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Single people flirt all the time, but experts reckon those of us in relationships should do it too
When a relationship stops being new and starts becoming 'long-term', many of us start taking things for granted. So we might not communicate as well as we used do and sex can take a back seat. We sometimes forget to appreciate what we have.
And experts say that we forget to do something else too, something that can help to keep any relationship rut very much at bay. The factor in question? Flirting.
Here's why flirting really shouldn't be left to singles, and how to use it to keep your romance alive.
Why do we stop flirting?
Couples stop flirting because their basic need to flirt diminishes in stable relationships
Scientists say that flirting is the exchange of "contact readiness" clues, the little physical and verbal signs that we're ready to get - well - physical with someone. It's not just about suggestive chit-chat. It's about the way we hold ourselves, the way we look at someone, the way we try to draw attention to certain parts of our body.
Needless to say, single people flirt all the time. But flirting tends to die off as relationships progress, because we don't need "contact readiness" clues anymore. From an evoluntionary point of view, why flirt with someone you're already having sex with?
"Quite simply the 'hunt' is over," says relationship therapist Elly Prior. "In the early stage of attraction dopamine - a chemical that promotes excitement and romantic love - and testosterone circuits are triggered [by flirting]. That dies down in many couples as they start to discover and 'negotiate' their differences, entering a different developmental stage in their relationship."
We stop flirting, in other words, because we stop feeling that we need to. That could be a mistake.
Why flirting is good for us
Flirting within a relationship, with your partner, makes us feel good about that relationship
When you're single, flirting is fun, and occasionally leads to sex, which is even more fun. In a relationship, says Prior, flirting can, quite simply, "help to keep romantic love alive."
When we've been together a long time the novelty of each other's presence wears off. Quite often, that means we stop really noticing each other, and we forget all the good reasons we connected in the first place.
By flirting, we notice each other all over again, and not just to remind one or the other to put the washing on or take the rubbish out. Flirting is a way of staying in touch with the fun, risqué and desirable people we are when overtime hours or domestic drudgery don't get in the way.
There are solid scientific reasons for continuing to flirt with a long-term partner too. Dopamine release is also triggered by novelty, so by flirting to break up the everyday routine of our interactions, we're sending love hormones cascading through our brains.
"Flirting is a great thing in relationships," says Prior. "Making a deliberate effort to introduce routine-breaking and novel activities will help stimulate the dopamine circuit. It can therefore be fun and a relationship booster to figure out different ways of enticing attention from your mate by flirting."
How do you flirt with your partner?
You can flirt with your partner however you like, it will still benefit your relationship
The short answer to the question is: however you want. If it's fun and frisky and you both like it then flirt in any way you like.
But if all flirting is equal, some is more equal than others. Flirting when you're out in a group is particularly effective for cementing bonds and reminding each other of your sexy, playful side, says Elly Prior.
"The sort of flirting you can do across a room, when you are apart - how exciting is that?" she says. "It makes your partner feel special and neither of you need worry about others observing you. After all, you're not doing anything wrong."
So what should you do? The significant stare is one of the most effective flirts around, and more so with a partner than a stranger. Just imagine, you're at a party and your partner is across the room talking to others. You catch her eye. You hold her look for a few seconds and then let your eyes wander across her body, before smiling and turning away.
It's the sort of look that says, "you're looking out of this world, and you know what that means later don't you?" And the really sexy thing is that you both do.
Your stance is important too. Whenever you're talking to your partner - whether you're out in a group or at home by yourselves - turn your body towards her and make sure your posture is 'open' (no crossed arms). Pay attention to what she's saying. Keep your eyes on her. Being attentive is like passive flirting - it shows you're interested in everything about her.
And don't be afraid to be a little risqué, says Prior. "Sexual novelty is important (often particularly for men), so flirting can be a gentle way of creating that excitement - think 'naughty' but complimentary remarks about attractive body areas."
Let's get physical
Physical contact is an acceptable form of flirting with your consenting partner
Finally, to hammer home the message (the message being you find her irresistible pretty much all of the time), go for the lingering touch.
That's the advantage you have over your single friends. Brushing past an attractive woman in a bar and, for a split second only, letting your trailing hand gentle caress her back and bottom is pretty much sex-pest behaviour among people who barely know each other. For partners, it can be a subtle but erotically charged moment of connection.
Flirting works. She'll appreciate the arm you surreptitiously slip round her waist during a dinner party conversation about the eurozone crisis. She'll reciprocate your lingering eye contact and let you know with a gentle lift of her head that she feels just the same.
In the short term, a good flirt with your partner can guarantee a very enjoyable evening and a passionate night. In the long run, it helps to keep the relationship fresh, frisky and fabulous.
- Proven ways to improve your relationship
- Seven steps to communicating with your partner well
- Uncovered: what she really thinks of your body
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