Do you feel like you are walking on eggshells in your relationship?
Do you worry that anything you say (or don’t say) might set your partner off?
Do you work overtime to avoid doing or saying anything that will upset them but still somehow fail?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, today’s episode is for you. I’m unpacking the signs and symptoms of walking on eggshells, describing what that phrase looks and feels like IRL, and giving you ideas of what you can do to break this exhausting cycle.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
It is possible to cultivate more happiness in your life, especially when you are intentional about it. So let’s dive into the 7 happiness habits you can incorporate into your daily life, starting today.
What Does “Walking on Eggshells” Actually Mean?
We’ve all heard this common phrase before, but what does “walking on eggshells” actually mean?
It means you’re hypervigilant, always scanning for signs of an impending issue.
In a low-key way, it means living in fear.
In my therapeutic practice, I find that walking on eggshells is most common in romantic relationships, but it can really happen in any relationship.
Walking on eggshells is an internal experience, as others often don’t see it happening, and it feels incredibly uncomfortable. The conditions for walking on eggshells are created when you are in a relationship with someone who has mood swings, is erratic, or is quick to anger. In short, it is when you aren’t sure what you are going to get with that person on any given day or at any given moment.
What’s Different in a Healthy Relationship?
In a healthy relationship, you know pretty much how the other person will react to something.
No matter how bad things might get, I can count on my husband of 25 years to be who I know him to be, and vice versa. I know that he won’t suddenly become mean, cold, rejecting, or condescending because that isn’t how we interact with each other. If he did, it would be devastating and shocking to me.
In a healthy relationship, if something happens, you can talk about it. If the other person makes a mistake, you feel safe enough to bring it up.
That’s not to say you never have disagreements or feel annoyed or upset, but, unlike walking on eggshells, you aren’t constantly on the lookout to avoid setting the other person off.
What Do You Experience When Walking on Eggshells?
You might feel like you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. You might wake up feeling just fine and then have this feeling of dread, wondering, “What will make my partner mad or annoyed at me today?”
If you are overly relieved when your partner is in a good mood, you want to dig into why. Of course, we are all happy when our person is in a good mood. But if you are overly relieved by this, is it because you are so used to them being in a bad mood?
Additionally, if you are in a relationship with someone whose mood is up and down, their happiness might not necessarily make you feel secure for very long because one of the core elements of walking on eggshells is that the other person’s mood can change at any moment.
Your partner may go from being happy to making a snide comment, being mean, or being condescending. You might constantly feel like you are on unstable ground like there’s nothing you can count on with them because of the lack of consistency in their mood.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Walking on Eggshells?
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- Do you have less confidence because your person puts you down all of the time?
- Does your partner take zero responsibility for their mistakes or any pain they might have caused you in the relationship?
- Does your person rarely apologize for angry outbursts directed at you?
- Is your partner physically abusive toward you?
- Have your closest friends and family observed the way your person behaves towards you? Do they see how you walk on eggshells around them?
- Does your partner tend to exaggerate how bad things are? Are their complaints amplified?
- Do you encounter some kind of conflict with your partner every day, to the point where this is your normal dynamic?
Last, but not least, the biggest sign of walking on eggshells is being afraid of your partner because they are so easily provoked to anger. You might not know what will make them mad, resulting in staying silent on many issues.
A lot of what I am describing here is abuse. For more signs of abuse, you can check out this article: 10 signs you are in an abusive relationship.
What Else Might Create the Desire to Walk on Eggshells?
We might walk on eggshells in relationships not because of our present experience with our person, but because of our past experiences.
We may have been traumatized from a past relationship to the point where we need to constantly check to make sure we don’t need to walk on eggshells with our current partner, which makes us walk on eggshells with the person who didn’t cause us harm.
It’s kind of like the internet meme (source is unknown): “If you don’t heal what hurt you, you will bleed on people who didn’t cut you.”
And if that is the case, it’s important to know where this habituated behavior comes from. Inside the guide, which you can download here, I give you a couple of blueprint questions to see if walking on eggshells was a learned behavior.
