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

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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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Comments:

  1. 41
    Selena

    @ KE
      
    I don’t think the woman is always right. If this post had been written by a man my thoughts would be the same.

  2. 42
    West

    A good relationship is always better when both people find things they both like to do together. He sounds like a cad. I think salsa dancing is not as important as a good marriage and raising a child together. I cannot think of one happy marriage that has a man like this in it.

  3. 43
    Julia

    @Karl R
    I’m not sure how un-empathetic you are coming across right now. When push comes to shove we need to make small concessions to make the person we love happy. Evan advocates women do this all the time, I advocate that men should also do this.
      
    So hypothetically, if your wife didn’t want you to go to a party because she was too sick to go, would you go anyways? My guess is that you would stay home with your sick wife and write off the party. If you think her asking you to change a small behavior occasionally is totally out of the question though, maybe you disregard her altogether. I actually agree with you on insecurities, I’ve dated very insecure and controlling men but I think aside from that, we need to understand and change our actions sometimes to make our partners happy. I don’t get why that seems like such a big ask.

  4. 44
    Karmic Equation

    Julia,
      
    Being sick and being insecure are two completely different things.
      
    One is totally within your control and can be controlled with self-discipline.
      
    No matter how disciplined one is, one can still get sick.
      
    If she needs coddling because she’s sick that’s one thing; if she needs coddling because she’s insecure, that’s something else entirely different.
      
    I’m sure Karl R can defend himself more succinctly, but your example was just silly.

  5. 45
    Morris

    @Julia #43 – I agree that it should be situational.   As in your case where the spouse is sick.   But asking someone to stop dancing or going to pool parties because he/she doesn’t like it anymore or is insecure wouldn’t fit that description.
    I also agree forums like this advocate changing behavior.   However it’s your OWN behavior.   Isn’t that the point.   It’s one thing to change yourself to accommodate a relationship.   It’s something totally different to ask someone else to change to accommodate a relationship.   Why is that so hard to understand?

  6. 46
    J

    Not liking the way someone is treating you doesn’t automatically make you insecure. I clearly can’t speak for the OP, but i would find the husbands behavior unacceptable because I feel it’s disrespectful, not because I’m jealous of the women he’s leering at or because I’m afraid he’ll run off with them.
      

  7. 47
    Karl S

    Would you give up a passion and a community that is a significant part of your life because your partner told you to?

    A one off party isn’t useful as a comparison.  

  8. 48
    Selena

    @47
      
    Would you give up a passion and a community that is a significant part of your life because your partner told you to?
      
    How would a passion and a community even become a significant part of my life if my partner of 15 yrs. felt  uncomfortable about it?   Why would I make that choice in the first place?
      
    Dancing  seems harmless and fun  to me, but I can’t imagine it ever being more significant than my family.

  9. 49
    josavant

    46 J makes a good point. There’s a fine line between insecurity and a healthy response to disrespectful behaviors. Not to say that Candace has always responded a healthy  way  in the past to her husband’s behavior, but now she is at the point where she will not tolerate what she considers disrespectful behavior anymore. Whether or not his behavior is really disrespectful is something we can’t judge based on only her words. But the point is that it hurts her and it hasn’t been resolved in a way that makes her comfortable.
      
    I also noticed that she doesn’t write anything about the two of them loving each other. Love is conspicuously out of the picture. She doesn’t say she loves him, she also  doesn’t say  that he reassured her of his love when she  threatened to leave. She only said that he wanted them to stay together with their son. That is a  halfassed response at best. I’m sure he’s perfectly comfortable in this lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean that he loves her or attends to her concerns.
      
    Ultimately, one can’t help but think that it doesn’t matter whether her response is from insecurity or if it’s a right reaction, and it doesn’t even matter whose fault it is. This  doesn’t sound like  a  healthy marriage.

  10. 50
    Rose

    I agree with morgana all that matters is what she wants and if they are a match.
    If she doesn’t want a husband who flirts and dances with young girls and watches porn with young girls in it because it makes her feel bad that’s it.
    Eithet it’s a dealbreaker or it’s not.
    Only the OP can decide that and it appears that is what she has decided she doesn’t want that in her life anymore.
    If he wants to continue doing those things and she doesn’t they are not compatible.
    Sad but true

  11. 51
    Karl R

    Julia asked: (#43)
    “So hypothetically, if your wife didn’t want you to go to a party because she was too sick to go, would you go anyways?”
      
