How Can I Stay Married To A Man Who Flirts With Other Women?


I have been married for 15 years and my husband has always been attracted to very beautiful women/young girls. When we first started dating, I felt uncomfortable at how he would leer at other women in my presence, which made me feel that he wanted more. He is also into a lot of porn and it is the sites of really young girls that bother me the most.

He is a salsa dancer and always chooses the young sexy girls to dance with. We are in our mid-forties and sometimes I find his behavior repulsive. I have chosen to no longer go out to these places with him because I feel like I cannot compete with young 20-somethings…nor do I want to and he loves the attention he gets from being a good dancer.

When I approach him on his flirty behavior with women, he claims it is a sexual energy on the dance floor that he finds exciting, but it does not mean that he wants to sleep with them. My fear is what happens when one of them wants to sleep with him? He does not want to stop, yet he wants to stay in this marriage.

I do not want to be in a relationship like this and have let him know that I want to leave the marriage. He wants us to stay together with our son, yet continue this lifestyle. My question is this…am I just insecure or is he crossing the line when it comes to dancing with other women? If we do stay together what are so me boundaries that will make me feel safe in this marriage? —Candace

I have written extensively about this, so you should probably read a few of these posts.

And as much as many of my readers would tend to disagree, this isn’t nearly as black and white you might think. You’re emotionally caught up right now, Candace, and it’s hard to find an objective point of view.

While infidelity itself may be an absolute deal-breaker for your relationship, flirting itself may not be — especially within the context of an otherwise good marriage.

Now, you’ve left a lot out of your email that is important to consider. Without this information, it would be impossible for me to tell you what to do. So before you file for divorce, you should probably consider these mitigating factors from your devil’s advocate dating coach:

First of all, how is your marriage? It may seem like a silly question, given how upset you are, but apart from his interest in looking at/dancing with pretty women, what does the rest of your relationship look like? Is he a good provider? Does he spend a lot of time with you? Is he a solid communicator? Is he an available father? Does he have anger issues? Has he ever actually cheated on you or talked about a divorce?

All of this stuff matters, in my humble opinion.

Because while infidelity itself may be an absolute deal-breaker for your relationship, flirting itself may not be — especially within the context of an otherwise good marriage. And yes, I say this as a flirt and a good husband as well.

Next, let’s dive into his actual offenses:

He’s a good salsa dancer. You used to go with him. Now you don’t because he enjoys dancing with and impressing younger women. That opens up the door to more questions: does he leave you sitting alone while you’re out dancing? That would be rude, but can’t you just as easily dance with other men? As a former salsa dancer, I know that partners generally rotate, instead of staying with each other all night — especially in classes.

Which makes me wonder: are you just getting upset at what could be considered normal behavior? After all, salsa is an inherently sexy dance. Should your husband refuse to dance with women who are younger and prettier than you? Should he pretend not to enjoy himself with them because you feel insecure?

One CAN watch porn with younger women (and enjoy it) without acting on it. It’s pretty normal, as long as he’s not a porn addict and it hasn’t killed your sex life.

I know it’s hard to field these questions because you want to assume he’s guilty. Still, in the interest of objectivity, I have to go under the presumption of innocence until he’s PROVEN guilty. So what exactly does your husband do that is so repulsive? Does he ask these younger women for their phone numbers? Do they sit on his lap after the dance? Does he kiss them or squeeze their asses? Or does he, you know, just dance and smile and hug them after they’re done, which is pretty standard practice. Unless he’s doing any of those overtly sexual things, I would be forced to conclude that he’s enjoying salsa dancing the way it’s meant to be enjoyed.

Understand, Candace:

One CAN flirt with someone else (and enjoy it) without acting on it. It’s pretty normal, especially if a couple is secure in their relationship.

One CAN watch porn with younger women (and enjoy it) without acting on it. It’s pretty normal, as long as he’s not a porn addict and it hasn’t killed your sex life.

So what we’re really talking about here is getting clarity on his actual flirtatious behavior and weighing your own insecurity. I don’t know the answers to either.

