How to deal with a flirtatious parter

“Why do you keep flirting with every man you meet?” He asked. “I don’t know, why does it bother you so much?” She replied. The dictionary defines flirtation as “a brief, trifling, amorous
adventure”. To flirt means_ “to make coquettish motions with, as a fan.”
Though these definitions seem mild, the emotional exchanges between some
mates about this conduct often become very heated.

The flirting partner often sees himself or herself as a “friendly”

person who is adept at developing good rapport with people. The partner
often sees this conduct as sexual, seductive and offensive.

Most often the flirtatious spouse does not intend to embarrass,
humiliate or discount his or her mate. The flirt denies that this “brief
amorous adventure” is of a sexual nature or is inappropriate. He may
even pride himself for his easy connection with people and his affable
nature. To the partner, this view may be seen as a sad excuse for
unpardonable conduct.

Observing a partner flirt with others often feels painful. The flirt’s
mate may feel as an observer in a seduction play between his spouse and
a stranger. This is very uncomfortable and embarrassing to witness. It
is also a disrespectful behavior that deprives the partner of the
attention that is duly his _as it is given to a stranger.
The non-flirting spouse may feel hurt, abandoned, rejected, excluded and
humiliated.

Not only is the flirt’s spouse discounted, but the relationship is also
diminished by this behavior. The implication may be that the couple’s
commitment, connection and sexual energy is less than ideal. That
information being publicized – discredits the union.
Since flirting is so damaging, it becomes important to distinguish it
from “friendliness”. This is not easy. One criterion is whether the
behavior is addressed to all people _ or is toward one particular
gender. Another factor is whether the nonverbal motions are energetic or
sexual in nature. A third factor distinguishes flirting as gestures
intended to recruit fans rather than to be social. If the elicited
response is laced with sexual energy _ the initial contact may have been
coquettish.

When the subject of flirting becomes a source of conflict for couples,
they need to ascertain whether: the behavior is indeed flirtatious, the
partner is friendly and is misunderstood, the flirt intentionally
attempts to arouse the spouse’s jealousy, or the partner may be
accusatory and controlling.

If the partner is indeed flirtatious, she may be unaware that she seeks
affirmation of her appeal. Having the flirtatious energy be responded
to, helps her feel desirable and wanted. To defend herself she may place
the blame on he partner and term him- “jealous”. This frees the flirt
from responsibility for her behavior. She can then continue getting her
ego stroked by responsive males.

Casual flirting must not be confused with authentic friendly, outgoing,
social behavior. Extroverted people are often comfortable in starting
conversations with strangers and even being funny or playful – without
being seductive. It is easy for some partners to misread their mates_
conduct and label it coquettish, when it may actually be just friendly.

Some partners flirt with other people with the intent of arousing their
partners_ jealousy. It is a way to reassure themselves of their mates_
interest and love. This type of psychological game is very destructive
to the stability of the union and to the sense of security of both partners. Flirting is sometimes assigned to innocent behaviors by mistrusting
partners who feel insecure about themselves. They attempt to limit their
mate’s contact with others as a way of protecting themselves from the
possibility that their mate may become attracted to others. This
controlling behavior often becomes more general and obvious.

Though these assessments may be hard to make, the discomfort of the mate
is easy to detect. Rather than argue as to the specific nature of the
partner’s outgoing ways, or resort to labels, assign intent, and feel
angry, one needs to acknowledge the partner’s displeasure and alter his
or her ways accordingly.

The offended spouse needs to be clear about his or her feelings. “I feel
uncomfortable when you smile at the waitperson and touch her hand, as we
order our food.” “I am uncomfortable with how close you get to people of
the opposite gender when you talk to them”. “Winking at others _excludes
and humiliates me”. “When your conversation stops as I approach _ I feel
as an intruder.”

The recipient of these comments must respectfully listen, avoid being
defensive and use her mate’s discomfort as a sufficient stimulus for
changing her behavior.

Secure people trust their own appeal and their mates_ loyalty. They do
not feel threatened by attention paid to others and may even cherish the
social, extroverted, friendly style of their partners. They concentrate
on being the best partners they can be and trust that their union is solid.

If you are in a committed relationship with a flirtatious mate:

  • Know the differences between flirting and friendly behavior.
  • Appreciate your mate for being liked by others, men and women alike.
  • Do not assume that this behavior is about you.
  • Recognize that your flirting partner may be seeking extra validation
    due to his or her insecurities.
  • If this behavior offends you- request that your mate alter the conduct
    in consideration of your discomfort. Be specific.
  • Avoid accusations, labels, name-calling, arguments, punishment, or
    trying to control your partner.
  • Resist the inclination to become flirtatious as a way to even the score.
  • Rely on your self-esteem and confidence to reduce the impact of this
    behavior on your relationship with your mate.
  • Remember- a loved and honored partner is likely to be a happy and
    loyal mate.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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