Plus, the difference between flirting and infidelity.
You get married and you’re supposed to be faithful. You made a vow to be faithful. You and your wife understand that concept to mean that you can only have sex with each other.
The problem is that there are 2 things that complicate that simple declaration: your human nature and modern technology.
Let’s start with your human nature. Your human nature is that you are multidimensional and complex. You commit to a person and yet there are other parts of you that are quite capable of having feelings for other members of the opposite sex (or other members of the same sex if you are gay or lesbian).
Also, maybe you are a fun person who likes to engage with others in free self-expression. You may enjoy flirting because it's fun and you can enjoy that part of you that can have that positive effect on others. What do you do with that part of you? Do you hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist? Do you act it out and say "to heck with my vows"?
The problem with hiding is that you become more restricted and less alive (and resentful). The problem with acting it out is that keeping a secret can be devastating to the (usually inevitable) discovering partner that you kept the secret.
Maybe even more important, it's unfair to keep secrets from your spouse because if she knew the truth, she might make a different decision. To me, that is robbery/thievery/stealing from someone’s life the right to choose based on knowledge and truth.
The other problem is technology. Today’s technology makes it easy to engage in behaviors that you would not want to share with your partner. These behaviors include intimate texting and sexting, online live engagement for sexual reasons, online porn, emails, social network direct messaging, booking an online or live prostitute, and many more.
There are even online groups that encourage you to discretely cheat on your spouse and will help you. (This same technology makes it relatively easy to get caught if you have a suspicious partner that has access to your online "stuff" or phone).
With all this temptation from within our human nature, as well as the modern technological environment, we need to be proactive as couples. So, how do we be proactive and honor our vows as well as our complex human nature? How do we stay faithful?
Here are 5 steps to an alive and faithful relationship:
1. Get to know yourself in all your complexity.
This is not just the part of you that wants to follow your vows to the letter, but the other parts as well. If you like attention from the opposite sex (or same sex if you're gay or lesbian), admit that to yourself.
2. Accept that your partner’s psyche does not just revolve around only you.
It is normal for him to have sexual feelings for others or even have the desire to be affirmed by others sexually.
3. Understand that #1 and 2 have absolutely nothing to do with actions, though.
Acting these feelings out and being secretive is a whole other hurtful problem that does not work in committed relationships.
4. Communicate these "shadow" sides to your partner sometimes.
Talk about your need to get attention and how you want to flirt. See what is OK with your partner and where the boundaries need to be drawn. No, it's not a black and white situation.
For example, some couples are totally okay with flirting as long as they tell each other about it (no secrets) and do not take it any further. However, one or both partners may not be ok with any flirting whatsoever.
5. Come up with an agreement that you both can keep.
If the boundaries feel too loose or too rigid to one party, then you need to communicate more about it. For example, my wife and I have very clear boundaries that we've never crossed, but I would not want to be forbidden from having lunch with another female for business reasons or if she were a colleague of mine or even an old friend.
That would feel too restrictive.
What is infidelity? Infidelity involves and implies secrets. Secrets could range from texting to having sexual intercourse with a person (and everything in between) and not telling your spouse.
Infidelity is clearly NOT OK. Flirting is a gray area and needs to be discussed with each spouse to find that place where the boundaries are clear, the relationship is held sacred and it is not overly restrictive.
Every couple is different and every couple needs to decide as a couple what works for them. I define secret flirting as infidelity because it IS the secret that destroys relationships, more than the behavior itself.
However, healthy and innocent flirting as clearly communicated and accepted by the couple can be enlivening and enjoyable. Staying as open and transparent as possible actually in some ways naturally and organically gives partners more room to be playful with the other sex.
My comments here are taken from decades of working with couples, and I've learned that the gray areas in relationships can be wonderful if looked at and dealt with creatively.
This article was originally published at Todd Creager's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.