I do know you’re assuming his behaviors are bad because you’re hurt by them.

But I have to ask if you’re being hurt by behaviors that aren’t inherently hurtful.

Would a more secure woman, like, say, my wife, laugh off the same things that are causing you to consider a divorce?

I don’t know the answer, because I don’t know the answer to the questions I’ve asked you above. However, before you do anything rash, I think that you need to assess your own level of security and weigh it against his actual behaviors (not his fantasies). Your husband may be insensitive but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a cheater and that you should throw out your marriage because of it.

And before we get started with the comments — if any woman is going to disagree with me below, remember, you don’t know the answers to Candace’s questions either. You just know that you’re sensitive to her needs and less sympathetic to her husband. Try being impartial and attempt to see how he MIGHT be innocent before you react to my call for more answers.

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  1. 21
    Karl R

    WhatsGoingOn asked: (#15)
    “What about his hobby of leering at other women?”
    Candace said: (original post)
    “When we first started dating, I felt uncomfortable at how he would leer at other women in my presence,”
    What hobby? Candace described it as a behavior that he did in the past, not a behavior that he engages in currently.
    While Candace chose a loaded word to describe her husband’s behavior, she didn’t give enough specific details to indicate whether he stared at women more than other men do.
    Furthermore, she said her husband is very popular with women in the dance community. There are a few men in the dance community who blatantly stare at women’s breasts. Those men are quite unpopular because of this behavior. The popular men are invariably a bit more circumspect.
    WhatsGoingOn asked:  (#15)
    “Or his hobby of going to porn sites with very young girls?”
    Candace appears to use the terms “young 20-somethings” and “young sexy girls” interchangeably. Most porn has women in their 20s. Unless a man searches for niche porn categories (MILFs, mature, GILFs, grannies), he’s going to see women between 18 and mid-20s. That might bother Candace, but it’s just the middle-of-the-road porn that’s out there.
    If he’s looking a girls under the age of 18 (which is illegal), then that’s a separate problem.  But Candace doesn’t even indicate that porn is the big problem (to her). She primarily seems to object to the dancing.

  2. 22

    “Leering” is often in the eye of the beholder.   One person’s “leering” can be another person’s “appreciation.”   Evan has more than one blog post about this: “my boyfriend likes to look at other women” or something like that.
    And with the exception of MILF and granny porn, ALL the women in porn are young (certainly younger than the LW’s mid-40).
    As another dancer, I agree with Karl R.   There are tons of hot 20-somethings in the dance scene.   Very few of them have an active interest in sleeping with a mid-40s bloke.

    We do need more (objective) answers about the LW’s and her husband’s situation before making pronouncements about his guilt.

  3. 23

    @ Treifalicious #16
    I don’t know if he’s actually made her feel unattractive since day one, but if he’s been doing things that make her feel uncomfortable all along… yeah, I can see how she might be sick of it after 15 years.
    Sounds like they got together when they were around 30ish and are now in middle age. Perhaps she thought he’d outgrow the flirting/leering/porn whatever and he never did. And perhaps she has simply outgrown him.

  4. 24
    Karmic Equation

    Treifalicious & Selena,
    I think you’re jumping to the conclusions and picking a side automatically…hers.
    If in fact he made her feel unacctractive SINCE DAY ONE, then why did she choose to be with him on DAY TWO. She should have walked LONG BEFORE she got married. She had the power to walk away and she didn’t. So now she wants HIM to change because HER feelings have changed. You don’t see anything blatantly unfair about that request.
    He’s been living the same life, doing the same thing for ~5475 days. But on day ~5476 she decides she doesn’t like it anymore so he should change. I’m being facetious here, but the sentiment is the real. Why wait 15 years or why did she stay with him once she decided she was uncomfortable? Changing the guy isn’t the real option, she needs to change herself. I always advocate the woman exercising her option to leave. That doesn’t mean he can’t change his mind and change after all or that she can’t change her mind and stay after all. But really, if she thinks this is a deal breaker. Her job is to break the deal. Then let the chips fall where they may.

