Help! I’m a Natural Flirt, but It’s Hurting My Partner

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My husband and I have been together for five years and have a great marriage that includes a very satisfying and active sex life. I’ve never cheated on him, and to my knowledge he’s always been faithful to me. But I have always been a natural flirt. It’s almost instinctive. The words come out of my mouth before I even realize what they are sometimes, and I’ll touch someone’s arm or shoulder before I even realize I’ve done it.

Part of it is that I’m a social butterfly, and my ease in relating to others has won me a lot of friends over the years. But the flirting gets me into trouble sometimes, and I’m not sure what to do about it. Don’t get me wrong: I flirt with my husband more than anyone. But I also flirt with other men (and even women sometimes) in front of him, and while he never said much about it in our first couple of years together, he tends to point it out a lot now, and has admitted it bothers him.

I want to respect my husband’s feelings, and I really don’t mean to hurt him. At the same time, by stifling what comes naturally to me, even when the flirting is innocuous, I feel like I am stifling an essential part of my personality. What can I do to reconcile this? —Flirting with Disaster

Dear Flirting with Disaster,

So your flirtatious behavior is hurtful to your partner, you know it, and you’re doing it anyway. What is the possible “disaster” you allude to? Is it breaking up with your husband or something else?

You say the flirting is innocuous, but I’m not so sure it is if it gets you into trouble with your husband. Accurate or not, from your words it sounds a bit like you’re looking for trouble.

Flirting comes naturally for you, and you feel you would be “stifling an essential part” of your personality if you didn’t flirt. Is it possible that using the label “natural flirt” to describe yourself—which sounds like talking up an enviable talent or skill—is a way for you to downplay the behavior and its potential ramifications? Being good at something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing to do.

You say you are a social butterfly and thus have a lot of friends. That is a good thing. How would you describe the “butterfly” part of yourself? Where does it come from? Do social butterflies always flirt? What would you lose if you didn’t flirt the way you do? Would people still like you and want to be around you?

You say the words sometimes come out of your mouth before you know you’re saying them. That can certainly lead to disaster. It might be worthwhile, in social situations, to train yourself to pause and think before you speak. I’d venture to say social success goes beyond the simple measures of how effortlessly you banter or many people you attract. Considering the implications of your words and behaviors before they become actions is an essential part of effective communication.

I don’t know much about you from your letter, but I have worked with people in therapy for whom flirting was a way of feeling close, reassured, important, and loved by others. It’s possible to have many friends and be lonely in certain ways. If I were your therapist, I would explore this possibility with you to see whether there might be some loneliness—perhaps emotional or existential rather than physical in nature—under the surface of your behavior.

You write that your husband has admitted your flirting bothers him. You also write that you flirt with others in front of him, which doesn’t sound innocuous.

I’m not your therapist, of course, so I urge you to work with a therapist near you who can help you get to the root of all this. It may also be worthwhile to see a marriage counselor with your husband, as couples counseling can help you both open up safely and understand each other better. Sometimes, the most important part of communication is simply feeling heard, and therapy creates an impartial space for that to happen.

You write that your husband has admitted your flirting bothers him. You also write that you flirt with others in front of him, which doesn’t sound innocuous. He may feel belittled. Many people wouldn’t like being in that position. Perhaps your aim is to tease him? If it is, does he know that? Does it matter?

What does his anger mean to you? Does it make you mad at him? Do you resent him or feel he’s overreacting? Do you listen, acknowledge his feelings, and pledge to honor them? Where do things go off track?

I guess I’m concerned that flirting with others is already causing problems in your marriage, and those problems may grow. It’s easier to work on problems before they get too big, or entrenched, in a relationship. Relationship problems tend to worsen if they are not addressed. Where might that lead in your case?

Do I sound a little extreme? Maybe. But something in what you’re not saying makes me hear an alarm bell going off between the lines.

Thank you for writing bravely and honestly about this issue and how you’re contributing to it. I hope you find a solution, perhaps with the help of counseling, so that you and your husband can enjoy many mutually happy years together.

