Turn Signals: 2 Types of Marital Signals

We all have signals. Whether we purposely try, we operate in them all the time. I can pick up the signals from my staff on what kind of morning they’ve had just by their body language, the tone of their voice, or their silence when they come in and slam their office door. Two Sundays ago, I was overwhelmed with an issue on a Sunday morning. After the service, I got a pulled aside by someone. He said, “I could tell you were struggling by your body language. I’ve been praying for you.”


We all give “signals” to those around us and our marriages are no different. From the infant stages of the relationship with our spouse, we operated with signals. I’d hear someone say, “I saw him/her the other day and, I think, they’re giving me signals like they’re interested in me.” I’d love to say that, in my adolescence, I was always correct on reading THAT signal. Sadly (even more embarrassingly), I can’t say I was the best at it. Case in point, the girl’s face I tried to ask out because I “thought” she was interested.

Nope. #MissedAgain #WrongSignal

Then there’s the dreaded, “I’m getting mixed signals.” And, from experience, it’s a terrible place to be. It is the proverbial “fork in the road” and “I’m not sure which way to take this” type of signal. Ever got a mixed signal from someone? I remember when Anne wanted a treadmill (I believe it was for an anniversary or birthday). I’m telling you, when I was staring at that thing, I was sweating. Come on, you DON’T want to be the guy that got a signal wrong and bought his wife a treadmill when she didn’t think she needed one.

To God be the glory, I got that one right.

“Signals” can be quite fun in a marriage. They are the intentional expressions to convey a thought. My wife has a signal for me when I’m dominating conversations (us pastors like to talk). I have signals for her when I’m ready to leave somewhere. And when one of us misses the signal, we talk about it afterwords as to fine-tune our signal skills. Usually, we laugh at how blatant we were trying to be with them.

Some times it feels like this…

But signals, if not handled appropriately, can be quite toxic. How? They can be a cop-out to conversations. “Why go through all the trouble of talking when I can just drop a hint?” But when that is your only mode of communication, don’t be caught off guard if (1) your signal is missed or (2) your signal is misinterpreted.  When you create gaps of assumption, don’t be surprised when those gaps are filled with confusion. When we no longer assert ourselves in a healthy way (time, tone, technique), but we rely solely on signals, we create harmful communication habits. Signals are an accessory to communication, not a replacement of communication.

Types of Signals
Signals are two-fold. There’s the purposeful signal. These are strategically developed and talked about. Anne and I have them and we have conversations about them. Why? We love each other enough not to leave signals in ambiguity. If you haven’t communicated about “purposeful signals,” then you are forfeiting your right to complain when they’re missed or misinterpreted.

Then there is the unintentional signal. These take time and patience to learn. Why? Most of us don’t realize the type of signals we give off to those around us. For example, Anne can recognize when I’m in the beginning stages of depression. She can see the signals and she is quick to be as proactive with the funk that is creeping into my spirit. I can pick up on when she feels disconnected and needs some quality time. So when I pick up on the signals, I’ll adjust my schedule without pointing out “hey, look how cool I am at reading you.”

(Note: If you’re bragging how great you are at signals to your spouse, you’re really not trying to be a better spouse, you’re trying to look better than your spouse. So stop that)

I’ve learned this: The longer you are married, the less you become what you were when you first walked the aisle. As you grow older, there is a selfish nature that wants you to focus upon yourself and your needs. When couples only care about themselves as individuals, apathy sets in and the spark is gone. And the only way to combat marital apathy is to be a daily student of your spouse. The more you work at learning, the more you invest in growing. Why? Because whatever you’ve learned about your spouse becomes the place or the area to serve your spouse. If a couple can be students of each other and invest in the areas they’re learning about, they created a greater capacity for health.

Today, I want you to ask yourself about these two types of signals. Talk to your spouse about the ones you both use. You may find yourself laughing at the one’s you’ve missed (see the Three Amigos clip). You may discover that your “obvious” signals were not-so-obvious.” Also, start studying your spouse. The more you learn, the more you both can grow.

Love you all. Praying for you.

Encourage effort.
Celebrate progress.
Feed hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: Check out my book. Click on the link below.

2 responses to “Turn Signals: 2 Types of Marital Signals”

  1. Dave, that blog hit on all cylinders!! I will be sure to share this with my spouse and to think about my signals as well as discuss her’ s with her as well as my own. Thanks for putting out this GREAT blog

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