  5. 25

    Karmic Equation, I read Treifalicious and Selena’s posts and they did not say Candance should change her husband. They said Candace may have gotten to the point where she couldn’t accept it anymore. It sounds like Candace went into the marriage barely able to deal with it, but now after 15 years cannot deal with it anymore.
    Should Candace have gotten married to this guy ? I doubt very much so but no one knows the circumstances of how they got together and why they stayed together – possibly because of their son. All the signs are there that theirs has not been a happy marriage for a long time. Candace and her husband seem to only want the marriage to continue for the sake of their son, with Candace wanting her husband to keep up appearances (possiby for the sake of their son).
    It says a lot that Candace has withdrawn from her man’s life despite her so called concerns about “other women”. A woman who is truly jealous of her husbands attention and affection would not give him up like this, but would “compete” by doing her part in remaining vital and attractive to her husband.

  6. 26

    I’m not jumping to conclusions, I’m posing a possibility. I’ve never been on a date with a guy who leered at, or obviously flirted with other women. If I had there wouldn’t have been another date because I would have been turned off. I’d think the guy a) was rude and b) not very bright. I believe most men know it is not cool to leer and flirt with other women while on a date. Since the OP continued to date him, marry him and stay with him for 15 years apparantly she was not as put off initially as I would have been. Which is why I wondered in comment #2 if something else had happened more recently.
    An alternative explanation is she was never really *cool* with some of his behaviours but she put up with them because she was young/infatuated/loved him – take your pick. Perhaps what seemed “rake-ish” in a 30 yr. old became creepy embarrassing in a 45 yr. old. Who knows? But she’s not cool with it now.
    The fact is his behavior bothers her enough to tell him she is considering ending the marriage because of it. He tells her he wants to stay married because they have a child, but he ain’t changing anything. *I* think he might be a bit of a jackass, but ofcourse that’s just  my own  impression. You are absolutely right KE, if this is a deal breaker for her, she is going to have to be the one to break the deal.    

  7. 27

    This is one of the hardest things about making a relationship work.   It comes down to the fact that you can only change yourself.   And you have to accept the person for who they are AND will become.   It’s not only the fact that you can’t expect a person to change for you later in life.(If he/she was a dancer when you met you can’t expect him/her to give it up later because it makes you feel insecure.)   You also have to accept that people CHANGE over time.   And as long as it’s relatively innocent you really can’t control other people.   If he/she recently picked up dancing and enjoys dancing… well you can’t tell him/her he/she can’t do that because it make you feel insecure.   Those are YOUR issues.   Of course there are limits.   If he/she only dances with young hot girls/boys etc I can understand that.   He/She should be more accommodating and dance with a variety of people.(Including young hot girls/boys.   Can’t take away all the fun because of your insecurities.)

  8. 28

    I’m curious, too, how much of her pain is caused by her truly thinking that her husband might sleep with another woman and how much, feeling disrespected by her husband’s behaviour.     When I’m with a man who constantly leers at other women, I’m far less upset by the notion that he would actually bed one of these young beauties and than by the fact that it really seems rude and thoughtless to not consider how it makes me feel.  

  9. 29

    @ Karl R. and Joe – I respect the fact that the two of you like to dance and probably identify with the husband’s situation. I don’t know much about Joe but it sounds like Karl R. Has picked a wife who enjoys it as much as he does and doesn’t mind it. The OP used to go dancing with him too.

    But over time her views have evolved. She may be less pretty now and less immune to his flirting (she must have been somewhat immune if she married him). That’s what happens over time, people change, grow apart, age. The fear of an aging woman over time as she sees her husband dancing with younger women can be irrational and sometimes much stronger than any man can possibly understand. I pose a question and it’s not to be contrary but I want to know the guy’s perspective. If your wife in 15 years feels bad about how you dance (even if you didn’t really do anything differently) and wants you to alter your lifestyle, would you tell her you can’t do it, it’s your passion, and she has to get over her insecurities because they’re hers and not yours? But what if she can’t? Is it over?

