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How to Decode Mixed Signals: When Actions Don't Match Words

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Mixed messages

Mixed messages

How to Understand Mixed Messages

Getting mixed signals from your lover might be the worst part of being with them. You wonder if you should pay attention to their words or their actions. You want to figure it out, but no amount of talking seems to clarify matters. In fact, the more you try to understand, the less it seems to work. You might even be told that you're over-reacting, or not seeing the whole story. You care about your partner and listen to them, only to find yourself thinking maybe you're losing your mind.

Believe it or not, making one small change in yourself will save you hours of angst.

When someone's words don't match their actions, you may need to believe the worst-case scenario. I know you don't want to. Neither did I. Looking back, I can acknowledge that every single time I faced these confusing situations, the outcome reflected the scenario I chose not to believe.

If you believe the worst case, and make your own actions align with that belief, you'll find yourself coping better within your relationships or finding relationships that meet your needs instead of making you question yourself.

Take a look at two scenarios that show why you can't rely on either words or actions to determine which of those mixed messages to believe, and how acting on the worst-case scenario may help save a relationship:

Example 1: Actions Are More Believable Than Words

Ed and Ellie have been dating for eight months. Lately, he has been acting remote. Instead of calling every day as he used to, he texts a few minutes before he goes to bed. They no longer spend every Friday night and Saturday afternoon together, either. He went to visit friends twice last month on days they'd have normally spent in each other's company, and he did not invite Ellie.

She feels a bit worried, and asks him if he's getting bored with her. He denies it, and explains that his friends have been harassing him over not being around much lately.

The following weekend, he goes solo to his married coworker's house for a barbecue. Ellie is hurt and he explains that his friend didn't invite her, but he had to attend or he'd look bad at work.

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Ellie wants Ed to desire and value her, but his actions make her wonder. Even though he says all the right things to reassure her, the distance between them continues to grow. What Ellie is ignoring as she puts up with this change is that interested people act interested. She keeps pleading with him to consider her and spend more time together, which only alienates him further, until eventually he does grow bored with the same old routine and breaks things off.

If Ellie believed the worst-case scenario, she could take swift action to protect herself and perhaps steer the relationship back on track. She might schedule her own activities so she doesn't miss him so much. Later, when they do see each other, she has more to talk about than usual and his interest is revived. Or, she might decide that his interest wasn't high enough to begin with and break things off herself, leaving her free to date a man whose interest doesn't falter so easily.

Example 2: Words Are More Believable Than Actions

Charlie and Carley go together like chocolate syrup and milk. Early on, Carley said she never wanted to marry. She continued to say it even after she agreed to move in with her beau. Charlie figured she'd eventually change her mind, especially when he noticed what a committed, caring woman she was.

During the two years they lived together, they jointly bought a house and a car. Charlie figured it was time to take the next big step. After all, it had been four terrific years and Carley still seemed as much in love with him as ever. He looked forward to being able to let everyone know that they were going to make it official, because he'd finally feel like a grown man who'd earned the respect of his family, his peers, and besides, it would help his career.

He surprised her with a ring and proposal over dinner, only to feel crushed when she responded with a wounded, "I told you I don't want to ever get married. Weren't you even listening?"

Charlie now has to decide whether to give up a value he's held for most of his life, one that affects his self-esteem and his future. If he'd paid attention in the beginning and believed the worst case scenario that Carley would never want to get married, he'd have avoided a deeply personal dilemma that could affect his happiness for years to come.

Mixed Messages Can Be Red Flags

Whenever mixed messages creep into a relationship, they serve as red flags that warn us about incompatible values or goals. Optimism and hope often eclipse caution only to leave the optimist with later regrets.

By learning to see mixed messages as an opportunity to evaluate compatibility and address red flags before getting too deeply invested, you can take better care of yourself emotionally.

  • Identify how the words and actions aren't matching up.
  • Ask yourself what your partner's words reveal about his or her attitudes and beliefs.
  • Ask yourself what their actions reveal, too.
  • Then decide how to take a cautious approach that addresses the worst case scenario.

If you take these steps, you'll have more inner peace, fewer arguments, and be available for the kind of relationship you've dreamed about.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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