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Is my spouse engaging in harmless hugging…or is it flirting…or is it more?

Hi PatsyRae,

I have questions about a major issue…flirting. My husband has for years behaved in a manner I call flirting. He is overly playful, teases, and jokes with other women to the point that I feel they: a) may think he's romantically interested, b) may think he's fresh, or c) may feel uncomfortable in his presence.

(1) I feel hurt and have told him time and time again, but he says he is just being friendly. He says I am just jealous, and I don't trust him. (2) He says he is friendly with every one and that's true to a point. He's just more playful with women, especially young teens and young adults. I don't think he's sexually interested in them, but his behavior feels so inappropriate to me. I've told him it's okay to be friendly with the opposite sex, to greet them, smile, hug, talk, but he needs to limit his playfulness and not go overboard. (3) What is the difference between flirting behavior and just being friendly with the opposite sex? (4) What consequences can I use if my husband refuses to stop what I feel is flirting behavior?

Thank You for Your Ministry to Women in Desperate Marriages,


Note: Numbers serve as reference points for PatsyRae's answer.


Dear Mary,

First four questions:

  1. How old is your husband?
  2. Have you had problems with emotional or physical abuse in your marriage?
  3. Is your husband there for you sexually?
  4. Is your husband playful the same way with you?



Dear Patsy,

(5) He is in his mid-50s.

(6) For years I dealt with his verbal abuse and episodes of rage. He stopped this when I started walking away from him each time he started in on me.

(7) He is there sexually…though we are both struggling with a significant decrease in desire and frequency.

(8) I'd not thought about it in a long time, but NO he isn't playful with me and not since we got married nearly 40 years ago. He would say he doesn't play with me because I am too sensitive to his jokes which feel to me like sarcasm and insults. This is not the same as he "plays and jokes" with other women.



Dear Mary,

Your answers are typical for the problem you’re facing. Many husbands and wives share your problem with inappropriate behavior by their mates—husbands' hugging the ladies and wives’ rubbing the backs of the men. Trying to stay away from these men and women often doesn't protect the recipients from this unwanted attention. Fortunately, the Bible gives some clear guidelines for dealing with this problem. To cover the improper behavior of both husbands and wives at the same time, I’m going to refer to them as “flirts.”

Flirts learn to use weasel words in Sin 101 classes

Note: See numbers in Mary’s letter for PatsyRae’s corresponding answers.

(1) My husband says I’m just jealous and don’t trust him.

(8) He doesn't play with me because I am too sensitive to his jokes which feel to me like sarcasm and insults.

In Sin 101 classes, flirts learn a good offense is a great defense. Thus, they usually specialize is using weasel-word lines to deflect questioning of their conduct. This lets them bounce suspicions back onto their spouses. Notice some effective weasel-word lines to blame the spouse for even questioning their conduct:

“You’re just jealous.” or “You don’t trust me.”

Three thousand years ago, the Shepherd talked about jealousy and trust in the Song of Solomon 8:6:

Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.

The Shepherd said married folks enjoy a relationship they cannot share with others. Each mate has a righteous expectation of emotional faithfulness from the other as obvious as wearing an armband. Emotionally faithful spouse’s tattoo their hearts with “I belong to my mate in body, mind, and spirit.”

“You can’t take a joke.”

Likewise, three thousand years ago Proverbs 26:18-19 addressed abuse that pretends to be teasing when challenged:

Like a madman who throws
Firebrands, arrows and death,
So is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, “Was I not joking?”

“You have a dirty mind.”

Shaming the mate for having a dirty mind to even question the flirt’s conduct works especially well. But 2000 years ago, I Peter 3:2 revealed that even unbelieving husbands with dirty minds should be able to recognize a wife’s chase behavior. Christian women are not to be flirts—not even dry flirts. Men shouldn’t think when they see a Christian woman, “Uh oh, here comes that woman who can’t keep her hands to herself.” Even a dirty-minded unbelieving husband ought to be able to look at a woman and know she is pure…even if he is mentally undressing her when he looks at her. So purity shows up in the behavior of the spouse regardless of what kind of mind the mate has.

Feelin’-‘em-up groping often leads to physical adultery

(2) My husband says he is friendly with every one and that's true to a point. He's just more playful with women, especially young teens and young adults.