Sincerely,

Lynn

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • 13 comments
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  • donna

    donna

    December 9th, 2016 at 11:25 AM

    Would you say that there is a part of her that is doing this intentionally even though she knows that the behavior is hurtful to him?

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    December 9th, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    Hi Donna,
    What do you think? It’s possible.

  • donna

    donna

    December 10th, 2016 at 3:59 AM

    I don’t know, I guess that anything is possible. I wouldn’t like to think that we would do something like this to someone we supposedly love, but I also know that there are always these things that we do that may not be intentional but regardless we do them anyway and that in no way takes away the pain that it is causing this other person. It’s a tough situation because there is a part of me that says that her personality is probably one of the things that drew him to her in the first place, and it was okay then but not now?

  • Julian

    Julian

    December 11th, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    It’s not like someone is going to change just because you say I Do

  • riley

    riley

    December 12th, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    Why is it that someone might know something about us that does not seem to bother them at all when dating but then when you get married they expect that you should become someone completely different. Has anyone ever been a success with that? I say love the one you’re with.

  • Kelli

    Kelli

    December 13th, 2016 at 2:35 PM

    My husband is a flirt and I have always known it but I also know that he doesn’t mean anything by it. This is just his personality and I loved it when he used it on me so how could I go back and be resentful of all of that now??

  • cecil i

    cecil i

    December 14th, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    You know that it is wrong that it hurts him and makes him angry so what do you get out of that? feeling wanted and needed? Eventually he will get tired of being made to feel so small and he will just say forget you and move on. If that’s what you would ultimately like to happen, then go ahead with the behavior that you are exhibiting.

  • Cedric

    Cedric

    December 15th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    I can sort of see where he is coming from because just because I like my girl to be one way around me that does not mean that I want her to be like that with anyone else. You know what I mean? I like her to be outgoing and funny with me and yeah probably act like a certain kind of woman but not when we are out in public. I don’t think that I would be embarrassed but I would sort of feel ashamed of that. I want her to be a lady when we are out and that for me would probably include not flirting with or hitting on other guys.

  • L

    L

    December 20th, 2016 at 4:25 PM

    We don’t know exactly what “flirting” means to her or him. Besides lightly touching people on the shoulder, what else? I think defining terms is very important. Terms and intentions. What if she’s just a bit more affectionate of a person and is really chatty. I get everyones points, but she is not responsible for his feelings. What if he has been cheated on before and is extra sensitive and insecure? Should she change herself to accommodate his insecurities.

  • terrie

    terrie

    December 31st, 2016 at 1:19 PM

    You shouldn’t feel like you have to change who you are just because this makes someone uncomfortable. You need to feel free to be and they are the ones who have the ball in their court to do something about it if they choose.
    If they choose to make that move then I say let them have at it. If they choose to stay then that should be their way of saying that it really doesn’t bother them all that much and that they are willing to deal with it.

  • Jane

    Jane

    January 26th, 2017 at 10:30 PM

    You shouldn’t have to change your personality for anyone, but when you’re in a relationship both of you are partially responsible in helping each other feel secure. And if he has expressed that your flirting makes him uncomfortable, then it’s time for you to decide whether you want to continue that behavior or tone it down. You both have the right to be happy. If flirting makes you happy, then continue and if it doesn’t make him happy, then he should find someone who’s a better match.

  • David

    David

    February 20th, 2017 at 3:03 AM

    I think you want to Cuckold your husband secretly but don’t know how to get that fantasy into play. Obviously your husband wouldn’t be into that but that still doesn’t make your fantasy go away. You have a big decision to make. Do you risk losing him or maybe you should talk to him about your desires about having fun with other man. Honesty is always best even if it hurts.

  • anthony a

    anthony a

    October 8th, 2019 at 3:25 PM

    i love my girl to death but why do i keep flirting and haven”t gone all the way but flirting is still cheating in my eyes do yall all agree with me

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