One of the most common topics that I get asked about is how to read or interpret "mixed signals" from a separated spouse. Even when you're trying very hard to be open and to "go with the flow" as far as your separated spouse is concerned, it can be difficult when you both get frustrated with the crossed signals.

Someone might explain: "I am so confused as to what my separated husband wants from me. He left and said he needed space. So I decided that I had no choice but to give him what he wants. I thought that meant to wait to hear from him and to let him call me instead of my constantly calling him. As hard as it was, I vowed not to bug him. Well, I found out through mutual friends that my husband got a promotion. I know that he has been waiting and hoping for this for quite a while. So I expected him to call me. When he finally did, I could tell that he was angry. I asked why he was upset and he said: 'It hurts me that my own wife didn't call me about the promotion she knows I've been wanting.' I told him that I was just respecting his request for space. We went back and forth about this and agreed to meet for coffee. Things went fine until it was time to leave. I gave my husband a squeeze on the shoulder and he commented: 'my own wife doesn't kiss me in parting.' I corrected him and said that I was his separated wife. He just looked unhappy and left. I am very confused. I thought I was giving him what he asked for. We are separated and yet he gives me the impression that I am supposed to act like a normal spouse with him, even though he told me that he wanted space. I have no idea what he wants from me. And now I'm worried that he is angry and that this will hurt our chance to reconcile. How do I determine what he truly wants?"

Getting On The Same Page When Your Lines Are Crossed: This type of misunderstanding is one of the land mines of being separated. I've experienced it myself and know countless others who have experienced it. (You can read about my separation and reconciliation by clicking here.) Tensions are high during a separation. And, because you don't see each other as often, communication suffers. No one wants to be the person who puts themselves out there only to be rejected. So people understandably tend to be reluctant to ask the hard (but obvious) questions.

My husband and I got our signals crossed countless times during our separation and it led to many hurt feelings. I think that the best way to find out more about what your husband wants is to attempt to ask him. But you have to be careful about how you do this. You don't want to make things worse by insinuating that he's misleading you. Instead, you want to pave the way for things to be better.

A Conversation To Define Expectations: I'd suggest trying a conversation like: "honey, if you have a minute, I'd like to talk about our last conversation. I don't mean to be insensitive. I was happy about your promotion and I was waiting for you to take the lead because I thought you wanted for me to give you space. I truly wanted to call the second I heard about your promotion. To avoid this in the future, I think that the two of us need to define what we want and expect from each other. Because maybe we have different assumptions about what a separation means. Can we decide how much we'll talk, what type of physical affection we will share, and how our new relationship is going to look? I know that it's hard to define these things, but I think that we should try. Because the last thing that we need is for us to get upset with one another over something that is truly a misunderstanding. My ultimate goal is for us to reconcile eventually. So I don't want for misunderstandings to keep popping up."

Hopefully, this will pave the way to an open conversation about what each of you expects. It's very important that you are on the same page. I encourage couples to define and clarify as much as they can. How often will you see each other? Speak to each other? What do you want from one another?

I know that this seems very specific, but the more specific you can get, the less chance that either of you will misread the behavior of the other. Plus, if you make these distinctions early on, neither of you are left wondering what certain behaviors mean.

I went through a lot of torment waiting for my husband to call me when it would have been so much better to attempt to agree on a communication schedule. The whole "go with the flow" theory of a separation sounds good in theory, but it invites misunderstandings and hurt feelings in reality.

Sure, I realize that when your spouse doesn't know what he wants and is hot and cold to you, then you often have no choice than to go with the flow. But try to find opportunities where you can agree ahead of time. And ask for gentle clarification as you are able to.

I wish I followed my own advice during my own separation.  My husband and I drifted further and further apart because of misunderstandings  You can read more about how I changed the way I approached our separation (which eventually lead to reconciliation) on my blog at

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