    Depends on the situation. I’ll give you some examples.
      
    If my wife needs someone to go with her to the doctor, the hospital, etc., of course I would skip the party.
      
    If this is a party that I won’t particularly enjoy unless she’s there, I would stay home.
      
    If this is just a regular party (a weekly or monthly occurrence), I would skip the party. She rarely gets sick, so we’ll be at another party in a week or three.
      
    If the party was a rare occurrence (office Christmas party, wedding reception for a friend) where there were bigger implications, I would attend the party … unless she was gravely ill.
      
    If she had a chronic illness (we have a few friends who miss about half the parties due to chronic issues), I would attend parties alone when she wasn’t feeling well. Furthermore, I think she would encourage me to attend without her. (Her father goes out dancing three nights per week, especially since his wife’s Alzheimer’s has progressed to the point where she can no longer dance. Various family members, including my wife, take turns staying with my mother-in-law so my father-in-law can get a break.)
      
    If her chronic episodes seemed to mysteriously correspond to the dates/times of parties, I’d attend the parties. I’d also try to get us into marriage counseling to deal with her passive-aggressive behavior.
      
    Julia said:  (#43)
    “When push comes to shove we need to make small concessions to make the person we love happy.”
      
    Candace isn’t asking for a small concession. She’s asking for a huge one.
      
    For men, one-time concessions are generally considered small. If Candace asked her husband to skip salsa on the Saturday after her birthday so they could go out together, that’s a one-time request. It doesn’t affect the other 51 Saturdays that year. Even if a woman makes a similar request for the Saturday after their anniversary, before & after Christmas and most holiday weekends, that’s still a series of one-time requests. Most Saturdays he’s permitted to dance salsa.
      
    If Candace’s husband typically goes dancing three nights per week and she wants him to cut back to two, that’s a big concession. She’s trying to make a change which will have a permanent  effect (or an effect for an indeterminate duration). Men tend to be very resistant to making these kinds of concessions. They’re slightly more open to them if you make a similar concession (which benefits them) in return.
      
    But Candace isn’t seeking a big concession. She’s seeking a huge concession. She wants him to stop dancing salsa. (Or at the very least, stop dancing with the 20-somethings. In my area, most salsa dancers are in their 20s.)
      
    What does her husband get in return? He gets to stay in the same marriage that he’s already in.
      
    If Candace makes it an ultimatum, it might work once. It might even work two or three times. But ultimatums become cumulatively less likely to succeed.
      
    Example:
    A woman gives an ultimatum, “Stop leering at women or I leave.” The man stops leering at women. The woman then says, “Stop dancing salsa or I leave.” After much consideration, the man grudgingly gives up dancing salsa. The woman (feeling empowered by her successes) gives another ultimatum, “Stop watching porn or I leave.” The man decides to leave, even though watching porn means less to him than salsa dancing.
      
    That doesn’t seem to make much sense, does it?
      
    Why this makes sense:
    When the man leaves after the third ultimatum, he gets to keep watching porn, and he gets to go salsa dancing as much as he wants, and he can stare at women again without getting harassed.
      
    There are probably a dozen more things he gave up voluntarily just to make his wife happy (because they weren’t a big deal). He gets all of those things back too.
      
    Selena said: (#48)
    “How would a passion and a community even become a significant part of my life if my partner of 15 yrs. felt uncomfortable about it?   Why would I make that choice in the first place?”
      
    Four months after I started dancing, a married couple started dancing at the studio I attended. The wife learned quickly and enjoyed dancing immensely. The husband struggled at it and never reached the point where he enjoyed it. Two or three months later, the husband stopped attending dance classes, but the wife continued. By the time a year had passed, she was a very good dancer. A few nights per week she got a break from being a working mother. She got to pursue a passion which she excelled at.
      
    Initially, the husband felt that dancing was harmless (even if he didn’t find it fun). Five years later, when they divorced, he blamed the dancing as the cause (according to a woman who dated him as a divorcee). He wasn’t jealous of her dance partners. He became jealous of the time she wasn’t spending with him.
      
