to romantic relationships.

In other words, says Warren, if a partner is "flirting with the intention of having an affair or sexual escapade that they know is outside of their relationship agreement, it can cause damage to the primary relationship because the intention is to violate a boundary and often deceive or manipulate their partner to hide or twist the truth (because it would hurt their partner if they found out)."

For example, if a couple is in an agreed-upon monogamous marriage in which sexual or romantic actions with other people aren't allowed, it could be harmful to learn that their significant other danced in a sexual way, went to a hotel room with another person, or had sexually-explicit text or phone calls with someone else.

This is why the intention behind the flirting is key. If it extends beyond the boundaries set between you and your partner and is inviting the opportunity for sex, it's cheating.

Flirt with your partner.

Sure, it's exciting to flirt with a handsome stranger but it can also be exciting to flirt with your own partner... something that people forget once they've been in a relationship for eons.

For this reason, Warren encourages couples to talk about how they experience romance and sexual attraction with one another.

"It's very easy to seek out stimulation outside of one's marriage or primary relationship because novelty — meeting someone new and unknown but interesting — is intriguing, exciting, and creates more of a high in our body and experience than the security and connection that long-term romantic relationships can offer," she says. "Trying to keep your primary relationship fun with some excitement and flirting of its own helps many couples stay interested in one another."