Communication is necessarily part of our daily lives, and yet it can be so frustrating. People say one thing and mean another, and true intentions become hard to discern. While everyone has experienced hurtful misunderstandings at times, the problem can be especially frustrating for singles seeking to establish meaningful relationships — whether friendships, dating relationships, or more. Lack of clear communication hinders such relationships, while direct, honest communication can help them grow. But why is it so hard for us to achieve that level of clarity?
As a longtime single, and an introvert with some degree of social awkwardness, I sometimes find communication with others to be less clear and more frustrating than I’d like it. But I think I’ve identified a few reasons for this problem, and hopefully also some ways to deal with it.
One major cause of misunderstandings is that we have different expectations of each other.
I’ve found this to be true especially when it comes to navigating the murky and tumultuous waters of dating. Several times I’ve been hurt and misled by girls who agree to a date or show signs of interest at first, but later back out or change their minds. And while it’s tempting to play the blame game and put the fault all on them, I know that that’s not fair. In most cases, the girls never intend to mislead me, and sometimes they’re just as confused by me as I am by them. So then where does the problem come from? Often it’s that we have different expectations that aren’t clear to each other. I’ll ask for a date, seeing it as the beginning of a possible relationship or at least the getting-to-know-you stage, but the girl doesn’t see it as anything more than a friendly gesture. My intentions aren’t clear to her, and her intentions aren’t clear to me. Our expectations are different, so the result is confusion, hurt, and eventually a series of awkward apologies on both sides, until we talk things through and resolve the matter.
But this problem isn’t exclusive to dating.
My two roommates and I are all close friends, but as with anyone who lives together for long enough, we naturally rub each other the wrong way at times and have misunderstandings to resolve. We make commitments that we neglect to follow through with, or we say one thing halfheartedly that someone else takes completely serious. These careless words can also lead to misunderstandings and disappointments, which is why it’s important that we all talk through our expectations, desires, and feelings very clearly and honestly.
In addition to different expectations, the other cause of the problem is that people don’t express themselves clearly to each other.
We don’t say what we mean often enough. In most cases, though, saying what we mean is the best solution to the problem of unclear expectations. Once, when I was getting mixed responses from a girl I had asked out, my friends encouraged me to have a conversation with her to make sure that we were both on the same page. I had to make it absolutely clear that what I intended was a date, and once I did, I figured that her response would indicate her intentions. Sure enough, the conversation worked to resolve the issue and make our intentions clear to each other. I (gently and respectfully) expressed my concerns about feeling misled; she apologized and we resolved things quickly and peacefully. Yes, this sort of directness and openness can be uncomfortable at times, but if both parties value honesty and reconciliation, then it usually works to resolve misunderstandings and maintain the peace.
In all of our relationships, it’s important to say what we mean openly and honestly. As Scripture says, “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no” (James 5:12 ESV). In other words, speak in such a way that people can take you at your word and not have to guess about what you really mean or whether you’ll follow through. Recently, I asked a girl out and she responded with a very direct “no.” Although it wasn’t the response I wanted, I respected her for it. I’d much rather have a clear no than a halfhearted yes from someone who changes her mind or backs out later.
Probably, most of us desire clear and honest communication in our relationships, but that ideal often seems difficult to achieve. It can be hard for us to recognize which things we say may be misunderstood by someone else. After all, our intentions are perfectly clear to ourselves. That is why we must consider how our words will be taken by others and realize that we’re not always as clear as we hope to be. And, when misunderstandings inevitably come up, we must be willing to ask questions, talk things through with humility, and seek truth and understanding together. Scripture tells us to strive for peace with our words and actions (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18), and it has a number of guidelines on how to handle conflict resolution — not by ignoring problems or covering them up with superficially kind words, but by addressing them directly and honestly (Matthew 5:23-24).
Of course, we must still be careful how we speak. Speaking your mind honestly is not a free pass to be rude or hurtful. Nor does it mean that we should bluntly say everything we think and feel. We must use tact and discretion and consider how our words will be taken by others, but still be honest nonetheless. Scripture commands us to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), to put away falsehood (4:25), and to speak what is good for edifying each other (4:29).
Communication with others can be frustrating and hurtful, but it doesn’t have to be. We must speak honestly and directly while still showing love and actively seeking to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts. Then we will be communicating effectively and in the way God intended us to, for the benefit of ourselves and all our relationships.