    I think the OP writes about a very real situation that happens in the mid 40’s of many marriages and can precipitate a divorce. It makes me wonder if I get to that point how I would react. I am confident in my looks and attractiveness now, and in our relationship. But in 15 years how would I feel? Would my husband be sensitive? Or blow me off? Even if the OP is just acting insecure, it comes from a well of deep hurt. Why can’t her husband just understand and empathize with her? Make some gesture? Maybe stop dancing for a bit to work on the marriage. I feel bad for her. She must feel very alone in her marriage. Why does he have to? Because he is 50% of this marriage and if he loves her he should want to protect her from hurt and make her feel safer.

  10. 30

    Let’s also not forget that flirting is also in the eye of the beholder.   What one person might just consider mere friendliness, an insecure person might consider flirting.

  11. 31
    Karmic Equation


    You’re right. They didn’t say that LW should change the guy. I was reacting to the “man is at fault” sentiment underlying their posts…and the natural progression of that sentiment is if he’s wrong then he needs to change, and I ended up addressing the “he needs to change”. That’s where my post came from.

    I believe that the reason most women don’t walk away is that they’re afraid there’s no walking back if they change their mind…again. Maybe after being away from him a bit, that wasn’t such a deal breaker and she was hasty to have broken it off and now she can’t get him back because he’s happier without her, but she’s sadder without him.

    That’s why women need to really assess the behaviors of their men that make them unhappy and do a better job at distinguishing the “don’t like” versus the “can’t live with”. If women do that assessment in their relationships candidly, they’ll find that MOST male behavior falls into the “don’t like” category, especially behaviors that hit them at their insecurities. But instead, everything gets lumped into the don’t like and therefore, the men should change.

    I say try to get the men to change only if it’s behavior you can’t live with…alcoholism, drug addiction…because these behaviors can have a serious impact on the relationship and both parties’ health if not changed. Then the behavior that you really don’t like, leering, flirting, etc. Determine if that is truly behavior you can’t live with, if yes, then break the deal, because these are behaviors that make YOU unhappy and HIM happy, but has no real detriment to the relationship except HER unhappiness. Why does she get to be happy but he has to suffer to get her there?

    He’s not responsible to make her happy. It’s HER responsibility to make herself happy. She either walks away to do that, or changes her perspective and accepts that behavior. Both those options are up to her. Changing him is not an option for those behaviors that make HIM happy but HER sad and has no real impact on health or wealth (e.g., gambling).

  12. 32
    Karmic Equation

    But instead, everything gets lumped into the “don’t like” and therefore, the men should change.
    Should read
    But instead, everything gets lumped into the “can’t live with” and therefore, the men should change.

  13. 33

    @Joe – maybe in the early dating stages, but I think a wife of 15 years knows when her husband is flirting versus being friendly!   If they don’t at least get that about the other by then, then that marriage is really in trouble!   Should she be bothered by it is a different question.   Evan’s wife knows exactly when he is flirting.   She gamely calls him on it frequently.   But she isn’t bothered by it because she is secure in their relationship.  

    (I’m an excellent flirt. I just don’t do it anymore. There’s no opportunity. I never leave the house. I don’t hang out with single people, just couples with kids. So not only do I never flirt around my wife, if I did, she’d never “call me on it”. Closest thing she ever did to “calling me on it” once upon a time was saying, as we got in the car on the way home from a party, “Wow. You had a little crush on her, didn’t you?”. Upon which I’d smile sheepishly and say “Yes. Was it obvious?”, and we’d move along. That’s how it’s done, y’all. – EMK)

