Is the high note of your Sunday mornings a flirty exchange of musical puns with the worship leader? On Monday, does playful banter with your coworker make overtime a little less onerous?

Whoever says flirting needs to stop when marriage starts is so wrong.

In reality, your wedding ring is the ticket to tease liberally and confidently, free from the bygone temptations of singlehood. People know you’re committed, right? So, be bold, be risqué, be seductive, be playful—With your spouse.

With anyone other than your lover, acting in a way that expresses attraction or seeks attention is wrong. In fact, it’s thievery. Each flattering comment is energy siphoned from your marriage and poured into the fuel tank of your fling. Worse, Jerry B. Jenkins, author of Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It, writes that flirting is "exercising a portion of [your] brain and soul reserved for [your] exclusive lover" and is therefore "mental and emotional unfaithfulness."

But don’t fight your inner flirt! Rather, take a close look at your behaviour and direct a "come hither" look at your spouse to secure a VIP pass to your exclusive flirt fest. Read on to explore the line between crime and sublime of this provocative habit.

Know the crime

Even your most innocent tea-light-sized tease is hardly harmless – especially not for the starved-for-attention homemaker longing for a flaming hearth or for the coworker who secretly struggles with lust. Under these circumstances, an off-the-cuff punch line can sound an awful lot like a charged pick-up line. If you’re not convinced, just read Proverbs. It has a lot of cautionary things to say about freelance "seductive speech" and "smooth talk" (7:21).

Ideally, the buck needs to stop even before there’s opportunity for misinterpretation. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:22, the onus falls on each individual to act above ambiguity: "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (emphasis added).

That’s a lot of abstaining! The gist is this: You can be charismatic, but curb your friendliness from ever compromising reputations – yours, your spouse’s or the flirtee’s.

A less obvious crime, but still destructive, is gushing over certain traits or strengths that a friend has, but your spouse lacks. This not only hurts your spouse, but also makes you vulnerable to jealousy, lust and covetousness (Matthew 5:28; Exodus 20:17). After all, when you said "I do," you also said "I don’t" to everyone else.

Take Ally as an example. She’s a bubbly woman, with witticisms to spare, who married Peter, a handsome, spiritual, but not-so-slap-stick man. Early in marriage, Ally laughed till she cried at single-man Jerry’s jokes during their group Bible study. Until one night, Peter privately voiced an uncharacteristically sarcastic and obviously pained, "Have fun with your boyfriend tonight?"

How did Ally respond? Rather than trying to change Peter, she changed her actions and her "type" to align with her lover. She curbed her giggling from ever again being a pat on the funny man’s back and a slap in her husband’s face. Not surprisingly, her marriage became more flirtatious than ever!

Know the line

Bob Dylan put it best: "The times they are a-changin’!"

One change that Jenkins points out is the "new openness" between the sexes. For example, today’s Christians "touch more, speak more intimately, [and] are closer to one another." It’s a change that can be both lovely and dangerous. So to protect you and your marriage, couple a healthy dose of fear and faithfulness with these six tips:

1. Scan for red flags: Therese J. Borchard, author of When does flirting become cheating? 9 red flags, identifies nine warning signs of danger. Some are obvious, such as having a sexual agenda or if your spouse doesn’t like it. Some are subtler, like if you’re keeping the chats and interactions a secret from your spouse.

2. Self-reflect: Your defence here is a reflective heart, which is also a prayerful heart. Since we know the heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), guide your introspection with a prayer based on Psalm 139:24, Lord, please reveal to me any offensive way I act, think or feel and lead me in the way of faithfulness to my spouse and to You.

3. Listen to your body: The way you sit or stand around someone, the amount of eye contact you make, whether you seem "magnetised" by a person or the degree you look forward to seeing them can be signs it’s time to back off, according to Jenkins. He also suggests refraining from touching or being alone with these friends as a physical defence.

4. Talk about and to your spouse: When talking with others, Jenkins suggests pouring out loving, respectful praise for your spouse. That’ll help keep you off the "hit-on list." On the other hand, talk to your spouse about the new woman at the office. Keep no secrets, but Jenkins says to use your judgment to decide what to say. Speaking highly of the coworker in front of your spouse harms more than the lack of secrecy benefits.

5. Practice safe behaviour: Treat "the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity" (1 Timothy 5:2). Of course, the same goes for you, wife! If you find it difficult to read the signals you’re sending, ask yourself, If I saw my husband acting this way, would I be okay with that? And when you’re the target of flirts, remember that no matter how awkward it is to pooh-pooh someone’s attempt to woo you, the warm heart of your husband is well worth your cold shoulder to another man.

6. Run: When you face temptation, 2 Timothy 2:22 says to flee. In this case, to be a hero means to run. Enough said.

Know the sublime

Flirting is just as much, if not more so, for retaining a lover as for luring one!

In fact, researcher Brandi Frisby found that amorous quips between spouses might just tip the balance for whether a marriage will go the distance. Specifically, she calls flirtatious behaviour a primary "maintenance communication" and a tool for creating a "private world" between spouses. Similarly, Jenkins writes that provocative looks, smiles and touches make up part of a couple’s "sexual language of love." Ooh la la!

Speaking of language, as with most communication, flirting is goal-oriented. Some goals are based on destructive myths, such as believing that flirting with someone else to make your wife jealous will inspire her to show you more attention. This isn’t cute or effective; it’s manipulative and doomed to backfire.

Likely, your goals align with one or more of these six other flirting motivations identified by professor of communication Dr. David Henningsen:

  1. To have fun
  2. To deepen a relationship
  3. To explore interest
  4. To prime for sex
  5. To boost self-esteem
  6. To win favours

Do many of these motivations seem self-serving? Flipping the flattery goal to serve your spouse rather than yourself fixes that! Marital flirting then becomes a means to inspire joy in your husband; to help your wife feel safe in your relationship; to affirm his personal interests; to make sexual intimacy pleasing for her; to boost his self-esteem; and to kindly offer to do a favour for her.

What’s the bottom line? It’s this word from Jenkins: "You flirt with your wife [or husband], and I’ll flirt with mine."

*Names changed to protect privacy

Reference to the individuals quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of the individual’s external work.

Reprinted with permission © 2014 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

Cara Plett

Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada

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