Flirting; a harmless bit of fun?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Jayne Phillips, Psychotherapeutic Counsellor, Dip Couns, MBACP Registered
14th May, 20160 Comments
How do you know if someone is being flirtatious with you or just simply being friendly?
How sure can you be, that you are not being flirtatious when socialising with others even though you may be convinced you are not ‘that type of person'.
Isn’t flirtation OK when we are socialising and being friendly; isn’t it just friendliness with a little extra fun on the side?
The definition of flirting is:
‘Flirting or coquetry is a social and sometimes sexual activity involving verbal or written communication, as well as body language by one person to another, suggesting an interest in a deeper relationship with the other person'.
So I guess, there is a difference between flirting and friendliness, no matter how much the lines get blurred sometimes in social settings.
Flirting has its uses if you are looking for a partner or to add a little ‘spice’ to a committed relationship! It can express a sexual interest in the other and great fun when both parties are enjoying the experience. The flirting will consist of various actions such as suggestive and playful eye contact, hair touching, occasional ‘accidental’ physical touches. There can be the verbal element with compliments and laughing. Great fun and of course, the possibility of it leading on to a relationship or an enjoyable one-off experience!
Yet, how does it feel, if you are in a committed relationship with someone (male or female) and they seem to be flirting/behaving flirtatiously with others and this is not acceptable to you? If your partner behaves in this way, you may be feeling very confused and cannot decide if they are being flirtatious with others or simply just being friendly: those ‘blurred lines’ again!
Perhaps every time you mention to your partner, how you feel about this, the response is very much one of “I can’t help it if people like me. I am just a naturally friendly, outgoing person. It is all very innocent, you are imagining things. It is a harmless bit of fun. I think there is something wrong with you".
No one likes having something about their personality being pointed out in a negative way and when you have tried talking to your partner about this issue, you may not have received the reaction (or more importantly) the support you needed. Having a flirtatious partner, can lead us to feeling vulnerable and unsure of ourselves/and our relationship. “Surely if my partner needs to flirt with others, they must be looking for someone/something else".
It is then important to realise, there is another type of flirting, which can take place within committed relationships. We call this ‘flirting without intent’ and this type of behaviour can happen between colleagues, peers, friends and at times, complete strangers you might meet in your day to day life. For the person flirting without intent, they usually know that they have no desire for a sexual or meaningful relationship from the activity… it is ‘just a bit of harmless fun’. Of course, they may not even realise they are actually flirting, they are just being ‘friendly’ in their mind.
This type of flirting, can cause incredible distress for the other partner within the relationship. Equally, it can also be misinterpreted for a ‘single’ person on the receiving end of the flirting, as they may be looking for a relationship and end up feeling hurt/rejected.
For most ‘couples’, there will be boundaries set up within the relationship; an understanding between two people who love and care for each other. Talking about relationship boundaries together, will let each person know what is acceptable and what is not. To achieve these boundaries, there has to be clear communication between the two and that can be the tricky part, if both of you do not agree on what is acceptable or not.
It is crucial to find a way to communicate with each other in a non-accusatory manner. Clearly, just because one person in a relationship views something as ‘being so’ does not necessarily ‘make it so’. ‘You’ may feel your partner knows exactly what they are doing and the pain they are causing you, whereas ‘they’ may in fact, have no real awareness to the extent of the issue or even that their behaviour is flirtatious. For some, they simply want to be able to carry on as they ‘always have done’.
It is important to be able to ‘name’ the behaviours causing the difficulty. Listening (properly) to each other so that you can learn about each others point of view on this subject. You will both be coming from two different directions no matter how much you know each other, love and care for each other.
Once those behaviours and reactions to those behaviours are ‘named’, it is then deciding what healthy changes need to be made. Is it a deal breaker for the relationship, if a partner is not willing to accept or give up their flirtatious behaviour? The hope is that, by listening to each other and talking about these issues, you can find a way to understand and support each other; you can learn about yourself as well as the other person.
I have met people who do not like the ‘flirtatious’ part to their natures whilst in a committed relationship but once they discover why they behave this way, they are able to make necessary adjustments in social settings. Equally, I have met people who have misunderstood their partner’s genuine friendliness to others, seeing it as flirtation and a threat to themselves/their relationship. This may be due to painful, past relationships and experiences that have been left unresolved.
Coming in to counselling can provide the necessary space to speak freely about what has been going on within your relationship, the very strong emotions that can arise and what happens when you try to address the problem with your partner. You can also have a space to understand how it is impacting on you as an individual, perhaps changing your behaviours towards others in social settings. Counselling can also provide you with the tools to find a way to communicate clearly with someone you care about, when emotions are high and defences kick in.
Yes, flirting can be a joy, lovely, sexy, wonderful and a ‘harmless bit of fun’ when practised in the right environment. In the wrong one, it can be destructive and soul-destroying; at times, leading to an unnecessary loss of a relationship.
About the author
Jayne is a fully qualified, professional psychotherapeutic counsellor. A registered member of the BACP, working in private practice, in the city of Bath.
Related articles from our experts
- Relationship addiction and narcissism: Are you trapped in the cycle of co-dependency?
Amanda Perl MSc Psychotherapist Counsellor MBPsS BACP (Accred) CBT Practitioner19th October, 2017
- How to listen better in your relationships
Dr Alexander Fox (MBACP, PgDip Counselling, Masters in Counselling, PhD)19th October, 2017
- Young people and unhealthy relationships
Balwinder Hunjan BSc (Hon) Dip Counselling Psychology Registered MBACP17th October, 2017
Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.