Understanding Relationships – The ‘Language of Hint’: Ineffectual, Unhealthy


By Gary Moore 

If you’re a regular reader of my column then you know that mutual understanding, not communication, is the key to your marriage. Without mutual understanding you won’t have communication. 

Communication is beautiful when we are expressing ourselves, being understood, comforting someone, and being comforted. And, we all know that it takes more than one person to communicate – but sometimes we focus only on being heard. This can cause misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and mistrust. 

It is important that we have great relationships and get the things we need, want, and desire out of our relationships. But more often than not, we speak the “language of hint,” which can cause us to miss out on what is important to us. 

Why do we speak the language of hint? Here are a few of the possible reasons: 

  1. We want to be surprised because the surprise makes us feel good.
  2. Our own self-esteem may come intoplay and we are unsure if we deserve what we are asking for, so we hint.
  3. We may not want to feel reliant on what we are asking for, but if we hint, we can pretend it doesn’t matter whether we receive it or not.
  4. We have an issue with being able to receive, or don’t want to feel indebted, so receiving a gift is easier than asking for a gift.

The language of hint is both ineffectual and unhealthy. It is ineffectual because it is not clear and generally does not get us to our end goal. It is unhealthy because we can easily become upset when the person that we have hinted our wants to doesn’t provide exactly what we wanted. 

Another reason that the language of hint is not effective or healthy is because we put all of the ownership of what we want onto the person we are speaking to, with heavy expectation of a desired result. Sadly, upset feelings occur when the result does not materialize. Then we blame the person we are speaking to for not understanding us. Then, we have negative thoughts such as “they weren’t listening,” “they don’t love me,” and “I’m not important.” 

It becomes the other person’s fault for not understanding our hint instead of us taking ownership for our communication because we didn’t convey what we wanted clearly and concisely. The truth of the matter is that because it is our want, need, or desire, we should take ownership and admit that we did not communicate effectively or give the other person the opportunity to understand what we wanted. Instead, we selfishly use the language of hint by putting the ownership of the failed expectation on them and insist that they should have been able to understand our hints. 

Despite the fact that most people use it, the language of hint is not a method of communication that most people understand. Yes, we want people to know us deeply, intimately, and happily. But if we don’t speak clearly, we are not giving others the opportunity to know us with any level of depth, and our relationship will suffer. 

When we communicate effectively, the ownership of the conversation and its outcome becomes mutual because we are communicating in a way where both sides are speaking, listening, asking questions, and understanding. At the end of a conversation that has been effectively communicated, there is a mutual understanding or agreement, and the chance of hurt feelings is lessened. 

We should be able to succinctly convey our wants, needs, and desires to the person we are speaking to and have them completely understand us. 

In speaking about effective communication, don’t get me wrong, when a gift is given, it can be a beautiful, happy moment for both parties. But if it doesn’t happen because you have only hinted at what you wanted and not clearly stated it, then you need to rethink your pattern of communication. 

When you hold onto an unfulfilled expectation and the blame that goes with it, bitterness sinks in. And we all know that when we are faced with multiple unresolved failures, it can feel like a bottomless pit and the relationship suffers. 

It’s important to take ownership for not fully communicating so that you do not place all of the ownership on the other person for not understanding your hints. 

We all have different upbringings and learning styles. This means we all process incoming information differently. Remember that everyone’s thought process belongs to them and that when you are in a relationship, it is your responsibility to continually get to know the other person and to be known – to gain mutual understanding. 

The language of hint does not work within clear communication. If you are unable to tell your spouse what it is that you want, then you may need to look within yourself and figure out what is stopping you from saying what you want. Work on knowing and being known. Work on how you communicate so you can have amazing conversations, expressing your wants, needs, desires, and expectations. Work toward mutual respect, love, compassion, understanding, honesty, and mutually effective communication. 

It is wonderful when someone has thought so much of us that they take the time to add beauty to our day and surprise us with a gift of thoughtfulness or love. But we shouldn’t expect it.    Bottom line: don’t hint. Communicate the things you want and need clearly with love and tenderness. Then watch how your relationship grows and blossoms. 


Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He does a weekly radio program called Life Point Plus on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. Monday mornings at 10 a.m. he does live relationship teaching called MUM Live on his Facebook page Mutual Understanding Method. He may be contacted at [email protected].

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