Maria Best

Document Type

Honors Project

First Advisor

Dr. Melanie Laliker

Degree Award Date

Spring 2014


Flirting, Sexual Initiation Communication, Marriage, interpersonal communication, literature review


Communication | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication


Though many love-struck couples exchange the promise to be with each other 'til death do us part', many of these marriages are not quite parted by death. About 50% of marriages end in divorce in the U.S., and the number is even higher for subsequent marriages (American Psychological Association, n.d.). The high divorce rate means that about half of all marriage relationships are not maintained. Relationship maintenance requires a relationship to exist, and the termination of a marriage suggests unsatisfactory conditions. This implies at least half of marriages become unsatisfactory. Because many people are not achieving satisfying marriages, it is important to study the communication within marriage in order to increase marital satisfaction and sustainability. Marriage is an interpersonal relationship that requires attention in the Communication field because it is prevalent in our society and most pmis of the world. The United States heavily bases marriage on love as opposed to many other societies which practice marriage as a means for social, economic, or political ends (Campbell & Wright, 2010). Because of the prevalence of marriage, studying marital communication may aid in understanding the maintenance of satisfying love-based marriages.

Components of marriage such as sexual communication and flirtation are important to study because they have been found to contribute to marital intimacy and satisfaction (Frisby & Booth-Butterfield, 2012). As the frequency of flirting in marriage has been found to be the smne or even more than in dating relationships (Frisby, 2009), it is important to distinguish between marital flirtatious behavior from non-marital flirtation in order to analyze the goals, motives and outcomes of spouse flirtation. Apart from other relational flirting contexts, marriage flirtation is often associated with sexual behavior or sexual initiation (Frisby & Booth-Butterfield). This study will evaluate flirtation and sexual initiation in marriage.

Flirtation and sexual initiation are influential tools for achieving desired outcomes within interactions between spouses and can be useful in increasing marital satisfaction. Existing research has explained how flirting shows communication competence, conceptualized flirting styles, explored the motivations behind flirting, discussed the goals and outcomes of flirtation and sexual initiation, evaluated risks and consequences of non-marital flirtation, and discovered gender differences regarding flirtation (e.g. Hennginsen, 2004; Frisby, 2009; Henningsen, Kartch, Orr, & Brown, 2009). Though many aspects of flirtation and sexual initiation have been explained and explored through previous research, still little is known about what specific behaviors are being used by spouses to flirt and to initiate sex. This current study explores what nonverbal and verbal behaviors husbands and wives use to flirt with their spouses and initiate sex with their spouse.