    People change. Candace used to join her husband when he went out dancing. Now she doesn’t. She married the man. Now she sometimes finds his behavior repulsive.
      
    J said: (#46)
    “i would find the husbands behavior unacceptable because I feel it’s disrespectful,”
      
    My wife was born and raise with southern hospitality. I was born and raised in Detroit. For someone accustomed to southern gentlemen, much  of my behavior is disrespectful. My wife decided to accept me, disrespectful behavior and all. Alternatively, she could have decided not to marry me.
      
    Either choice is valid. But if my wife expects me to be a southern gentleman after our 15th wedding anniversary, I’m going to recommend that she get a CAT scan for brain lesions.
      
    Candace should have decided the behavior was intolerable before the wedding.
      
    I’m not saying that she has to stay in the marriage if it’s truly intolerable. But if she can’t make a decision about what behavior is intolerable before the wedding, her next marriage is going to be unhappy too. (Similarly, I think her insecurity will torpedo her next marriage if she doesn’t address it.)

  12. 52
    msytdeski

    It seems like you spent a long time with this man; and I had a thought that maybe you are ready to change your life-maybe the agreement is really over for you, now.   Maybe you learnt the lesson and have a wonderful child,too?   Simple?
    Once you separate you will feel empowered.   Maybe?

  13. 53
    josavant

    51 Karl – but we didn’t in fact establish that Candace is insecure, or if her concerns are valid. Also, there are different types and degrees of disrespect. Detroit manners don’t fall in the same category as openly leering others  in front of one’s spouse, or eyerolling or yelling or constantly interrupting or put-downs… you get the idea, it’s unnecessary to go on. What worries Candace isn’t the first type of disrespect, but the second.

  14. 54
    Selena

    @Karl R.
      
    Your example of the couple who divorced was along the lines of what I was thinking when I answered Karl S.’s question.   If I took up dancing (or any other *passion*) and my partner became bothered by the time and attention I devoted to it, I would consider his feelings. And inevitably decide my partner/  family was more significant to me.
      
    This does not appear to be the case for the woman in your example – though we don’t know if there were other problems in that relationship besides the amount of time she spent dancing.    If Candace’s  husband only wants to stay married because of their child-… I’d say dancing was more significant to him than his wife. In which case I see why she might be insecure.

  15. 55
    Gina

    I am a bubbly, outgoing person, and my friendliness has sometimes been misinterpreted as being flirtatious.   Oftentimes, when I have just met a guy and am engaging in friendly banter with him, he will make it a point to casually mention that he is either married or has a girlfriend. The point that I am trying to make is that even if those younger women did approach the OP’s husband for sex, if he is truly committed to her, he will politely decline their advances.
    I have also experienced situations where a married man will approach me and start flirting with me right in front of his wife! This makes me uncomfortable, until I observe that her body language indicates that she is secure with her man and their relationship.  
    What I cannot figure out is why the heck don’t the single, unattached guys approach me and start flirting!?! LOL!!
      

  16. 56
    Kiki

    Karl S and Karmic,
    I am with you on the topic of not wanting to give up one’s passion for another person.
    However I believe that in a marriage, sexuality and experiences of strong physical attraction should be an area reserved for the spouse. Unless you want to have an open marriage (I would not) and are willing to explicitly grant each other a carte blanche for whatever.
    The husband in this case is  either  borderline or definetely violating the principles to love and cherish ONLY each other. A wife may choose to still accept it and live with it under certain circumstances. But if he  is not keepin his part of the agreement,  it is not insecurity but just having one’s eyes open to see that.

  17. 57
    Diane

    The facts are that Candace has been married for 15 years. Throughout her long marriage her husband has made her feel uncomfortable by flirting with younger women.   He also has an interest in porn sites.
    She is obviously very unhappy as she has talked of separation with her husband.   She has done this to get him to change his ways, rather than wanting to genuinely separate.

    The interaction he enjoys with these young women, and fascination with porn sites is stronger than any desire to fix his wife’s distress. Only Candace knows what will make her husband sit up and take notice of her dilemma.
    She just needs the resolve to do the right thing for her son, her self and her marriage.
      
      

  18. 58
    Karl R

    Selena said: (#54)
    “If I took up dancing (or any other *passion*) and my partner became bothered by the time and attention I devoted to it, I would consider his feelings. And inevitably decide my partner/ family was more significant to me.”
      
