How To Handle A Husband/Wife Who Flirts With Other People

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Flirtation is a natural component of human interaction, and it’s often a shared, lighthearted exchange.

For example, wait staff who flirt lightly with their customers tend to get bigger tips, and the same goes for bartenders, hairdressers, and others in the service industry.

Chances are when you’re on the receiving end of that kind of flirtation, you have a bit of an ego boost for a couple of hours afterward.

After all, most people find it kind of nice when someone takes an interest in them, even if everyone involved knows that it’s just playful.

But what happens when it’s your spouse who’s flirting with people other than you and you’re not okay with it? Especially when and if it occurs right in front of you.

Is your partner flirtatious by nature?

When you first met your spouse, were you drawn to them because of their lightheartedness and flirty personality?

If so, do you find that same behavior off-putting now that you’re in a committed relationship?

It’s not uncommon for people to fall for certain behavior in a person when they’re dating, and then want them to change the very behavior they fell for once they’re “theirs.”

Does their flirtation with other people make you feel jealous or insecure?

Have you told them how you feel about this? If so, what was their response?

If your spouse has always been flirty and charming by nature, then chances are that’s just part of their personality. They likely don’t mean anything by it, but rather just use that kind of behavior to establish a warm, friendly rapport with other people.

This kind of flirtation is very common in French, Italian, and Spanish people, for example. There’s a warm cheekiness to their interactions, but that doesn’t mean that they’re out to have some tawdry rendezvous in a back alley. They’re just enjoying the flirtation in the moment, without any sincerity or expectation.

That said, people who aren’t flirty by nature might feel intense jealousy when it happens, especially if it occurs when they’re present.

If this has always been part of who they are, it wouldn’t be fair to want them to change. In fact, wanting them to change an inherent facet of who they are because you feel insecure or jealous can be far more damaging to the relationship.

Examine this situation carefully, and determine whether this scenario seems to fit what you’re experiencing.

If so, talk to your spouse about how you’re feeling, but without any demands or expectations that they change to suit your preferences.

You fell in love with them for who they are, and that includes this facet of their personality. If they changed it for you, they wouldn’t be who they are anymore, would they?

What are your relationship boundaries?

Another thing to take into consideration is the boundaries concerning your relationship.

For example, have the two of you agreed to have an exclusive, monogamous marriage? Or do you have an open relationship?

In either case, what boundaries have you established? What has been agreed upon?

If you have an open relationship, you may have agreed that any of your interactions with others need to be in private, rather than in front of one another. Should this be the case, talk to your partner about their flirtations, and that you feel that they’re overstepping your agreed-upon parameters.

If you’re in a monogamous marriage, have you ever sat down and spoken about what behavior you do and do not find acceptable? If not, your spouse probably doesn’t realize that they are crossing one of your internally-held boundaries. In which case, you need to communicate this to them.

How healthy is your current relationship?

If you’re in a committed relationship and you suddenly find that your spouse is flirting with other people – especially in front of you – it may be a sign of some serious relationship issues that need to be addressed.

Behavior always originates from somewhere, and it’s important to be able to take an honest look at where this may be stemming from.

If your partner isn’t particularly flirtatious by nature, but is now flirting with others, ask yourself (and them) why this is happening.

A few topics that could/should be addressed include the following:

  • Are you both feeling fulfilled in this partnership?
  • Has your sex life waned? 
  • Is your partner not getting enough attention from you? 
  • Have you been distant, or placing your attention upon other people? If so, might your partner be retaliating in order to make you feel how they feel?

If your feelings have cooled toward one another, it’s possible that one – or both – of you may feel a need for external appreciation. Familiarity doesn’t just breed contempt, it can breed complacency and neglect.

If your partner is flirting with other people, ask yourself whether you’ve been doing the same thing, and how that might make your spouse feel. Is there a double standard here? Namely, do you flirt with others, but get possessive and resentful if they do it in turn?

Is someone else flirting with your spouse?