  14. 34

    @Karmic Equation – while I see your point, I’d like to add that the can’t live with behaviors are likely broader than one might think.   To me, they are behaviors that go to the heart of a relationship – that have to do with destroying trust, respect, love.   These are different for different couples.   What one couple considers minor may be a big deal to a different couple.   Often what you are fighting about is not the real issue, there are deeper feelings involved that the conflict may represent.
    Regarding changing behaviors, I agree that one probably can never change a person’s basic values and personality.   But that does not mean that  one can’t ever expect to change anyone’s behavior.   It just depends on what that behavior is rooted in.   Partners should be able to evolve and change together and how are you supposed to do that if you just assume your partner won’t be willing to listen and change and you won’t even give him a chance to try?   You just leave him, just like that?   One of the best tools in a relationship is to “accept influence” from your partner from time to time.   Not change who you fundamentally are, but accept doing things your partner’s way from time to time to see a different perspective.
    There are two major types of marital conflicts: perpetual problems and solvable problems.   Perpetual problems are often rooted in personality characteristics and big issues like trust, selfishness, security, etc.   Solvable problems may actually be just as painful and frustrating, but have so far remained situational and have not extended into the vilification of each other’s character.   If the couple is able to make behavioral concessions they can still get beyond it before it becomes a perpetual problem.   Most perpetual problems are those that have gridlocked.   You will have the same argument over and over again.   It does not have to result in separation.   In stable marriages where this is a lot more positive going on, people can actually treat their perpetual problems with humor and compassion.   “There he goes again, flirting with the waitress.   At least we might get a better table!”   In unstable marriages, since they never get resolved, people have lost the ability to cope with the problem effectively, start attacking character, and become entrenched in their positions.   They start leading parallel lives and loneliness and resentment result.   (Refer to Dr. Gottman’s research if you’re interested).
    My take on this story is that this couple used to have a solvable problem — his perceived flirting, her discomfort.   Instead of dealing with it and both adjusting some behaviors and perceptions, they let it turn into a perpetual problem.   If the relationship were stronger, they could have dealt with this perpetual problem more good naturedly.   But whatever is happening between them has destroyed the ability to reform connections and trust.   But they could have adjusted their behaviors early on and avoided it getting to this point.

  15. 35
    Karl R

    WhatsGoingOn asked: (#29)
    “If your wife in 15 years feels bad about how you dance (even if you didn’t really do anything differently) and wants you to alter your lifestyle, would you tell her you can’t do it, it’s your passion, and she has to get over her insecurities because they’re hers and not yours?”
    My wife’s ex-boyfriend was very jealous. If she spoke with a man, he accused her of having an affair with that man. Should she have stopped speaking to men, or should he have gotten his jealousy, because that was the actual source of the problem?
    My brother-in-law’s ex-wife was very insecure. If he looked in the general direction of another woman, she thought he was planning to have an affair with that woman. Should he have stopped looking in the general direction, or should she have gotten over her jealously, because that was the actual source of the problem?
    The ex-boyfriend and ex-wife didn’t become less jealous or less insecure over time. They became more jealous/insecure as time passed. If you decide to cater to your partner’s insecurities, where do expect to say, “Enough is enough”?
    If my wife begins to have an issue with my dancing, we seek counseling. That’s the biggest concession I’m willing to make to irrationality.
    Early in the dating process, my wife and I made an agreement: anything that’s a legitimate dance move is fair game on the dance floor. That was a pre-condition for our relationship. (We dance a couple styles that make salsa seem tame and formal by comparison.)
    WhatsGoingOn asked:  (#29)
    “But what if she can’t? Is it over?”
    Quite likely.
    That may sound callous, but look at the situation objectively. If I stop dancing (eliminating a huge portion of my social life), my wife would  still be insecure. How long before she started worrying about choir? I dated one choir member. I asked another one out (who declined). What about office happy hours? I have some attractive coworkers. To what extent should I end my social life to accommodate someone else’s insecurities?
    Tying this into what Karmic Equation said (#31): if my wife has insecurities, that’s something I don’t like. If my wife wanted me to stop associating with my friends and acquaintances, that’s something I can’t live with. (If my wife can express extremely logical reasons to not associate with someone, like their criminal behavior, that’s a different story.)
    I think Selena (#2) may be on the right track. There may be something else which is suddenly turning this into an issue. In a similar circumstance, I’m perfectly willing to discuss the “something else” with my wife and make reasonable compromises.
    WhatsGoingOn asked:  (#29)
    “Even if the OP is just acting insecure, it comes from a well of deep hurt. Why can’t her husband just understand and empathize with her?”
    If my wife feels insecure about her looks because she gained 10 pounds, I can sympathize (and possibly empathize). If she wants me to give up 75% of my social life because she feels insecure, my sympathy is going to vanish in a surge of irritation.
    WhatsGoingOn said:  (#29)
    “if he loves her he should want to protect her from hurt and make her feel safer.”
    I can’t protect my wife from herself. It’s just not possible. She has to choose to do that (or choose not to).

