“Flirting is fun and usually begins in innocence. It’s a hard habit to break, even after marriage. Yet it causes jealousy. Worse, it puts us into situations we never intended to fall into, and it creates misunderstandings that can lead to infidelity.” (Jerry Jenkins)
Whether it’s intentional or not, flirting with someone other than your spouse is a form of emotional infidelity.
It’s a serious relationship matter, especially to the offended spouse. That’s why we’re approaching this subject by sharing a portion of a TV program titled, You’re Not the Person I Married, aired December 5, 2002 on the Dr Phil Show (which you can find more information about concerning this particular program and additional information, by following the provided “Show Archives” link to DrPhil.com).
In this show one of the couples, Joe and Karmen, were battling over his flirting with other women and the emotional affairs he later developed with several of them. To Joe, it was all innocent fun, because as he said, “there was no sex involved.” But Karmen felt hurt and betrayed.
They set up that segment of the program, showing a tape of both Joe and Karmen explaining their “sides” on the issue.
“I was in love with Joe, and he swore that he’d be faithful to me when we got married. Joe’s been involved with several women over the years, and he says they’re just emotional affairs. But they bother me just the same. I’m suspicious of everything that Joe says to me. And I’m constantly checking up on him.”
To that Joe responds:
“I never thought I would really be able to give up the attention I want from other women. The flirtations with women I have, they’re just romantic. There’s no sex involved.” And “when I tell the truth” (to Karmen when questioned by her) she”gets hurt, so I sometimes have to lie to save her feelings. To be honest, I never thought we’d be married as long as we are now. I think the kids right now have a lot to do with us still being together.”
They then, show a segment where Karmen’s sitting with her son who was crying telling his mom “it’s all my fault” for the problems they’re having. After the video, Dr Phil asks, “Joe, you just saw the toll this has taken on your son. So how much fun is that flirting now?” to which Joe replied, “It’s not fun at all.”
“He didn’t know that was going to be on there, but I wanted him to see how bad he’s hurting our son without him even realizing it. My son came to me and said, ‘It’s my fault Dad’s unhappy with life because Dad told me he wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for us and he’s unhappy being here.’ I said, ‘Joel, he was trying to let you know how much he loves you; that even though he’s not happy with himself, he’s here for you, that he loves you.’ But, of course, my son didn’t take it that way.”
Dr Phil addressing Joe, said,
“You say, ‘I got married, knowing I wouldn’t want to give up the affection of other women. I’m having emotional affairs, but nothing physical.’ You know, just color me cynical, but I don’t believe that. I’m not saying you are or you aren’t —I have no evidence. I can’t prove one way or the other —all I know is what you say, and just one guy to another, I don’t believe that for a split second. But —that’s your position. And then you go say this to your children? Do you feel any responsibility to the health and welfare of this family as it relates to your choices?”
Joe replied, “I never knew my choices would really affect the family the way they have. I have, in the past, thought sometimes, it’s better we should just split up, however.” Dr Phil said, “Well, that’s one option, that’s true, to just say, ‘You know, I’ll just go —and y’all make your own way.’ Joe then admitted, “You know, I like what I have. You know, I love Karmen; I love the kids. I don’t want to give that up either.”
When Dr Phil asked Karmen if she felt betrayed by these emotional affairs, she said, “They hurt just the same as if he was out having a physical affair.” Dr. McGraw said, “Well, you are betrayed.” Then turned to Joe and asked him if it truly was a betrayal to which Joe affirmed that they were.
Phil then said to him, “Let me tell you, anytime you turn away from instead of towards your partner to meet emotional needs, physical needs, needs that are appropriate to a committed, intimate relationship, that’s a betrayal. So you have these needs, and you’re turning away from your wife to meet those needs. What do you expect her to do about that?”
Joe replied, “Well, I know I lost her trust. And I know it will be hard to regain it. But all I can do is say I’m sorry. The feeling I was looking for was that new relationship feeling. We’ve been married 14 years, and, you know, I miss that feeling.
Dr Phil then said, “So you thought, ‘I’ll just go get it somewhere else. And I’ll let my children pick up the tab for that immaturity. I’ll let my wife pick up the tab for that immaturity. Plus, I’ll let our family go down in flames, so I can get a rush every 30 days?'”
Joe said, “I never really looked at it that way. Honestly, I didn’t think it affected them a lot of times. I guess really it was, ‘What they don’t know don’t hurt’.”
