Mixed Signals In A Relationship: Dealing With Uncertainty From Both Sides


Confusing signals from someone can be tricky to decipher, learn here how to clear the air

Recently a friend was in a puzzling situation. She began to fall in love with a longtime friend of ours. They got closer, sparks flew in both directions, and deep appreciation was expressed. Pleasurable travel plans were made.

I was a listening ear for both friends. This gave me many new insights about mixed messages. On Monday, I heard from Steph that Ron called Stephanie to say, "Our new way of connecting is just what I needed. Let's be close again as soon as possible. I am really excited about our travel plans. Let's keep being in touch daily." He repeated this several times to Steph, emphasizing how happy he felt about their new sharing. Stephanie was joyous. Each time he repeated himself, her heart filled with joyous desire.

On Monday I heard from Ron that Stephanie expressed her love and appreciation for the new opening in their relating. I heard that the two had become quite close in recent months. I heard that their closeness went beyond time and space. I heard they were pillars of strength for one another.

Tuesday I heard similar joys from both of them. Ron’s encouragement continued. Steph’s warmth continued. Travel plans developed more firmly.

Wednesday came around. Ron told Stephanie he was connecting with a woman named Sheila, who she might like to befriend too. He asked if Sheila could come on the trip with them. He was clearly in initiation stages of romance with Sheila. This I heard from Stephanie. 

Stephanie was deeply hurt, but more so shocked. Ron and Steph had been close friends for two years. He was one person she counted on for in depth honesty, support, care, and availability in both directions. It made no sense. When she questioned Ron on his conflicting communications, he had no clue about what she was discussing. This side of Ron was nothing she experienced during the platonic friendship phase.

Thursday she told Ron she must have fully misunderstood his intentions. He then turned one hundred and eighty degrees, saying she didn't. He emphasized how Steph and he had become quite close. For the next twenty four hours the game continued like this. If she was yes, he was no. If she pulled away, he was in. She became exhausted, calling me in despair. Her need was a safe, committed, sacred space to nurture the new born sharing. She could not decipher what his need was. She was perplexed.

I realized that Ron did not know what he wanted! His mixed messages to Stephanie (and Sheila) were to himself. A desire on Steph’s part to get clarity was responded to with more confusion.

The bottom line is that someone who is confused will create confusion for others…but only if others let them.

Stephanie came to a similar conclusion. Having loved Ron in friendship, she was able to tenderly forgive him for this side of himself. Although she could have spent time entangling with him, waiting for clarity that was not in the mix, she exited. "Ron, I love our friendship, but mixed messages in dating are not a good way for me to engage. I prefer to go back to being friends."

He understood.  He was not able to offer anything else. He could have said, “Wow. I am so sorry. That must have really hurt. What was I thinking? I will call it off with Sheila. I will give 100% to this if you are still available. That was cruel of me. I was confused but I am ready to be honoring now. It won’t happen again.”  But that was not his truth.

So they agreed to go back to the friendship as before. After a few weeks to recalibrate, while feeling waves of disappointment, grief, and anger, they did re-find the joy of friendship. After time to digest what occurred, Stephanie had no more interest in anything but platonic friendship with Ron!  Ron frequently tells me how much he appreciates Stephanie.

I learned that a person who gives mixed messages isn’t necessarily trying to hurt or harm others. S/he is genuinely uncertain of his or her own needs, desires, and commitment capacities.  When someone gives a mixed message 1) Ask for clarity. Sometimes people just need help with structure. If that, too, is responded to with a mixed message, 2) assume that person has unresolved situations to attend to within him/herself. At this point 3) make a boundary for your own wellbeing which may be fully parting ways or may be a modification in how you relate. When you honor yourself, gratitude for what is good comes back.


Laurie Moore, LMFT, CHT, EMDR, PhD

Laurie Moore, LMFT, CHT, PHD is globally known for her work with individuals, couples, and animals.


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