(3) What is the difference between flirting behavior and just being friendly with the opposite sex?

John Loren Sandford answers the question, “Is it flirting, being friendly or spiritual adultery?” In fact, Sandford wrote Why Good People MESS UP, Keys to upright living in a seductive world to demonstrate how unchaste touching can lead to spiritual and physical adultery. John wrote:

By the grace of God I have never sexually known any woman other than Paula. But that did not keep me out of spiritual adultery.

My mother had seemed to me to be a very critical, wounding sort of person to be around. In reaction, I built walls, unconsciously choosing to believe that primary women [mother and wife] were not safe to be near. [Emphasis added] That meant that early in our marriage, I could not freely share my heart with Paula—and that left me vulnerable.

God built us with a need to share. He said that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18) and created woman to refresh man’s heart. In my case, however, I was afraid to let Paula into my heart. [Emphasis added.] (page 10.)

 Sandford candidly revealed that his problem did not come from his wife. He developed his fear of sharing with a primary woman as a childish defense mechanism to survive his emotionally abusive mother. A child’s brain does not mature to engage in good problem-solving thinking until around age 25. However, if a person does not realize they are still practicing childhood-coping techniques, they often continue their childish reactions to problems until death.

Nature abhors a vacuum, so I found myself sharing with others, both men and women in the congregation where I pastored, things that ought to have been shared first—and in some cases only—with Paula: revelations, insights, hurts, fears, anxieties, and hopes; whatever touched my heart and needed comfort or confirmation. It is Paula’s task and no one else’s to hold my heart in her care. But I had learned that whatever my mother knew could and would be used against me.

…Because of these experiences and feelings, I found “safer” places [than Paula]. It was especially easy for me to open up to older women. Both of my grandmothers had been dear to me and easy to talk to. Therefore, older women posed no threat. They were not primary to me like Paula, so I could share freely with them.

 John’s childhood coping included talking to his loving grandmothers as a release. Thus, he carried into his marriage two coping techniques that spelled disaster for his marriage:

  • You can’t trust primary women [mothers and wives] because they will wound you with harsh words.
  • Older women make good sounding boards because they are kind and loving.
  • He carried this trust of older women into his marriage

Like Mary, John’s wife knew something was wrong. Like Mary, she brought it to her husband’s attention. Like Mary’s husband, John ignored his wife’s warnings.

…Paula, who is very spiritually sensitive, soon said to me, “John, I feel as though we aren’t even alone in bed anymore! I can sense these women’s presence, as if they were with us right here in our bed!” There was nothing weird or occult about that. Wives often “know” when their husbands are involved in adulterous or potentially dangerous relationships. It’s part of a woman’s sixth sense to be able to feel it when another woman gets too close to her husband. Paula’s words got my attention!

 After months of prayer and conversations with his wife about the problem, John observed:

Sharing is not in itself an adulterous act. In Christ, we all need to learn to share the concerns of our hearts more openly and accurately as we mature in Christ. Spiritual adultery occurs whenever, in the course of sharing, we grant to another person other than our spouse that position of comfort and refreshment that belongs first and sometimes only to our spouse.

Therefore, I believe that the first and greatest cause of sexual adultery among well-meaning Christians is spiritual adultery. As I indicated above, spiritual adultery can be defined as any time married persons share with someone else what ought to have been shared first or only with their spouse.

…Adulterous people often use emotional adultery to seduce others into relationships, although sometimes unintentionally. They use emotion-laden glances and looks, body language, touches, and suggestive words—whatever will signal intent and gain consent.

 Then John issued a strong warning about “flirting and being friendly”:

But spiritual adultery bears the distinctive mark that it is always (at first) unintentional. Its participants are not purposefully sending and receiving signals. Initially, they are unaware of what is happening. That is one of the main reasons why Christians succumb to adultery. If spiritual adultery were overt, especially if it wore recognizably sexual clothing, well-intentioned Christians would quickly shake free of it.

Persistent spiritual adultery inevitably leads to full physical adultery! After many years of ministering to thousands of couples trying to pick up the pieces of marriages shattered by adulteries, Paula and I can confidently say that we cannot recall any case that did not begin with spiritual adultery!

 See last month’s article The #1 reason for marriage problems and divorces? Refusing to grow up!

