Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Asking where to draw line on flirting may be sign of problem
Q: Married people occasionally have little flirtations with friends. I have always thought these things generally aren't a problem — unless they are, and then you need to walk away from the friendship. From your perspective, what are the indicators that a friendly flirtation has crossed the line and calls for steps to shut it down?
Where's the Line?
Carolyn: If you've singled out one friend with whom to have "little flirtations," and it's new or escalating, then I'd say you're already at that point. Married people don't live in sensory deprivation chambers, sure, but targeted attention outside the marriage is troublesome.
It also matters what your baseline is. Some people flirt only with intent; some flirt each time they draw breath.
I could also say you've hit that line when you're asking yourself or others where the line is. Healthy people in healthy relationships tend not to worry about such things until they're actually there.
Whenever you get to the point where you're questioning your actions, it's also time to pay more and more deliberate attention to your spouse, because chances are you've drifted a bit in the time it took you to recognize that you were getting carried away.
Anonymous: Also consider your spouse's comfort with your behavior. If s/he brings it to your attention (assuming your spouse is a reasonable person), then it's time to re-evaluate. A little fun is not worth the damage it can do to your marriage. My hubby recently did that for us and I am grateful he did it early and in a calm way before it got too out of hand. (I was the flirter.)
Carolyn: So much power in one humble parenthetical. Assuming your spouse is a reasonable person. It's the linchpin that holds your point together, since people too commonly see it as a betrayal to flex one's charms occasionally.
It's also an argument for being reasonable — or holding off on committed relationships till you can be. When you have a high threshold for alarm, your objections are rare, serious and effective. When instead your need for a monopoly on someone's attention is absolute, and you react at the slightest bat of an eye, you unwittingly argue the merits of attracting somebody other than you.
Sometimes dealing with an issue requires walking away
Q: Recently, for someone trying to figure out her anger, you suggested a "walk around the neighborhood." I had similar issues dogging me — anger, general unhappiness when at home, mixed messages from my other half — when an opportunity to housesit for six weeks came up, so I took it. It helped me to clarify my thinking, my relationship and life in general a lot.
No Longer Wondering
Carolyn: Great work if you can get it. For people who can't up and move elsewhere for six weeks, I suggest using a process similar to the one for identifying a food intolerance: You remove things from your emotional diet, one at a time, and see how you feel as a result. With a little planning, it is often possible to take a week away from just about anything (except yourself).