Dear Hopeful and Open-Hearted Subscriber,
I wanted to share this livestream video in which I address a pretty common theme I see popping up in my private Facebook group for Healing Attachment Wounds, and that is…
How do you deal with mixed signals in a relationship?
For example, are a few questions that might relate to what you’re going through…
“My problem is that I’m conflicted about what to do with information, how long before I confront them, should I just be patient, should I just walk away, is it even that big of a deal? Most of the time I’m patient and wait around until somehow I self sabotage because my overthinking gets the best of me.”
“I had an ex…he was always confused and withheld his emotions and feelings from me. I had to ask him to stop texting me, because he told me he didn’t want a relationship. After that, he was liking my posts on social media for months. It is passive communication and it was torturing me… He never really wanted to be forgotten. What for!?”
I find mixed signals–or at least perceived mixed signals– are usually the result of one of two reasons…This month I am going to breakdown these two reasons into five separate topics.
A genuine breakdown in communication styles
- 5 Ways Your Brain May Cause Mixed Signals in Relationships
- Mixed Signals & 3 Keys to Empathic Communication
- 4 Protest Behaviors: How the Anxious partner sends mixed signals
- Breadcrumbing Demystified: 5 Ways Avoidant partners Send Mixed Signals
- 4 Ways to Handle Mixed Signals in Insecure Relationships
Today, I discuss “Mixed Signals & 3 Keys to Empathic Communication,” and talk about empathic communication and weeding out deep versus surface structure communications.
So let’s dive more deeply into this…
In all of us, there is the capacity for love. Perhaps the more we are loved, the better we are able to access that part of ourselves; there is something to be said for being inspired. But it is the ability to love oneself which creates the capacity for selfless love as well. Marianne Williamson (1999) attests the gains of love, commitment and intimacy are “unlike anything else on earth.” And perhaps that is because the ultimate gains extend beyond the earthly plane; that of spiritual ascendance.
In her book, Enchanted Love, Williamson states,True romance is not a situation so much as it is a realm of being, a realm unlike any other, permeating the air around us yet oddly invisible. It exudes mystical power that calls to most of us once we are past a certain age. There is something there we want because we are human, and it clearly answers a basic human need…True romance answers our need for adventure, for meaning, and for deep and soulful connection with another. It answers our spiritual as well as our emotional cravings. It is to grown-ups what the entire inventory of a toy store is to children (1999, p.16)
Ideally, the outcome of love, commitment and intimacy in relationships is a form of interdependency; a situation in which both partners are able to mutually depend on each other, while respecting their individual boundaries, wants, and needs. Murray and Holmes (2011) break down interdependency into a system of unconscious “if-than” rules, imbedded in our internal working models, which coordinate partner interactions with specific features of a situation.
For example, if John is in a good mood, then Sally is more likely to seek support and counsel. Or, if Sally criticizes John’s quiet manner in social situations, then he becomes increasingly withdrawn. Thus, there exists a level of constraint within the relationship: what John does restricts how happy Sally can be with her outcomes, and vice versa. These constraints typically correspond to three levels of interdependence (Braiker &
Kelley, 1979; Holmes, 2002):
Life tasks. To ensure harmony and stability, John and Sally must decide who will predictably cook, clean, tend to the children, pay bills, etc.
Preferences and personality. To ensure harmony and stability, John’s quiet and withdrawn nature must respect Sally’s gregariousness, and Sally’s blunt delivery must be tempered to accommodate John’s sensitivity.
Relationship goals. To adjust his desire for a traditional family, John must accommodate for Sally’s career, and Sally must adjust her preference for independent hobbies to incorporate John’s preference for shared leisure time.
If the results of these constraints are mutual understanding and growth, then they are not quite losses or constraints at all, are they? If, however, they lead to persistent miscommunications and feelings of disregard, resentments and apathy may fester.
Most of the miscommunications and resentments that occur in relationships stem from a way of relating to the world and everyone in it, based on the essential fears of being incompetent or unworthy.
For example, a Sally might say, “You don’t care about me,” and John might respond “Of course I care about you. That’s my job. Why do you think I’m trying to fix this problem?”
John reasons that because his preoccupied with solving a problem that will in some way benefit Sally, Sally should know he cares. However, Sally perceives his response as a way to avoid giving her direct attention and caring.
Her comment makes him feel incompetent, and she doesn’t trust him to meet her needs.
Deep structure communications are the “essence” of what someone is trying to communicate. Surface structure communications would be a literal interpretation of the words.
It’s essentially expressing feelings versus expressing information. Their expressions are similar, but they have different connotations or emotional emphasis.