 Impotent old men often choose feelin’-‘em-up groping over being loving husbands

(5) He is in his mid-50s.

(6) For years I dealt with his verbal abuse and episodes of rage. He stopped this only after I started walking away from him each time he’d start in on me.

(7) He is there sexually…though we are both struggling with a significant decrease in desire and frequency.

The marriage relationship you describe, Mary, is similar to what lots of wives endure. At this point, these marriages are about 10-15 years away from either a physical or emotional divorce and misery like the spouse has never known before. Too many times, when wives stand up to emotional and physical abuse, they put an end to the outward manifestations of mistreatment. But unfortunately, many of these wives never touch their husbands’ hearts. The ugly attitudes toward the wives just hide out below the surface.

Love for God may stagnate. But sin never stays still. It often flourishes underground.

John Sandford made his applications to young husbands who must deal with the hot hormonal needs of youth. But impotent old men pursue spiritual adultery for another reason—affirmation of their manhood at the expense of other women. This is easier for them than restoring the emotional and physical bond they’ve neglected with their wives over a lifetime. Young girls and women present easy targets for them.

Somewhere around their mid-40s and 50s, men who played abusive games, were mental adulterers, serial adulterers, sexual addicts, or homosexuals married to straights often become emotionally worn out and impotent with their wives. Mary’s husband was having difficulties showing physical affection. With her history trying to survive his abuses and the emotional nature of lovemaking for women, I expected her answers to my four questions to show a lack of sexual contact in the marriage.

Impotent men often engage in feelin’-‘em-up mental adultery at family reunions, parties, and in church vestibules. Every woman knows the difference between a “holy kiss” and mutual embrace with a man she has a friendship with and a surprise hug from a dirty-old-man. The latter usually comes up behind her and grabs her. He often pins her against him too long and too tight in a position where she cannot easily get away.

Many older women remember slobbering old men making unwanted advances in the beauty of their youth. Yuck! Yuck! Triple Yuck!!! When women become single again later in life, they often have to fight off the impotent husbands of their friends who intimate, “Honey, I can’t make my wife see stars, but I can solve your problem.”

Hugging other women too tight and too long is not okay for a husband who does not know how to love his wife. One such husband’s secret diary revealed his illicit sexual thrills from hugging. He wrote how hugging his target under her leather jacket let him press her stand-up bra-created boobs. Then when she hugged him back, he assumed she felt sexual desires for him. When his wife let the other woman read sections of her husband’s diary, the other woman was shocked at what the man wrote about her actions. She said, “I’m naturally a huger, I had no idea!”

Inappropriate touching of other women by married men is often an outward manifestations of something very wrong at home.

Dry Flirts Aren’t Always Dry

The same goes for women. Men talk about cougars for a reason—older women pursuing much younger men. I’ve observed men in their thirties laughing and making fun of women in their 80s flirting with them. The women are often so engrossed in keeping the flirting going, they don’t pick up on the mockery in the men’s banter.

One man explained how dry flirting can lead to an affair. He said, “When your wife is screaming mad at you, you’re susceptible to any woman’s kindness, even the clerk at the store. But when it’s a woman at church telling you how smart, talented, and wonderful you are while she touches your arm or massages your shoulders…. Trouble is brewing big time!”

Flirting is a form of foreplay

Sexually-loving couples keep their emotional bonding and their sexual relationship exciting by flirting all during the day. They do this with playful words, touches, and glances. Essentially, they delight in foreplay all day long—some teasing even when their children are present. Kids giggle and fake puke at their parents’ expressions of affection. But they thrive when that tender love spills over to ruffle their hair or walk with a hand on their shoulder.

The Shulammite told the Shepherd she knew they would enjoy a wonderful love life because they both grew up in affectionate homes. Then she promised the Shepherd when they got married, she would impishly flirt with him. She added, “And no one would despise me, either” (Song of Solomon 8:1). After her declaration, the Shepherd responded by pleading for emotional purity in marriage to avoid jealousy (8:6).

In contrast to no one despising the Shulammite for hugging and kissing the Shepherd in public, the Bible records a different account of married flirting. Remember the story of Isaac and Rebekah? Isaac told the men his wife was his sister as he was afraid they would kill him because she was beautiful. His trick to fool the men fell apart when the king observed him “sporting” or “caressing” Rebekah in a non-sisterly hug. The king said, “Behold, certainly, she is your wife” (Genesis 26:6-11). This pagan ruler recognized that flirting is foreplay and is limited to the marital relationship.