Giving Up Wants
Dr Phil then replied, “You said, ‘When I got married, I knew I wasn’t going to give up my want for these other women. I didn’t think we would stay married very long.’ So I guess you just thought you’d just bring some kids in the world. Then you’d just leave them in your wake as you went to the next conquest. ‘What they don’t know doesn’t hurt them.’ Are you rethinking that as you sit here now?”
Joe said, “Oh, definitely, yes.” Dr Phil then said, “That’s a good thing because this is about wake-up calls. I’m not trying to beat you up. I’m trying to wake you up and get you to realize what you’re doing here.”
Joe acknowledged that he now saw his behavior in a different light and that he had been wrong but he wasn’t able to make a firm promise to stop for fear that if he failed he’d hurt his wife again with another “broken promise.” He did say he “wanted to” stop flirting and seeing other women.
At that point, Dr Phil said:
“Listen, I understand. Isn’t it all fun when you’re falling in love and everything is new and fresh and all that? That’s all fun just like riding a roller-coaster is great fun for some people. But the truth is, as we mature, we realize that love doesn’t get old; it just transforms.
You know, at first, you’re up all night talking and you’re doing all of this stuff and everybody gets all excited and everything. And I always hear them say, ‘Oh, we’re like soul mates. She knows me so well, she can finish my sentences.’ Then two years later, it’s, like, ‘Hey quit interrupting.’ OK? You know we get that evolution, but we label it as negative when really it’s just a change.”
“I don’t stay up all night talking to my wife because I want to go to sleep. But you know what? It may not be exactly the same; it’s better, but different. If you mature enough to allow that to happen, what you find out is —in exchange for some of the exhilaration in the unknown, you have comfort, you have security —you have a soft place to fall. And when you put effort and energy into it, you can create that exhilaration at the right time along the way.
But in the meantime, you mature into nurturing what’s there, learning to label that the same way you label the others. There’s a big difference between falling in love and being in love.”
Wake Up Call
We appreciate how Dr Phil tried to bring a wake up call to Karmen and Joe. Plus, he gives it to all married couples who will listen who feel flirtations aren’t harmful. What may seem to be “innocent” flirting in the eyes of one spouse, can spiral into all sorts of problems with a lot of innocent people to getting hurt. That’s not what marriage partnership is supposed to involve.
It comes down to the fact that marriage is designed to be entered into by grown-ups —those who are willing to act as mature adults, who vow to join together in exclusive partnership with each other and with God as a “chord of three strands.” It’s a relationship that is to be honored as sacred and protected by both partners so no one outside the marriage has the opportunity to “divide what God has joined together.” (See Mark 10:7-9)
You might find it helpful to follow something that author Jerry Jenkins discovered and shared in his book, Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It (which we highly recommend).
“I enjoy having fun and being funny, and my mind tends to find humor in words and unusual combinations of ideas. For this reason I could easily flirt with anyone I thought was receptive. Much flirting is funny. If someone says something flirtatious with me, my first impulse is to expand on it. I want to play with it, and see how quick and funny I can be. But I resist that. It isn’t fair. It’s mental and emotional unfaithfulness. I would be exercising a portion of my brain and soul reserved for my exclusive lover —my spouse.”
Jerry knows, and so should we, that this isn’t what we should be doing. It’s not God’s way and it shouldn’t be our way either. Think about it, isn’t that what marriage is supposed to be? Exclusive? If not, why marry?
We need to consider what God’s word says about our actions:
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.“ (Hebrews 13:4)
The flirtatious spouse might not think that he or she is being “sexually immoral” because he/she isn’t actually going through a physical, sexual act with another person. However, the Word of God says,
“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person —such a man is an idolater —has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:3-5)
Also, it is written:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-29)
We beg you to save your flirting for your spouse. Invest your energies in your marriage instead of with someone else. You could find your relationship so much better, feeling newer and revived. And as a result you, your spouse, your children, and your God will be blessed.
Jerry Jenkins has a suggestion in his book that is a good one:
“If you want to flirt, flirt with your wife. She may not look, feel, or sound the way she did when you first flirted with her years ago, but she still wants you to flirt with her. Try it. Wink at her across the room. Blow her a kiss no one else sees. Play footsie with her under the table. Give her a squeeze, a pinch, a tickle no one else notices.”
He continues this thought by saying,
“Wouldn’t you like to be flirted with by someone who loves you, someone who can tease you about what she might do with you later and then deliver?”
You may think someone else might enjoy your flirtations more than your spouse. But when you took your marriage vows, you promised exclusivity with your marriage partner. So instead, try flirting with your spouse —you may like it! And it may just help to keep your romance alive. It sure has for us as we’ve flirted with each other throughout our 45+ year marriage.
Cindy and Steve Wright