    Is that an inevitable decision? Even when I was dating, I generally assumed that I couldn’t ask women to give up anything that was a major part of their lives. The woman might choose to give it up herself, but it really wasn’t reasonable for me to expect that she would change her life just to please me.
      
    Most single people have pets. Would you consider dating a man who was bothered by your pets? Would you stay with a man who became bothered by your pets? The pets have probably been part of your life longer than he has. (I make no secret of my dislike of my wife’s parrots, but she’s had them for about 30 years. I expect them to be part of my life until somebody dies … my wife, the birds, or me.)
      
    Many people are passionate about their careers. Do you consider it reasonable for your spouse to expect you to give up your career path just because he’s bothered by the time and energy it consumes? You might voluntarily choose to abandon that career path (something that’s more likely if you’re not passionate about it), but that should be your choice, not his.
      
    You’re not likely to change your personality traits or your habits to please your husband. My wife may decided to kick a bad habit on her own (and I’ll certainly support her efforts), but unless it’s her idea, any pressure from me will only create strife.
      
    There are certainly people who choose to give up important things as part of their marriage. They change jobs or give them up altogether. They move across the country … away from family and friends. They change religions. They give up habits. But none of those decisions is inevitable. And unless the person making the sacrifice buys into the decision, it’s going to create major stress in the relationship.
      
    I think this only seems inevitable, because it’s not your passion.
      
    josavant said: (#53)
    “Detroit manners don’t fall in the same category as openly leering others in front of one’s spouse, or eyerolling or yelling or constantly interrupting or put-downs…”
      
    If I had the time, I could tell you anecdotes from my immediate family based on three of those five behaviors.

    1. 58.1
      Lynn (the other one!)

      @ Karl R, years ago I went to an Orioles/Tigers game. A Tigers fan had on a T-shirt that read “Detroit. Where the weak are killed and eaten.” Somebody missed on the marketing slogan 😀

      But seriously, it also caused me to think of how automatically we ascribe certain behaviors to a certain region or ethnicity.   Which is no different nor less problematic than attributing certain behaviors to one gender or another. It means we aren’t clearly seeing the person right in front of us.

  19. 59
    Karmic Equation

    Selena 54

    While you’re not using the words, “the man is wrong” that’s the sentiment behind your posts. He’s wrong because he values dancing, he’s wrong because he’s causing her to feel insecure. If that is your perspective on men and relationships, that men have to sacrifice their *other* passions for you whenever you feel that he’s putting something else ahead of you, you’ll never find a man who will happy to stay with you for the long haul. They’ll bail.

    Let’s take men out of this and make it about children…maybe that will make this clearer…

    Let’s imagine that you’re the mother of identical twin girls. Their dad passed away before their birth and you’re a single mom. When they’re six you enroll them in dance class. “Mina” loves it. She’s a natural. When she’s home all she can talk about is how she can’t wait to go to the next class. “Maria” struggles with dance. She’s shy. She doesn’t like everyone watching her. She feels she’s clumsy. One day, she tells you, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to dance class anymore. I’d rather stay home and play with Mina and you. We are a family. I’m happy when we’re together.” You give it some thought and think yes, we should be a family and if Maria isn’t happy with dancing and both girls are perfectly capable of playing home and having fun, that’s the right thing to do.

    So you’d take away Mina’s passion so that you can satisfy Maria’s passion? That seems fair to you?

    Really?

  20. 60
    Skaramouche

    @Karmic #59
    I respectfully disagree.   I’ll let Selena speak for herself but I do think she’s blaming the man only as much as you’re blaming the woman by suggesting that insecurity is at the root of her problems.   It may well be, I can’t know one way or another. What I do know is that she is no longer comfortable with the way her man is behaving. Whether that is because she has changed or whether it’s because he has changed is something at which I can only guess.   Maybe they’ve both changed.   Maybe she shouldn’t have married him in the first place.   Really, who knows?   
      
    I also think drawing a parallel between the twin girls and a husband/wife pair is very unfair.   Some of the sentiments are the same but I think you’re trivializing the situation and addressing only one facet.   If the issue at hand was only about forcing one person to give up a passion for another, I would be fully in agreement with you. There’s more at play here though.
      

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