Ways to EMBARRASS the alligator

(4) What consequences can I use if my husband refuses to stop what I feel is flirting behavior?

Think long and hard about EMBARRASSING the alligator while you still have hope for transforming your marriage. One husband quit making risqué remarks and hugs to his nurse only after she started bringing the doctor in when she did his vitals. If the elders refuse to censor and stop inappropriate behavior with men pretending to be Christians, wives and their targets should consider other options.

Call it what it is—feelin’-‘em-up groping

The teenage Shulammite told King Solomon when he admired her breasts, “Keep your lecherous hands to yourself. I can’t stand the thought of you touching me!” (Song of Solomon 7:9 paraphrase). Imagine! A young girl telling the highest government official in the land, “Keep your filthy hands off me!”

Women often don’t recognize the sexual thrill some men get from hugging and how inappropriate the touching is. Parents need to protect their daughters from gropers. Rather than innocent behavior, it may be the actions of a defrauding husband who doesn’t look to his wife for sexual satisfaction. Just as parents tell their children not to get into cars with strangers, they need to shield them from inappropriate hugging by men pretending to be Christians.

One newly single older woman had trouble getting away from her best friend’s husband, who grabbed her from behind and pinned her against him every time he saw her. She researched the problem on the Internet. She learned that dirty young and old men don’t take hints from either the women they’re hugging or their wives that their attentions are unappreciated. When the husband’s advances escalated, she called her friend’s husband and read a prepared statement to him:

Your wife told me you’ve been impotent with her for a lot of years now. I just divorced an impotent ol’ man who couldn’t keep his filthy hands off other women. And believe me, I know what impotent ol’ men do with their hands.

If you ever again put your hands on me or get in my face, I’m going to say as loudly as possible, “Get your filthy impotent ol’ hands the hell off me and leave me the hell alone.”

Do you get the message?

 The woman didn’t say another word. The man said, “I do. I will.” The woman hung up.

The man complained to his wife that she’d called him a pervert. His wife terminated the friendship rather than deal with her husband’s inappropriate touching of another woman. But the single woman rejoiced in never again having to fight the dirty old man off.

Openly read books about the problem

Many a wife has finally woken up her husband by letting him know she is studying about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. She made it clear she would not be submissive to sexual sin in the home. Several wives left books such as the following lying out and openly studied them.

1. Why Good People MESS UP by John Loren Sandford.

Sandford not only describes the consequences of spiritual adultery, but he establishes boundaries to protect spiritual workers from getting involved with those they are helping. The excuse "you're just jealous" justifies nothing. The wife recognizes her husband is carrying on an emotional relationship with other women—an emotional relationship that belongs to her. It is spiritual adultery. Accusing the wife of jealousy does not make unfaithfulness disappear or right.

In the first chapter, Sandford talks about unresolved issues with his own mother leading to his spiritual adultery against his wife. Christian counseling may be needed to resolve issues from the childhood. I believe most marriage problems have their roots in the childhood with the person learning childish ways of dealing with other people and never growing up in Christ. The apostle Paul concluded his great chapter on love in I Corinthians 13:11 by talking about putting away childish speaking and reasoning.

2. Not Under Bondage, Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery & Desertion by Barbara Roberts.

Many husbands falsely assume, “She’s a Christian so she can’t divorce me unless I actually penetrate another woman.” He may be ignorant of God’s laws regarding mental adultery and his sexual treachery, but wives need to study. If the husband asks why she's reading the material, the wife needs to honestly tell him that she has put up with his abuses as long as she can and be faithful to God herself.

God doesn’t give mental adulterers a free ride. God does not trap any person, male or female, in a loveless marriage. Barbara discusses 2 Timothy 3:1-5 about the principle of separation for marriage to an "unloving" person. This does not refer to homosexuality as we sometimes assume. It means "without love for family members."

Barbara’s book is the finest I know regarding scriptural divorce in abusive marriages. She deals with word definitions and thoroughly explores the scriptures. Read my review Does God Trap Women in Marriage to Abusive Men?