Relationship dynamics are generally tricky, and this can get even more complicated when dealing with others on a regular basis. 

As we mentioned earlier, serving staff may be flirty with their customers for the sake of rapport (and bigger tips)… but what about when it’s a friend, colleague, or friend’s spouse who’s flirting with yours?

Talk to your partner about this situation. You may feel jealous if your wife seems to be reciprocating when your boss flirts with her at a company barbeque, but she might feel really uncomfortable about the situation. In fact, she might have felt obligated to flirt back so she didn’t offend your boss and possibly put your job in jeopardy. 

Alternatively, did your husband feel like he had to flirt back with an older friend’s spouse so she didn’t feel rejected? Many women who have centered their sense of self-worth on their appearance can get very insecure as they age. As a result, they may flirt inappropriately with others as a means of self-validation, without taking into consideration how their behavior may affect others.

If neither of these is the case, you might be seeing the beginning of an affair develop. Or, you’re seeing evidence of something that’s already been going on for a while, 

Ultimately, the only way to deal with any issue is to talk about it. 

How to address the flirtation.

What’s that word? COMMUNICATE!

When do we do it? As soon as possible!

If this situation is bothering you, try to address it before it has a chance to fester.

After all, you might spare yourself many sleepless nights and a few peptic ulcers if you talk about things early, and discover that you’d misinterpreted the situation.

Alternatively, if it turns out that there’s an unhealthy relationship element that needs to be addressed, it’s great to be able to nip it in the bud, isn’t it?

If this is a new behavior of theirs, and they refuse to stop because it makes them feel attractive and liked, ask yourself whether you’re okay with this relationship as it is. 

They may have felt disempowered in the past and have now decided that they want to be in a dominant role in this relationship. As such, ask yourself whether you’re okay with this, or whether you’re just maintaining the status quo, and allowing them these liberties for the sake of the relationship.

If this is the case, does that feel like a sustainable partnership to you?

Are you okay with having your boundaries disrespected for the sake of keeping someone else happy, when they’re not granting you the respect and courtesy you’re giving them?

Talking about relationship issues can get really uncomfortable, which is why so many people let unhealthy behavior patterns continue for so long. It’s often easier to suffer in silence than deal with the discomfort of addressing issues like this.

Try to establish a time to talk about this when you’re unlikely to be interrupted by children or other distracting elements. Be honest about how you’re feeling, and try to stay calm, rather than being drawn into arguments or drama that may shift the conversation away from the matter at hand.

Many people get defensive when confronted about inappropriate behavior, so they’ll try to distract you from the issue, or run away from it, or get mad at you for something you’ve done. Anything but confronting anything negative they might have said or done.

Stay calm, stay focused. If they try to shift the topic, bring it back gently. Again and again, if needed. And keep in mind that this may very well be about both of you, not just them.

For example, if they’ve been feeling starved of attention and are flirting with others as a means of passive aggressively getting that attention from you, then you need to ask yourself why you’ve been distant.

If your relationship has shifted into sibling land and you’re not comfortable being intimate with them anymore, then be honest with that. 

A more difficult topic to broach is if some aspect of their (or your) physicality has lessened mutual attraction. Although people love one another for who they are, there’s a lot to be said for physical attraction.

Have either of you gained a lot of weight, or stopped taking care of personal hygiene? Could some aspect of your appearance (or theirs) be unappealing, and is causing a rift between you?

What about their personality? Have they started to complain about everything? Do you lock yourself away for hours at a time and neglect them?

We can often get stuck in our own heads and don’t realize how our behaviors affect others, unless they tell us. And this goes both ways.

You’re probably tired of hearing how important communication is in a partnership, but it really cannot be stressed enough.

Find out where this behavior is stemming from, talk about it honestly, and address it together.

Chances are you’ve had to deal with a number of difficult situations during your marriage, and your success rate for getting through them is 100 percent so far, right? 

You’ll get through this too. Together.

Still not sure what to do about your spouse’s flirting? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.

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About Author

Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais region. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.