"That's not what I meant"  

Have you ever felt unloved - even by Christian people who are commanded to love?  Beware not to walk by your feelings beloved. It is very likely that you have, probably more than once.  Why would someone following the God of love, Charity, make anyone feel unloved? I believe most people do love. At least they would if anger, greed, alcohol, etc. etc. would not have them bound. However, Christ has set the Christian free. Nevertheless, sometimes in our weakness we forget and fail, sometimes we do not know how to show love, and sometimes our love is misunderstood. It can be rather frustrating when our love is misunderstood.  We may have the best of intentions. We may be trying hard to show our love, our respect, our concern, our support to someone - only to have them think we are being rude, or nosey, or manipulative, bossy, or condescending, or unreasonable or oversensitive.

What did we do wrong? Maybe nothing. 

One cause of misunderstanding is different ways of communicating. Some feel that at times hinting may be kinder. Others are used to speaking more direct. People differ in how loud and how fast they talk, how much and how long to pause between speaking. These things can cause different people to come to different conclusions: resulting in one thinking, he doesn't give me a chance to say anything, and the other's thinking, he doesn't keep up his end of the conversation.  Then how much emotion or enthusiasm is proper to use? Some people ask questions to show they care. Others may think that's being nosey. Still others may appear flippant or silly to be funny to gain friends, while others overly serious most of the time might think, they don't really care.

God made us with a need to be involved with other people. We also have a need for independence, to choose what we will do without being controlled by others. These two needs come into conflict many times.  Proper understanding of authority on all levels of life can help this.  But even well meaning Christians have different ideas as to which authorities are supposed to yield to other authorities and this can become a major problem.  Even within individual families.

The things some people may do to show they care, by getting involved, may be taken as an encroachment on the others independence.  People have different understandings of minding your own business.  As well as where different authorities stop and start.

The things people do in respect of another's space may be taken as rude or not caring. Yet much of this is cultural based on where you were raised.  People from the big city are used to be crowded and occasionally bumped - no problem.  Those raised on a big farm in wide open territory are going to expect a larger personal area around their bodies.  They will feel uncomfortable in the city, while the city person, will normally attempt to stand closer to a person they are talking with than the person who spends a lot of time alone.  The city person may think the country person is not very friendly or open to them and the country person may feel the city person is too personal and aggressive.  This can be perceived from the silent body language of just how close a person approaches another person when talking or meeting someone.

Misunderstandings can occur between anybody, even those raised in the same family, the danger increases between those with different languages, cultures, and new relationships. 

One example is, in Greece it is expected that in conversation speakers will overlap. It shows you are interested and enthusiastic about the conversation. Many others consider it impolite to talk while someone else is talking. In England, it is considered very impolite. They expect a pause between speakers. 

Another example is white people look others in the eye while American Indians consider that disrespectful.  Much of our communication is in meta-messages, that we communicate by different forms of body language like nonverbal expressions, tone of voice, emphasis, how we say what we say, and the things we do; with almost no conscious thought on our part, our thoughts, feelings, and motives are revealed, sometimes without us wanting them to be. What we say indirectly and even what we don't say may say a lot. 

Meta-messages are an important and pleasant part of conversation, but also can be a source of misunderstandings. People may clearly "hear" you say something you never intended, or fail to catch something you tried to say or insinuate. Often we don't say what we mean in so many words. This indirect way of talking can also cause misunderstandings.

Then to top that many people are looking for "the hidden message" in between every line and their imagination and emotions get together to create wild monsters or love at first sight when neither situation exists. 

So, why don't we just say what we mean? 

We would lose some of the satisfaction and feelings of rapport we get from our conversations, if we always stated exactly what we meant.

An example of this is shown in the case of a daughter that had to ask her father for permission to go to a social event. She knew that when he said, "Yes, of course go," he approved. If he said, "You may go if you want to," she knew he thought it wasn't a good idea.

Then she wouldn't go. This understanding contributed to a feeling of rapport between them. He didn't need to feel like a tyrant and she could feel that she choose to obey. Thus by using indirectness they communicated love and respect for each other and gained a respectful relationship.

But then can we not truly generate a deeper/closer relationship by speaking the truth straight forward with a completely honest and open dialog and exchange of ideas which train our children to be future parents in all aspects of TRUTH instead of leaving details for assumptive transfer of information by osmosis?  This style requires greater dexterity of wills and deeper openness which makes for closer and tenderer relationships... yet greater levels of trust are also achieved (because of the greater level of openness and vulnerability) required.

The problem is without dexterity on both sides.  Big fight, big misunderstanding, or one side shuts down and the other therefore must give up or risk causing problems by continuing further.  So communication is a 2 way street or it just doesn't work.  Unless you are the boss, and your employees ALWAYS perfectly understand you, and you just give orders all the time.

But they don't always understand, do they?  Whether employees, boss, husband, wife, children, parents, friends, relatives, or new acquaintance.