You have to be honest with the way you feel. Answer the question: Am I afraid of my partner?
We all have the desire to protect our person, a desire to not disappoint them, and that is different than actually being afraid.
My Past Experiences With Walking on Eggshells
In my twenties, I was in a codependent relationship where I had emotional fear of my partner because they were jealous and possessive. I had my 50% of what was going on in this relationship because I was being codependent with them, but I still had fear.
I remember ending the relationship in a terrible way. At two in the morning, I borrowed $10 from him and took a cab to my sister’s. Not my proudest moment, but I had to go while I still had the courage to leave.
After that relationship ended, I said: never again will I be in a relationship with someone I fear.
That was an important internal boundary for me, and I held to it.
Of course, my own downloaded blueprint played a part in this. My mother, my sisters, and I were all afraid of my father.
Did I walk on eggshells in my childhood?
I sure did.
I was afraid of my father’s disapproval. He wasn’t physically abusive, he just wasn’t present. When he was, we were all uncomfortable because we didn’t want to do anything to inspire his disapproval.
What Can You Do To Stop Walking on Eggshells?
If you’ve had similar experiences in your life, I highly recommend downloading the guide I put together for you, because answering the blueprint questions first will help you gain clarity about your current relationship.
You will see how many of these things you are suffering with right now in your relationship, and then you will have choices to make.
It can be helpful to talk about this with trusted friends and family, or a therapist. You might be so conditioned to what you are experiencing you don’t even recognize it as the problem it actually is, which is why getting into therapy can help. It is a gift you can give yourself if you can afford to do so. I also have a whole list of free mental health resources you can check out here.
If you think your partner may be unaware of how you feel you can have a neutral conversation with them about what you are noticing: “I am noticing I’m walking on eggshells a lot and I wanted to talk about it.”
However, if you are in an abusive relationship, do not do anything that might set the other person off. There is nothing more important than your safety, and you have to make sure any actions you take will not put you in an unsafe situation. Instead, I invite you to read this guide on how to safely leave an abusive relationship.
You deserve a life better than walking on eggshells every day. It is bad for your nervous system, and it is so exhausting. There is no joy there. You cannot live in joy and be afraid all the time.
I want you to live the life you want because you deserve to feel loved, safe, happy, abundant, and joyful.
I hope that this episode inspires you to get honest with how you feel. Remember to download the inventory to assess whether you are walking on eggshells in your relationship, and dive into the questions to see where that might be coming from.
I would love to know your thoughts on this. You can leave a comment here or over on Instagram @terricole.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for spending your time with me and as always, take care of you.
terri, sometimes walking on eggshells can be about not wanting to inadvertently send him into a tailspin.
very occasionally, he'll notice something i'm wearing, for example. instead of saying something like 'i like what you're wearing today' or ' you're looking lovely' or 'hey, that dress looks great on you' , he'll say 'is that dress new?' …when in fact i've worn it on high rotation every summer for the last seven years! sometimes, my saying the wrong thing or pointing something out can cause him to go into 'oh god, i'm so useless' …defeatist and depressed…and then i spend the next day or three trying to bolster him up, drag him out of the hole, cos it's miserable to be around and he can't see anything beyond the paper bag his head's stuck in.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Jude. ❤️ I’m so sorry you’re having to navigate this. I am witnessing you with compassion and sending strength your way.
This has been helpful. For my entire life my family has walked on egg shells around my younger sister…who is now 50!! If she doesn’t get her way or we don’t agree with her she throws a horrible anger fit and then won’t speak to that person for months!! Currently she is not speaking to me because I suggested we take my father to a Huntingtons program and talk to my mothers doctors about getting her evaluated for dementia, which she’s showing signs of and runs in her family!! My sister said she would not advocate for either of these and her nor her family wanted a relationship with me!! This is extremely frustrating for me since I live in GA and they all live in VA!!!!
I truly need help in dealing with the relationship with my sister!!!!! But then then on another level my ailing parents and being so far away!!
I am witnessing you with so much compassion Leslie, and sending you strength as you navigate this difficult time ❤️