Mixed Signals

We all know about mixed signals, don’t we?  You know, that thing where someone says one thing, but really means something else? Signals come in a variety of ways. Let’s explore a couple:

The Hint: This one has been around forever. The hint is primarily used so that if the person you are asking something of doesn’t like what’s being asked you can easily retract it.  Frankly, women (Including, I hate to admit, myself) have been using this one for centuries.  Men still don’t seem to have caught on to it.  For example, she says:  ‘The grass is really getting long isn’t it?’  What she means is: ‘Please mow the lawn.’  What he hears is just a passing comment about that lawn. The silent war continues?

The Dodge: as in “dodging a bullet”. I’ve been in several relationships where this one was used.  A prime example is this money one with my first husband.  I had hit a place where I was tired of handling the money and paying the bills.  He volunteered to take over for a bit.  I kept asking how things were going and he kept saying ‘coasting along.’ The truth is that they were ‘coasting downhill into oblivion!’ He had gotten a new job and was going to be gone for several weeks of training.  I said I would take overseeing the household expenses since he was going to be out of town.  Well, when I finally looked at our bank accounts, there was nothing in the checking account…nothing!  Keep in mind, this was a time before credit cards.  I ended up eating all the sardines in a can and Ramen Noodles left  in the back of the cupboard while he was getting ‘wined and dined.’  I’m sure it’s not a surprise to you that after that experience, I always stewarded the money!  The Dodge never really works, it just postpones the truth and pain.

The Deep Cover-Up: in this instance, we grab the symptom instead of the issue underneath.   We seem to be upset about one thing, but it’s really something else.  Most often, we don’t even know we are doing it.  Now both parties are missing the communication. Here’s a great example: I have a client who is very extroverted and married to a guy who is quite introverted.  Opposites attract, right?  She is exasperated with vigor about how much time he spends on his phone, texting, Social Media, email you name it. Now, is this really about the phone?   Nope.  It’s actually about the isolation pressed upon them in these Covid days. She was used to being around people, bunches of them, all the time.  Even if he gave her all his attention all the time, it wouldn’t fill her need. Can you see how we often don’t dig deep enough to figure out what the real issue is?  We are pretty much trained to come up with a quick solution, and often that only serves to create more frustration. For my client, it was less about her husband being on the phone and more about her not having enough people contact to fulfill the need to be around others. Seeing what the real underlying issue is, helps both of them solve the problem.

Can you see that the result of ‘sending’ these mixed signals is most often confusion and sometimes anger and pain?   I think it’s quite likely that one of the main reasons we resort to such tactics is to avoid being vulnerable.  Vulnerability has often gotten a bad rap.  We think that opening ourselves up to others will always cause pain.  Sure, we have evidence for when it did…mostly in our youth.  It was kids at school or possibly anxious or controlling parents.  It was rooted in situations where we didn’t have personal power. Now we forget, that as adults, we DO have personal power.  We can honor ourselves and our truth.

I truly think when we are vulnerable and are living a life of being open and truthful we are very powerful.  We are unstoppable.  Nothing someone says can really hurt us when we are clear and standing in our personal truth.  We can risk admitting we are afraid, or sad, or angry in a clear manner.  By doing just that we may actually get what we need from others without having to send mixed signals!

We have plenty of challenging things to deal with these days, truly an overwhelming reality. We are often much more on edge. If you are clear and direct in your communication with others, you have a better chance of getting what you want, or at the very least knowing that the recipient of your intentions has no doubt what you want.

Let’s make all our relationships including the one with ourselves better without mixed signals!


Shell Tain, The Untangler