10 Mixed Signals You May Get In A New Relationship — And How To Interpret Them
The beginning of a new relationship is usually a fun, exciting, romantic time — but it can also be confusing AF if you and your new partner aren't yet on the same page about your blossoming relationship. Unfortunately, getting mixed signals in a relationship happens to the best of us, and it's especially prevalent in new relationships, when partners are likely still learning how to effectively communicate with each other. The tricky part? Mixed signals can come in many forms, and they're not always easy to pinpoint in your own relationship.
"If you receive two or more conflicting pieces of information from someone, they’re sending you mixed signals," Adam Maynard, a relationship coach who specializes in helping people navigate relationship challenges, tells Bustle. "Maybe they tell you something one day and something else the next, or say one thing and do another. Sometimes mixed signals are more subtle than this — you tune in to an inconsistency but can’t quite tell what it is or where it’s coming from. You just have a... sense the other person isn’t telling you the whole story."
So aside from being hard to recognize in the first place, mixed signals can also be tough to decipher, because they're typically the result of some deeper, underlying communication issue in your relationship.
"A new partner who’s sending mixed signals is experiencing an inner conflict that they’re unwilling or unable to communicate about in a clearer way — maybe because they aren’t aware of or in tune with it themselves, they’re feeling overwhelmed by it, they don’t know themselves that well, or they’re just uncomfortable communicating so transparently (and vulnerably)," Maynard says. "In the worst case, they’re trying to hide something from you they know you won’t like."
The good news? Mixed signals don't necessarily have to be the catalyst for a premature end to a great new relationship. Here are 10 examples of mixed signals you might get in a new relationship, and expert advice on how to interpret and handle them.
1. They Want Exclusivity, But Don't Want A Label
One of the most confusing parts of any new relationship? Deciding when to define the relationship, and what — if any — label you want to put on it. And if your new partner is reluctant to DTR, it's not uncommon to feel a little uneasy.
"It can be pretty unsettling when a new partner doesn’t want to name the relationship you’ve just entered into together," Maynard says. "It might understandably cause you to doubt their interest in you, but this can just as easily speak to the pressure they feel about commitment and all of the expectations that come along with it."
How To Interpret It: According to Maynard, a hesitance to DTR may not necessarily be a sign to run for the hills: "If it feels comfortable for you, let them adjust to your deepening commitment to one another one step at a time," he says.
2. They're Hot And Cold
The hot-and-cold phenomenon is so common in relationships that Katy Perry wrote a whole song about it — but that doesn't make it any easier to navigate in your own relationship.
"New partners can emotionally yo-yo just as much after they decide they want to be in a relationship with you as they did when they were still trying to figure that out," Maynard says. "Maybe they’re really communicative and affectionate one day and more distant the next."
How To Interpret It: "Because new relationships can be really intense, new partners may be using these periods of relative distance to manage this emotional intensity and check in with themselves about it," Maynard says. "These attempts to find a sense of balance are ultimately healthy and well-intentioned, though of course it’d be nice if they were aware they needed this kind of time and communicated that to you."
3. They Flirt With Other People
What constitutes "flirting" might vary from person to person, but once you're in a relationship, it's important to get on the same page with your partner about what is and isn't acceptable behavior toward others.
"Partners who make romantic overtures to other people may not be aware they’re doing so," Maynard says. "They could also just be open-hearted people, so you’ll want to be clear with yourself whether they’re being overtly romantic or if they’re just caring about the people in their lives in a genuine way. Of course they could be trying to hang on to that one last shred of their single life."
How To Interpret It: "If this is the mixed signal you’re receiving from your new partner, you’ll want to quickly clarify with them where they’re coming from, and look for an immediate concession and change in behavior — if not over the course of the conversation, then shortly after," Maynard says. "If they remain defensive or care more about their ability to make 'harmless' banter than they do about your feelings, this could be a sign they’re not as ready for the relationship as you thought they were."
4. They Talk About Your Future Together, But Don't Lay The Groundwork For It In The Present
In the honeymoon phase, it's easy to get swept up in the romance of it all and start openly planning your future together — but if your S.O. is all talk and no real planning, that can be cause for concern.
"When a new partner talks big about the special things they want to do with you but never puts a plan in place to make them happen — or doesn’t make an effort to bring the spirit of those milestones into the early stages of your relationship — it’s only natural to wonder if that vision is sincere," Maynard says.
How To Interpret It: "It’s exciting to dream big but they’re clearly getting a little ahead of themselves," Maynard says. "While their heart may be in the right place, they probably don’t realize that they’ve caught you in a cycle of expectation and disappointment that’s not fair to you."
5. They Don't Spend As Much Time With You As You'd Hoped
Every couple has a different idea of what the "right" amount of time to spend together is: some couples like to hang out 24/7, and others are totally fine only seeing each other once a week. But especially in new relationships, it's not unusual to want to spend a lot of time together — and it can be concerning if that's not happening.
"When you first couple up you may dream of spending every waking moment with your new partner — and you want them to make you a similar priority," Maynard says. "So it can be concerning when they don’t seem to want to spend as much time with you as you expected them to."
How To Interpret It: "This isn’t necessarily cause for alarm," Maynard says. "It can be another way new partners attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy in a new relationship so that they’re not immediately swept away by it. Feeling like they still have some autonomy and control over how they spend their time, and that they have an identity separate from the relationship will help them stay grounded as you begin to merge your lives more and more. It doesn’t mean they’re not invested, it just means they want to deepen that investment in a sustainable way."