    (Thank you, Karl. You said that better than I could. -EMK)

  16. 36

    @Karl R.   — thanks for your detailed response.   Let’s hope that your wife never develops any insecurities, then, because there’s not a lot of room for error.   Though I suppose if she were prone to that sort of thing, she would never have married you to begin with.   🙂
    With that I’d like to thank everyone for their responses.   My vacation is ending so I will not be responding but it’s been very educational.

  17. 37

    @WhatsGoingOn #34
    Interesting reading about solvable and perpetual problems.   What struck me about the letter was that the wife had gotten to the point where she was thinking of leaving the marriage and the husband didn’t seem to care. To get to that point, I imagine there would have been many, many discussions about the behaviors/reactions over the years without any resolution.  
    It sounded rather  like he disregarded his wife’s feelings and was only in the marriage for the child.   If this  is typical of their relationship, I can see why the wife wouldn’t feel ‘safe’ in her marriage.     I suspect there may be deeper issues here that go beyond flirting/porn/dancing.

  18. 38
    Karl R

    WhatsGoingOn said: (#36)
    “Let’s hope that your wife never develops any insecurities, then, because there’s not a lot of room for error.”
    If that’s what you think, then you’ve misunderstood me completely.
    Hypothetical example:
    Let’s say my wife gains some weight and starts feeling insecure about her appearance. That’s okay. Let’s say we get an invitation to a pool party, but she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit in public so she wears a sun dress and stays out of the pool. That’s okay. If she feels awkward going to a pool party and not getting into the pool, so she decides to stay home instead, that’s okay.
    If she wants me to stay out of the pool with her (because of her insecurity), that’s not okay. If she doesn’t want me going to the pool party by myself (even though she’s unwilling to go), that’s not okay.
    In one case, her insecurity affects her actions. In the other case, her insecurity affects my actions.
    The bigger picture:
    If Candace’s husband had come here for advice, I’d be feeding him tips about how to make Candace feel more secure, feel better about her looks, feel more integrated into the dance community, and feel good about getting out and dancing. Furthermore, I’d be explaining to him how he benefits from doing those actions.
    But ultimately, her insecurities are more under Candace’s control than her husband’s.

  19. 39
    Karmic Equation


    what you wrote makes a lot of sense. I totally get it. And it sounds so good…but

    The reality is that your description of a   solvable versus perpetual problem is just pyscho-babble covering up the truth…Which is that women always want MEN to change and NEVER themselves.

    I say every woman needs to own her own sh*t. If (generic) you’re insecure, address it or accept it. Asking a man to enable/feed that insecurity is never the answer. Because feeding it/enabling it doesn’t make that person less insecure. Paraphrasing Karl R, “An insecure person will just find something else to be insecure about. Another person cannot protect you from or solve your insecurities. Your insecurities are yours and yours only to solve.” — or maybe they may need a therapist to help solve, but you get my drift.

  20. 40
    Karmic Equation

    @Selena 37

    “I imagine there would have been many, many discussions about the behaviors/reactions over the years without any resolution.”

    You’re probably right about this.

    But it could easily be that the husband is sick of having to defend himself to her. How many times could he have said “Baby, I love you, I’m not having affairs with these women. I find them attractive, sure, because they are. But I married you and want to stay married to you. However, I’m not going to give up dancing.”

    Maybe he got tired of saying that for the 1000th time…

    There’s always two sides. The women is NOT always right.

    This woman is clearly insecure. Whether that just happened or whether she always was, it’s still her problem. But it’s solvable. Separate from him and then see what happens.

    Breaking the deal that doesn’t make her happy doesn’t mean she can’t forge a NEW deal that would, provided he’s not at the end of HIS patience with her.

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