I worked with a client today whose stated problem was that he flirts too much. My first question, “Is it a problem for you, the women you flirt with, or your wife?”
Flirting is something I know a lot about. Before I married Hannah I flirted quite a bit. After she and I met this became a serious problem for her and then for me because she was so unhappy about my behavior. We fought about it for too long. Eventually we went to a therapist and he said that I had a very simple choice to make . . .
The choice I needed to make was whether it was more important for me to get the attention of other women or to help my partner feel relaxed and comfortable in our relationship. At first I resisted, explaining that I was a trustworthy man. I defended myself.
The therapist pointed out to me that this wasn’t about me and had nothing to do with whether or not I was trustworthy. This was about Hannah. She was making herself miserable when I was flirtatious. He said, “You don’t need any more information than that. This is who Hannah is as of today. It may change some day, but for now, this is who she is. Are you going to choose to do something that makes her miserable or are you going to choose to help her relax and feel comfortable being your partner?”
The choice was clear. I said, “Okay, I get it. No more flirting. But, just out of curiosity, how long do I have to do this before the issue will go away?” I was thinking he would say something like, “Six weeks,” or “Six months,” but to my dismay he said, “Five to ten years.” And he meant it.
And, he was right. It took about five years before Hannah really started to relax around this issue, and even then I had to be very mindful about my behavior around other women. One of the keys was learning to be honest. Historically, if a woman I thought was good looking walked by and I noticed her—Hannah would ask me if I found her attractive—and like most guys I would lie, “No, not really.”
I think I’m pretty sharp in general, but when it came to this behavior I certainly wasn’t. It took me a long time to realize that Hannah picked up on the fact that I was lying and this made her more nervous. It was only when I started to tell her the truth by saying things like, “Yes, I thought she was attractive,” only then did Hannah relax because I was validating her instincts with my honesty.
So for me there were three lessons. The first was to accept Hannah—to stop fighting with her about how she felt. The second was that I needed to stop making this issue about me—stop defending myself. The third was that honesty heals.
Click here if you’d like to read Hannah’s experience about all of this, a female perspective.
And to learn how I helped my client with his flirting, read my blog next week.
And please visit our website to learn more about our philosophy on romantic relationships.