Often we can't speak directly. When we relate something, we cannot say every detail and aspect of the truth. There are always unstated assumptions, both the speakers and the hearers, that may not match. Sometimes honestly stating the truth could be unkind or disrespectful to an elder. Rather than blurting out our ideas, we may try to get a sense of the others ideas and potential reactions, before spilling the beans.  Or we may then decide it would be better not to spill the beans and have to clean up the mess.

Different styles of indirectness may cause misunderstandings. Say two people are trying to decide a simple thing like what shall we do or where shall we go. She asks him what he wants. He names something and they do that. It turns out to be not quite satisfactory. She is unhappy because he always does what he wants. He is frustrated because she never says what she wants, then gets upset.  Thus the result of a lack of openness.

Actually, both wanted to be considerate of the others wishes. Her way of negotiating an agreement is to ask questions and give vague suggestions until each has an idea of the others preference. It doesn't occur to her that when he named something it was a suggestion - his way of starting a negotiation. She saw it as a demand.

Two newly weds both might be playing a game like this over a favorite food.  They misunderstood each other and so after many meals of a food neither liked, the truth finally came out that neither of them liked it, but was under the impression that the other did attempting to bend over backwards to please their new mate.  So even when the best of intentions are operating on both sides, misunderstandings can happen, where if simple truth were told and believed people could feel much less pain.  We need to be open and honest with people and put our feelings out to pasture.

There is a need in our lives for people to have power, or authority, over others; parents to children, employers to employees, teachers to students, etc.  Yet at the same time and in many relationships we also need solidarity, a feeling of unity, togetherness. In striving to show solidarity, we may be perceived as not showing proper respect for authority. In exercising proper authority, we may be perceived to be unfriendly by some. When you call someone by their first name, will they perceive you as friendly, forward, or disrespectful?

Indirectness makes it possible to control others without appearing to. The father who lets his daughter know what he thinks she should do, without actually telling her, wants to direct her.  He may be extending liberty to determine to what level her maturity has grown. He'd rather feel his daughter is following because she wants the same thing instead of just being obedient to her father's command. 

Yet by repeated simple obedience is the child best trained to accept their parents values as their own. Premature liberty could cause weakness and perhaps a great fall then or during a future temptation because the earlier simpler test was failed or down played for feeling sake.

Some people will just follow the leader or his suggestion to remain in good graces. The greater number of people are crowd followers produced by age segregation education. Thus, power can masquerade as solidarity. But knowing this, we can mistake sincere expressions of solidarity for power plays and put-downs. 

In shaking my hand, do you give an extra squeeze to let me know you like me, or to let me know you're stronger, or to intimidate me by hurting me?  I may get either message, regardless of which you intend.

An attempt to correct a misunderstanding may result in worsening it, if our reactions to each other cause more of the offending behavior.  Unfortunately some people are offended purely by attitudes they may perceive are projected by others (these can also be misunderstood of course).  A persons perceived thoughts are reality to them, even though the true intentions of another are not what is being perceived. When a conflict of personalities become evident simple words of truth are the only possible cure together with true repentance when needed.

Men and women have different ways of thinking and talking. When a wife tells her husband about a problem, all she may want is to be reassured. He may sidetrack her story, crack jokes about it, question her interpretation of the problem, and give her advice about it.

Though natural to men, such a response is unexpected to women. She feels he is uninterested, not really listening, and criticizing her. Then he may wonder why she doesn't appreciate his help and why she asked for his advice.

Another cause of misunderstanding is pride and jealousy. Unless they are humble, people feel inadequate when others try to help. Turmoil and feelings of inferiority in a person can elicit some of the most surprising surmisings about someone's efforts to love and help. So if, instead of appreciation, your love or help results in an attack on you --- pray for wisdom, and more love and grace - and learn what you can.

These few examples and brief explanations give us an idea of the many ways that misunderstandings can arise. Sometimes people are unkind and have evil motives. At times like this, we must remember we too have sinned. It's no fun to be ill-treated, but neither is it fun to be falsely accused of having ill motives. If we falsely accuse, we are being unkind. So let us be slow to judge another's motives.

When a problem arises, the first thing we should do is search our own heart and life. Step back, look at the situation, and try to understand. Maybe you are misunderstanding another person's expression of love and maybe they are misunderstanding yours.

Whatever the situation, consider these Scriptures:

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies [heartfelt compassion], kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. Col. 3:12-17 KJV

I, then, the prisoner for the Lord's sake, entreat you to live and act as becomes those who have received the call that you have received - with all lowliness of mind and unselfishness, and with patience, bearing with one another lovingly, and earnestly striving to maintain, in the uniting bond of peace, the unity given by the Spirit. Eph. 4:1-3. [Weymouth]

I want to thank the congregation for their help in writing this, especially Luke and our son Daniel. I didn't write this because I am so accomplished in the matter, rather the opposite. Because of the great need in my life to learn more, the Lord is teaching me. I simply write what I'm learning. If the Lord has taught you anything, please share it with us. We need input from others. 


" written by R. Martin   with some changes and additions by Dale Sabin."


While misunderstandings happen to everyone in life. The worst kind of misunderstandings are between husband and wife, with their children, between siblings and within the household of faith.  Click here to continue on this topic of misunderstandings.

See other topics available