Making Sense of Mixed Signals

If your partner frequently says one thing when he means another, or acts in one way only to behave in a completely different fashion later, you may question his sincerity. Before mixed signals start causing your relationship to unravel, keep in mind the following considerations:

1. Many men give off mixed signals even when they don't mean to, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph. D., author of Make Up Don't Break Up. "Most men have a problem saying no, so they say yes even when they really mean no," she says. "Some of the areas men give mixed messages about are money, sex, in-laws, and children."

2. Your partner may not be purposely sending mixed signals. Instead, recognize that you may be interpreting these signals in a way in which he didn't mean them. "So try to put on an emotional bulletproof vest," Weil says. "Don't automatically assume something and then feel angry, defensive and reactive when it turns out to be different from what you thought."

3. It pays to put into words what you think your partner means to say, and to ask him to validate and verify what you're saying, says Karen Sherman, Ph. D., author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make It Last. Tell your partner: "When I see you doing such or such, or making such and such a gesture, this is what I think you mean."  If you ask your partner whether you're reading him incorrectly, it gives him a chance to say just what he really means.

4. There's often a disconnect in the area of sexual intimacy, Sherman says. One person may think that when the other switches off the TV, this is a sign that she wants him to initiate sex. In fact, intimacy may be the furthest thought from her mind: she just wants to lie in bed with a book and unwind. The first person then feels hurt and rejected, while the partner may have no idea why. "Sit down, have a conversation," Sherman advises. "Put it on yourself. Tell your partner, I think I have misunderstood you. Can you help me to better understand what you want?"

5. Try giving suggestions without passing judgment. If you've jointly decided to visit your mother next weekend and at the last minute, he begs off and suggests that just the two of you take a trip, try to validate his feelings. "Tell him, 'you know how much my mother loves to see us, but on the other hand, I know you've been working very hard and my mother lives six hours away,' " Weil says. Suggest that you spend a night with her and the other night of your trip in a motel, where you can pay attention to each other. "Mixed messages can mean that he is trying to meet both your needs and his," Weil says. "You need to guide him to making a solution."

6. You both share common goals and care for each other, so it's worth not having an inquisition into your partner's motives when you sense that you've misread him. Problem-solve rather than playing "blame and shame," Weil says. Talk things out--and keep your sense of humor front and center.