How To Stop Walking On Eggshells In Your Relationships

Our close relationships have a powerful way of influencing our behavior. Whether you're a kid trying to please your parent whose mood changes are as volatile as the weather or an adult managing the angry emotions of your boss or partner, we learn a lot of ways to navigate such unpleasant dynamics. And just as much as our close relationships inspire us to change for the better, in some cases, they actually force us to become too accommodating. Our main goal becomes about not upsetting the other person. We don't want to rock the boat for fear of the nasty repercussions. Maybe your partner has angry outbursts often or your boss belittles you every chance they get. 

The term walking on eggshells is self-explanatory. In its literal sense, you'd picture someone trying carefully to walk with eggshells attached to their feet that they don't want to break. The exercise is impossible to begin with but the image you'd conjure up is probably of someone who's tensed, stressed, fearful, and unhappy. These are some of the very emotions someone who walks on eggshells in real life would experience. 

If your partner, close friends, or someone at work makes you feel like you have to alter a lot of what you say and how you behave so that they don't get irritated, you might be in an emotionally abusive relationship with them, and it's time to fix that. Here are some ways to stop doing what you're doing. 

Self-awareness is key

Often times, we get used to living a certain way without even knowing it's unhealthy for us. Perhaps you've had to manage the fragile emotions of your parents growing up and this has made you become fearful as an adult. According to author and relationship expert Robert Taibbi, walking on eggshells could be a trait we picked up as kids and becoming aware of this is a crucial first step. 

Taibbi explained in Psychology Today that when you grow up in an emotionally abusive environment, "you become wired to be sensitive to any strong emotions, especially from those close to you." As a child, the only way you could've navigated this was by being hypervigilant or hypersensitive. Another coping mechanism would've been walking on eggshells, according to Taibbi. 

Even if your childhood isn't to blame, it's possible that past relationships or even your present one has caused you to second-guess yourself and become afraid to voice your opinions. It's important to note the signs of an abusive relationship. Dig deep and ask yourself if the situation you're in is healthy for you. If you're unable to answer the question, ask for the opinion of trusted friends or family. Sometimes, it helps to get an objective outside perspective. 

Don't be afraid to talk about it

Having an open and honest conversation with your partner or anyone else you're experiencing this unhealthy dynamic with is a great second step. If you don't speak up, they won't know. It is possible that your partner has gotten used to having their own way all the time or being careless with their emotions from years of having no one challenge them. Tell them that you don't feel heard or seen or that their emotional outbursts frighten you. Tell them that you don't enjoy how irritable they get or how hurtful it is when they criticize your every move. 

There are of course, also instances, when your partner is being intentionally manipulative so they can control you. In the latter circumstance, you might want to get professional help or even leave the situation. Emotional abuse is seriously damaging. 

According to marriage and family therapist Moshe Ratson, it is possible to confront someone who's making you feel like you have to be worried about your every move and word and come out at the other end feeling stronger than when you went in. "Developing the resilience to stand up to someone who is provoking or ridiculing you can lessen their impact and power over you," he explained in GoodTherapy

Set some boundaries (for yourself and the other)

Boundaries are essential in any relationship, and even more so in a romantic setting. They are what keep a couple from disrespecting one another. They also preserve individual identity and freedom of expression. A lack of boundaries leaves room for insecurity, fear, and unhappiness. 

Moshe Ratson wrote in GoodTherapy, "When you give others the ability to make you feel bad about yourself, you are more likely to react negatively to them and try to lessen their power over you." Take control of your own emotions, validate them, and hold space for them. If your partner's angry outburst about not putting the dishes away made you feel hurt or angry yourself, try not to negate that or push those emotions down. If your friend's foul mood over something innocent you said is making you feel anxious, tell yourself it's fair to feel that way. There is no need to blame yourself for their inconsistent reactions.  

Sometimes, doing this by yourself might prove difficult, especially in the beginning. Ask a trusted friend for help. Let your partner, friend, or even boss know that you won't tolerate certain kinds of behavior. They're going to have to stop treating you carelessly and become accountable for their own reactions. 

Work together and hold each other accountable

In some instances, when you do start to stand up for yourself and set boundaries, things will unravel and your partner might refuse to acknowledge their mistakes and might even become more angry. Again, these are signs that your relationship might be in trouble. Walking away from a relationship, even an emotionally abusive one, can feel daunting but you might have to consider it (or at least take a break), if your mental health is at stake. 

A loving relationship is built on give and take, and if your partner welcomes your thoughts about the situation constructively and is willing to change, work together with them. Offer encouragement when they get it right and you don't end up feeling like you're walking on eggshells around them. Mutually working together can build a sense of closeness in the relationship too. Perhaps your partner has certain triggers that set off their negative behavior. Be willing to sit with them and explore possible reasons. Are they stressed at work? Do they have too much on their plate? Do they need more downtime? 

Being open and vulnerable with each other about your struggles can give you both a clean slate to rebuild on. 

Seek professional help

Although this was mentioned before, it deserves its own attention because of how beneficial this step can be for struggling relationships. If walking on eggshells has become a recurrent pattern in your relationship and no amount of communication is helping, it might be a sign you should see a couples therapist. 

Moshe Ratson added in GoodTherapy, "Walking on eggshells over an extended period of time can cause you to lose your authenticity and sense of self. You may internalize your partner's blame, criticism, anger, and even abusive behaviors, or you may absorb them and become resentful and aggressive yourself." This is not going to be a healthy end result for either of you. Working with a professional relationship therapist would give you both the tools you need to better handle tense and sensitive situations the next time they crop up. 

The goal is to stop the habit of walking on eggshells. Living in constant fear and anxiety over upsetting your partner or someone else in your life can take a toll on your mental health. As the writer S. L. Heaton observed (via GoodTherapy), "I spent so many years walking on eggshells ... never doing or saying the right thing. One day I decided I'd had enough and stomped all over them. Those broken eggshells cut me deeply as I walked away ... but this ... was the most beautiful pain I had ever felt."