Skip to main content

A couple holding hands.Zlatko Kostic/The Globe and Mail

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at

Registration for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards have closed. Companies can pre-register for 2019 at

Are you in an intimate relationship and confused?

If yes, the next question to ask yourself is: why are you confused? Then, what are you doing to clear up this confusion?

Relationships can be a source of joy, as well as distraction and stress when we're experiencing relationship confusion. And this distraction and stress can affect other parts of our lives, including our ability to be productive at work.

One factor that fuels relationship confusion is when a partner's words and actions don't match. Relationship confusion is rooted in perceptions and continues because no action is taken to clear up the confusion.

When relationship confusion increases, so does anxiety and stress that can impact your mental health and overall happiness. The reasons people fail to take action when they're feeling confusion over their relationship can be due to fear of losing the relationship and wanting to avoid negative emotions such as rejection, loneliness and grief.

This micro skill provides some guidance to individuals who are experiencing relationship confusion and explains how they can take action to improve the situation.


Relationship confusion is often linked to a specific gap. Before addressing this gap, it's helpful to step back and define what your ideal relationship looks like and how you would know if you were in one.

For two people to build a caring relationship with little to no relationship confusion, the core building blocks are an alignment of values, wants, interests and trust.

William Glasser, the author of choice theory, says that for a couple to build a healthy and loving relationship they must understand how to meet and support each other's four basic psychological needs:

· Fun (which includes hobbies, music, sports)

· Freedom (which includes independence, time alone and time with others)

· Love (time with their partner, sex, family)

· Power (career, money, education)

When there's relationship confusion, there are gaps in the above building blocks and basic needs. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself.

· What are the gaps that you're experiencing?

· How is this relationship confusion impacting your quality of life?

· If you want to be happy in this relationship, do you agree that you'll need to do something different?

Perhaps the most challenging thing for a person in relationship confusion is to stop hoping and be honest with themselves that the confusion is negatively impacting their overall happiness and productivity.


Once you're aware and motivated to close the gaps that are fuelling your relationship confusion, it's helpful to consider that if another person doesn't feel or behave the same as you this is not a reflection of you; it's their choice. It may not be what you want, but love isn't a perfect science, and we can't make another human love us or want to be with us. Be honest with yourself and answer this question: "Could another person make you love them?"

As much as we want something, this desire alone is not enough. A loving relationship is a two-way street. Both parties must be committed to learn what each other really wants and needs and then be willing and happy to provide it. Hoping another person will love us the way we want seldom works, and often leads to confusion and sadness.

Deciding to address relationship confusion is an important first step. It can create the energy to close and fix the perceptions around confusion, or it may be the action that ultimately ends a relationship that would never meet yours or the other's needs. Each of us needs to decide for ourselves what we want and will accept, and understand that we can only control what we think and do. Enjoying a relationship to the fullest requires two people taking care of each other's needs.


Here are some coaching tips to address relationship confusion:

Validate why you want this relationship. Emotions are powerful, and they can blind us. Sometimes we want what we can't have, without understanding why we really want it. What are the top three things this person provides for you? If you're struggling to list them, perhaps you're not sure why you want this relationship, and that can be a source of relationship confusion. To benefit from a relationship you must be clear and have evidence of what this relationship provides you. If the relationship is not providing you anything, then are you really in a relationship?

Clarify the type of relationship. Relationships fall on a continuum from new acquaintances to friends, dating, dating with intimacy non-exclusive, dating to exclusive, partnership, to even marriage. Sometimes confusion happens because the parties are not aligned on this continuum, didn't talk about it, or made assumptions. This creates confusion. It's best to be clear and set boundaries and expectations. Get agreement on where you are, and if you'd like to be further along the continuum, discuss the milestones required to move to the next step.

Seek clarity on relationship gaps. One way to resolve relationship confusion is to ask your partner to have a conversation to seek clarity on what you're confused about. Make your concern clear and what you want to happen to resolve this confusion. If the other person isn't open to listen to you and how you feel confused and help you sort through it, then you most likely are not in a real relationship. If this is the case, you haven't lost a relationship; you've gained an opportunity to seek clarity and to decide what you want to do with this information.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

This article supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award. This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series