Apply peer pressure through the church

Many religious leaders and denominations are ignorant of the principles for dealing with abuse and sexual unfaithfulness. Do not let their failure to study and cowardice for calling husbands to accountability trap you in marriage to an unloving person pretending to be a Christian. Study for yourself.

Man's ignorance of God's great love for men and women and his desires for them to bond through lovemaking traps them. God is always faithful; sometimes the mate is not. And sometimes spiritual leaders aren’t faithful either by not condemning sin in the homes of their members.

Go to Retrouvaille for marriage help

           Get outside help by going to Retrouvaille to work with couples who have improved their marriages. In their own words:

What is a Retrouvaille Program?

The word Retrouvaille (pronounced re-tro-vi with a long i.) is a French word meaning rediscovery. The program offers tools needed to rediscover a loving marriage relationship. Thousands of couples headed for cold, unloving relationships or divorce have successfully overcome their marriage problems by attending the program.

The Retrouvaille Program consists of a weekend experience combined with a series of 6-12 post-weekend sessions over 3 months. It provides the tools to help put your marriage in order again. The main emphasis of the program is on communication in marriage between husband and wife. It will give you the opportunity to rediscover each other and examine your lives together in a new and positive way. (

At Retrouvaille, you learn how to choose to love and how to respect feelings so good, logical problem-solving decisions can be made. These skills are also helpful for dealing with children and grandchildren. Visit for a list of where Retrouvaille weekends are available. While it is usually put on by Catholic churches, the retreats do not teach Catholic doctrine. But the lessons are scripture based.

Learning how to respect emotions might seem a little strange to many Christians, but both God and Jesus embraced the feelings and loving nature of the female. Notice how they each described their emotions in dealings with us. God described his love as like that of a nursing mother’s for her infant (Isaiah 66:10-13). Jesus said, “As a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wing, so I longed to do for you, but you would not” (Matthew 23:37). Humans—not divine beings, have problems owning and expressing feelings.

Contrary to both God and Jesus, many fundamental churches focus on doctrine and ridicule feelings as unreliable. How many times have we listened to preachers spout, “You can’t reason yourself out of something you didn’t reason yourself into”? Then husbands make decisions on the basis of legalistic hermeneutics and totally ignore love and concern for their wives’ and children’s emotional welfare and happiness. This religious extreme of disrespecting emotions has nothing in common with God and Jesus. It brainwashes husbands to deny their own emotions. It fosters an ungodly sense of entitlement and superiority. This dooms husbands and wives to sterile, clinical co-existence as roommates instead of lovers.

Determined to turn second marriages into a wonderful experience, one couple goes to a different marriage retreat every year to fine tune their relationship. A marriage can’t survive only one person doing all the caring, all the studying, and making all the sacrifices. It takes both a husband and a wife for SPEAKING GOD’S BEAUTIFUL LANGUAGE OF LOVETM that transcends human words.

EMBARRASS the alligator while you still can

Don't let other people's ignorance stop you from studying for yourself. Because the longer you wait to solve the problem, the tougher the old flirt’s hide becomes. And don’t give up until you touch the flirt’s heart.

Got questions? Ask.

With Christian love for you, I remain

Always in his service,



Patsy Rae Dawson is a marriage, sex, and divorce coach. She works with clients who have tried almost everything to save their sexless or sexually inappropriate marriage without much success. Patsy helps clients get to the core sexual issues in their marriage so they can make healthy decisions for themselves and their children.

Permission to Reproduce Is my spouse engaging in harmless hugging...or is it flirting...or is it more?

Is my spouse engaging in harmless hugging...or is it flirting...or is it more? by Patsy Rae Dawson. Copyright © 2012 Patsy Rae Dawson LLC. All rights reserved.

Is my spouse engaging in harmless hugging...or is it flirting...or is it more? by Patsy Rae Dawson is available at It may be copied for noncommercial use only, provided you do the following: 1. Retain all copyright, trademark and propriety notices; 2. Make no modifications to the materials; 3. Do not use the materials in a manner that suggests an association with Patsy Rae Dawson LLC; and; 4. Do not download quantities of materials to a database, server, or personal computer for reuse for commercial purposes. You may not use this material in any other way without prior written permission. For additional permissions, contact Patsy Rae Dawson LLC at

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