For example, if Sally says “I feel like you never listen to me,” she does not expect the word ‘never’ to be taken literally; the deep structure communication is the frustration she feels in the moment. However, John may take her literally, either because he misreads the communication or because he takes her frustration as a criticism of his competency, and so he responds in a negative or unsupportive manner.
When couples are on the verge of arguing, they are generally misunderstanding each other, and unclear or unloving communications are possibly the biggest problem in relationships.
Here are a few examples of deep versus surface structure communications.
|Deep Structure||Surface Structure|
|“I love you and I have fun with you. Let’s spend more time together.”||“We never go out.”|
|“I am feeling unappreciated and unimportant. I could use a gesture of love from you.”||“You always ignore me.”|
|“I feel a deep responsibility to our family and to my obligations. It’s hard for me to attend to my own self-care and give myself some ‘me-time.”||“I’m too tired.”|
|“I want to relax but my environment accuses me of falling down on the job. I feel defeated and I am worried you will judge me for it, when I need your support.”||“This house is always a mess.”|
3 Keys to Effective Communication
Once we have a grasp of the differences between deep and surface structure communications, we can start to work on building effective communication skills. In Hendrix and Hunt’s book, Getting The Love You Want, they offer an example of how to use mirroring dialogue in effective communication. It’s also a great example of how men and women could communicate after a long day, in a way that respects each other’s needs to replenish stress-reducing hormones.
Effective communication is made up of three parts:
- Mirroring. This is the process of accurately reflecting back the content of the message sent by your partner. The most common form is paraphrasing, which means to restate what they said in your own words. Mirroring indicates that you have heard and understood what your partner has said. Anything you say before you have accurately understood the meaning of whatever your partner is trying to communicate, is not a real response to your partner at all, but a response to your own interpretation of your partner’s message. Which means you’re only responding to yourself, not your partner. Which leaves you both and isolation and degrades intimacy.
- Validation. Validation is communication to the sending partner that the information you have received in mirrored make sense to you. It means that you are able to see this information from your partner’s point of view and except that it is valid and true for your partner. It does involve a temporary suspension of your own point of view and allows your partners experience to have its own reality.
- Empathy. Empathy is the process of reflecting or imagining the feelings the sending partner is experiencing. This is a deeper level of communication that attempts to recognize, reach into, and experience the emotions of the sending partner, as opposed to reflecting on them as a cognitive exercise. It is through empathy that partners have the potential to try and send their separateness and experience a genuine union. Which can have a tremendous healing power.
Here’s a basic example:
“So, when I don’t look at you when you are talking to me, you think I am uninterested in what you are saying.” (Mirroring)
“I can understand that; it makes sense to me.” (Validation)
“And I can imagine that you would feel rejected and angry; that must be a terrible feeling.” (Empathy)
Again, the purpose of this is to help you more clearly identify individual vulnerabilities in relationships, in order improve our understanding of the underlying dynamics, and hopefully afford some clarity where you may feel like you are getting mixed signals.
In my next segment, we step into attachment ambivalence as a cause of mixed signals, and I will talk about “7 Protest Behaviors: How the Anxious partner sends mixed signals.” So subscribe and stay tuned!
To look specifically at how you can communicate in fun, easeful and creative ways with a partner, I invite you to checkout my online course on Healing Attachment Wounds with Mindfulness and Creative Arts Therapies, we are currently running a special, with the option for a payment plan. (ENROLL HERE: https://goo.gl/sNr3N1)
This course offers 7 creative, fun, easy lessons over the course of 7 weeks, and takes you from feeling lost and confused about your romantic relationships, to stepping into your fullest and most sovereign self, without having to talk in circles around your feelings for hours (or even years) on end, with no tangible result.
And it WORKS.
A quote from Kim, one of our newest program graduates…
“This program has done for me in 7 weeks what years of self-help books and cognitive therapy couldn’t do.”
ENROLL HERE: https://goo.gl/sNr3N1
Take it from Kim, this program, Healing Attachment Wounds, can help you accomplish this task in 7 easy, FUN lessons that will take you from reacting powerlessly to the circumstances surrounding your love life, to becoming a conscious creator of it, without having to talk in circles around your feelings for hours (or even YEARS) on end.
So make sure you check out the course before this limited time offer expires. You’ll be SO GLAD you did!
ENROLL HERE: https://goo.gl/sNr3N1
Hope to see you there!
Briana MacWilliam ATR-BC, LCAT
Licensed and Board Certified Creative Arts Therapist
Author, Educator and Reiki Practitioner