6. They Say They're Going To Change, But Never Do
In a healthy relationship, you should never expect your partner to fundamentally change who they are for you — but sometimes, changes in habits or behaviors do need to be made, even early on in a relationship.
"While this dynamic may seem more typical of established relationships, it can show up in new relationships too," Maynard says. "No matter how long you’ve been seeing one another, you may have already identified a quality in your partner that you know will impact the health and success of your relationship long-term. You’ve made this clear to them, and despite their repeated assurances that they’re doing something about it you haven’t seen any real signs of progress."
How To Interpret It: "Changing habitual patterns of behavior can be really difficult, so this disconnect between their words and actions isn’t necessarily something to worry about," Maynard says. "Sometimes it just takes time. What you’ll want to pay close attention to is if pace of their interest in and ability to change aligns with the amount of time you’re willing and able to cope with their behavior."
7. They Bring Up Their Exes
Ah, the dreaded ex talk. While it can be confusing AF if you have a new partner who regularly brings their exes up in conversation, it doesn't always mean they have the intention to hurt you.
"Sometimes new partners put the things you do together — the events you go to, the trips you take, or the gifts you exchange — within the context of their last relationship," Maynard says. "Or they may be quick to point out how you’re so much kinder, more patient, or better looking than their ex."
How To Interpret It: "Chances are they’re unaware they’re doing this, or of how off-putting this can be," Maynard says. "Their last relationship is their most recent frame of reference for what they’re experiencing with you, and they lack the filter that would tell them that bringing this up with you is inappropriate. However, if you can tell they’re bringing it up as a put-down, to manipulate you, or because they haven’t fully moved on from that relationship, these would all be signs that they don’t truly value what they have with you."
8. They're Still Talking To Their Ex
Yikes — there's almost nothing more worrisome in an otherwise happy new relationship than realizing your partner is still in contact with an ex. Of course, talking to an ex isn't inherently unhealthy or unusual, but that doesn't mean it can't be a sore spot in a new relationship — especially if a partner isn't upfront about it initially.
"This is a tough one because it can be so personally threatening," Maynard says. "It can be tempting to pull an ultimatum, but you may not want to act so quickly here."
How To Interpret It: "Some partners are capable of seeking closure with their past as they embark on a new chapter with you," Maynard says. "They can emotionally multi-task, and compartmentalize. Maybe they’re tying up loose ends with their ex in a healthy, productive way that sets your new relationship up for success. Or it’s possible they’ve both moved on from their relationship and have remained genuine friends with one another. It’s true that some people keep doors open so they have a backup plan, or because they don’t want to fully face the pain they’d feel if they let that relationship go. It’s up to you to discern which applies to your new partner."
9. They Don't Want To Be Couply In Public
When you're in a new relationship and feeling the lovey dovey, touchy feely vibes all the time, it can be easy to forget that everyone has a different comfort level with PDA — and your new partner might not be on the same page as you.
"When your partner rebuffs your attempts to do anything couply in public — like holding your hand, kissing, walking arm in arm, or swapping bites of food — it’s understandably worrisome," Maynard says.
How To Interpret It: "It’s important to realize that some people are just shy, or don’t like PDA," Maynard says. "Your partner may want to keep the relationship to themselves not because they’re embarrassed about it but because they consider it sacred, and need to get more fully comfortable with the level of vulnerability it requires of them before they put it on display."
10. They Encourage You To Be Vulnerable, But Won't Open Up Themselves
First thing's first: it takes time to develop emotional intimacy in a relationship. That being said, if a new partner is encouraging you to open up, but seems to hold back a lot themselves, that can be a red flag that something is off balance.
"Emotional intimacy is a wondrous thing," Maynard says. "If a partner always shuts down when you ask them to open up, it’s natural to wonder why or if there’s anything more you can do."
How To Interpret It: "Opening up requires a certain amount of courage and a trust built up over time, especially if your new partner isn’t used to vulnerably expressing themselves or if they’ve experienced a lot of trauma in their lives," Maynard says. "These same partners might be completely fine holding space for your own vulnerability — it requires them to be present and compassionate, but doesn’t expose them to being hurt or rejected. So be patient with them, and try not to put too much pressure on them to open up before they’re ready to."
Why It's So Common To Get Mixed Signals From A New Partner
When you're still getting to know each other, it can be understandably difficult to communicate your concerns to a new partner — but it's crucial to learn how, because you're bound to get your wires crossed at some point or another.
"Mixed signals are common in new relationships because of the pressure and expectations associated with making things official," Maynard says. "Commitment of any kind just makes some people skittish."
While some relationships just naturally fall into place, most of the time, it takes hard work and communication to get things started off on the right track, even though we might expect things to be easy breezy.
"Receiving mixed signals at the start of a new relationship can really throw you for a loop because you’re receiving them at the exact moment you’re ready to really dive in and enjoy the agreement you’ve just established with your partner," Maynard says. "You expect to experience stability, clarity, and safety, and you’re met with this unsettled, uncertain feeling instead."
But just because you experience moments of doubt and uncertainty doesn't mean you need to throw in the towel on your new relationship. As long as you're comfortable starting a conversation about the mixed signals you notice — and you and your partner are willing to work on your communication issues together — there's no reason that your new relationship can't have a shot a long-term love.