When you're in a relationship, there are many situations and sets of circumstances that you'll have to navigate. From how to incorporate each family and group of friends into your relationship to how to handle late nights at the office, where to live, and more, there are compromises, conversations, and boundaries that will all have to factor into your relationship. But what about when your partner does something outside of the boundaries the two of you have previously agreed upon? There are some mature, but effective ways to respond if your partner flirts with someone else in front of you that, in case the situation ever arises, you'll probably want to know more about.
First of all, it's important to remember that every relationship is different. For some couples, it's completely fine with both partners if one or the other of them flirts with other people, even if they do so in front of each other, as long as it doesn't go any further. For other couples, even if things go further, it's still OK. And for still other couples, flirting with someone else is a serious no-no. So knowing how you both feel about flirting and what you're OK with and what you're not can help you determine if a line has truly been crossed. If you decide that there is something wrong and flirting isn't OK, there are ways that you can handle it maturely so that you can both move forward and have a real conversation about the situation.
1. Stay Poised
"The only way to handle your partner flirting is to address it with poise," Stephanie Churma, a relationship coach, writer, speaker, and teacher, tells Romper in an email exchange. "First check in: is this something you'd do to your partner? If no, then you need to get honest with [them], quickly before it turns into resentment and insecurity." Being poised, graceful, and calm is the best way to have a conversation and actually be heard, rather than having the other person get defensive and it turning into a major fight unnecessarily.
"It is best not to simply accuse them of wrongdoing," Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, the founder of Relationup, an ABS-certified clinical sexologist, and relationship therapist, tells Romper by email. "This tactic can put them on the defensive and cause the conversation to deteriorate into a fight. Instead, share with your partner how their flirting makes you feel and your desire for them to stop doing that."
2. Wait Until You're Alone
Instead of making this conversation a public spectacle, it's best if you wait until you get a chance to have the conversation when you're alone. "I think the best way to handle the first offense is to wait until you're alone together, and then address it as calmly as possible," therapist Rachel Gersten, LMHC, CHC, tells Romper in an email exchange. "If the partner continues the behavior, then a larger conversation probably needs to take place."
3. Consider A Trigger Word
If part of the issue is that they're flirty by nature and don't realize when they're actually flirting in front of you and when everything's OK, agreeing on a way to let them know that they're crossing a line can be a good idea. "If you and your partner are both on the same page and agree that their flirty behavior is problematic and something they want to stop, then the two of you can unite against the problem," Milrad says. "Create a trigger word that you can say to your partner in the moment when the behavior is occurring that will snap them out of it and make them realize that they are engaging in behavior that needs to be shut down. Then, your partner would take steps to redirect themselves." That way, they can potentially start to recognize when it's happening or, at least, adjust their actions when they're starting to cross a line.
4. Set Or Clarify Boundaries
Sometimes, flirting with other people is OK in one relationship and so, if you don't address it early on, they might think that it's OK with you too. "Individuals may flirt for fun, a confidence boost, or to get a good table at a restaurant! Discuss with your partner how each of you feel about flirting — when is it OK versus not OK, when does it cross a line, [and] what’s the intention behind the flirting," Dr. Rebekah Montgomery, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and relationship expert, tells Romper by email. "If there are negative emotions about your partner flirting in front of you — explore what it brings up for you and if there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed either in the reason they are flirting or in [the] underlying reason it is upsetting."
5. Talk About It Before It's An Issue
If flirting with other people (and other potential relationship boundaries) is a topic of conversation early on, you'll both know what the other expects ahead of time and — hopefully — it won't be an issue at all. "One of the most mature ways to handle your partner engaging in flirtatious behavior with someone else in front of you is to address this issue proactively before you find yourself facing this situation," Dr. Joseph Cilona, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Romper in an email exchange. "Being forced to respond to a situation like this in the moment and without careful thought and consideration can really compromise the ability to be thoughtful and measured in your response. Clear and specific discussions about the meaning and boundaries for each partner of flirting with others is essential for strategizing effective compromises and solutions."
And while it's possible, of course, to have these discussions after the fact, having them before flirting is an issue can save you both a lot of potential heartache and hurt feelings later on.
6. Change The Topic Of Conversation
It's hard to ignore, but if you are in a conversation with your partner and a person they're flirting with, changing the topic of conversation might help. "Redirecting the conversation by steering it to a new topic through a direct question to your partner or the other person involved can quickly and easily diffuse and even shut down flirtations," Cilona says. "Using questions that require more depth and detail in their response, and also choosing topics that are more serious and complex can be extra helpful in shifting energy and attention away from any kind of sexually-charged flirtation."
7. Use Open-Ended Dialogue
"Try some open-ended dialogue that sparks a convo: 'I noticed you were getting friendly with your co-worker and I feel uncomfortable. It is important to me when I'm with someone to feel safe, and when you flirt with other women it signals to me that I may not be the only one. Can we talk about this,'" Churma says. "When you have open-ended dialogue that starts with how you're feeling versus blaming someone else for your emotion, it gives the footing to have an honest chat."
Also, open-ended questions and discussion topics can ensure that your partner is involved in the conversation too and not getting off easy with simple yes or no responses. Honesty, above all, will help you address the issue and figure out how to move on — whether together or apart.
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