7 Min Read
- What Does Walking On Eggshells Mean?
- Why Partners Walk On Eggshells
- Does Walking On Eggshells In A Relationship Ever Stop?
James never knows what to expect from his wife. Will be she be friendly or will she say something horribly mean? He doesn’t know it, but his uncertainty means he’s constantly walking on eggshells in his relationship.
Kendra usually feels very similar to James. She never knows what version of AJ she’s going to get. One of her regular thoughts is, “Don’t poke the bear,” and she even gives her kids this advice too.
As a result, she talks to him as little as possible. Preferring to text him even when he’s at home in the next room. She willingly acknowledges that she walks on eggshells around him, which means all of the time since she’s a stay-at-home mom and he works from home.
Sadly, walking on eggshells in a relationship is not uncommon at all. Although not everyone who does so knows this phrase or uses it to describe their experience, but as soon as they hear it they know what it means and how that feels. Similar phrases I hear in counseling that have the same meaning are:
- “Walking on pins and needles”
- "Tiptoe around”
- “Don’t provoke the she-devil”
What Does Walking On Eggshells Mean?
Walking on eggshells is a description of what it’s like for someone to be around another person whose behavior can be erratic, unpredictable, and explosive. While this can occur anywhere and with anyone – a boss or coworker, parent or sibling, it most frequently arises in romantic relationships with a partner.
My wife has issues...every day I walk on eggshells because she will blow at a moment’s notice. She cusses me out, throws things, talks about me in front of my son and she yells at him, gives threats of divorce all the time. She gets upset about things that has happened months and months ago. I'm in therapy, but I can’t live under stress every day. I'm afraid that I might snap and something bad is going to happen.” -Domonic
Eggs are fragile and their shells are typically easy to crack. Imagine trying to walk on them and not have them break. Almost impossible, right?
The anxiety that would arise if you had to walk on eggshells and not break them is what it feels like to be in a relationship where you try to prevent a negative response from another person. Or as Dominic puts it, his wife “will blow at a moment’s notice.”
Here’s how Lindsey describes it:
I feel like I live on eggshells with my husband. He never has a kind word for me, just cursing, put downs. Telling me how stupid I am. Or just making demands. When I speak how I feel he just says ‘boo f****** hoo, not my problem.’ Or just accuses me of cheating when I never go anywhere. And then shouts ‘you lying f****** whore, tell your boyfriend.’ So I understand about trying to be invisible so not to upset him.” -Lindsey
Why Partners Walk On Eggshells
After reading what Domonic and Lindsey’s partners say to them it’s pretty obvious why they walk on eggshells. No one likes to be talked to like that.
Or more precisely, no one wants to be abused, which is what this is – it’s relationship abuse.
Who wants to have someone to scream at them,
You’re a fat piece of sh*t.”
Especially when it’s your partner, who’s supposed to love you, and with whom you live 24/7.
You’re a big fat pig. Even your family doesn’t love you because you’re a piece of crap.”
Wanting to control our environment and what happens to us is a natural human desire. Even though it’s usually unrealistic and often impossible, we seek it nonetheless.
However, the stress and pressure that comes from trying not to do anything to provoke an abusive response can be overwhelming and damaging, both mentally and physically. It’s painful and depressing to have your love one say and do these kinds of things to you.
I married an angry person. I walk on eggshells around him all the time. I never know when to approach him. He tells me to tell him things but I don't know when is safe. When I say something while he is on his computer or watching tv, sometimes while he is doing nothing he abruptly stops what he is doing very dramatically, like the remote control he lifts, clicks pause and turns his head with a look on his face like ‘Why are you talking to me? This had better be important.’ Of course it never is important enough. Then he rolls his eyes and scoffs and goes back to what he was doing. The whole motion makes me feel little, unimportant, scared... I get cold sweats and the fear hits, my heart races the rest of the day. He drinks every day of the week as soon as he is off work. He isn't that bad anymore but because he keeps that anger in, but I never know when he will snap. Last time he snapped he took the 60" TV and yanked it down, stomped on it, broke the lamp, and put a huge gouge in our hardwood floors ‘a permanent reminder of that day’. Now I have a 16 year old boy who is introverted, plays Xbox games and yells, screams and swears at it. Talks to it like it had everything to do with his frustration and that it's stupid all its fault. This has caused our dog such anxiety that she paces and tries to find a place to hide. If we let her out in our fenced back yard during one of his explosions she will find a way out and leave the property. He hardly talks about anything. He comes off rude to other people/adults he knows like teachers and gym coaches. He plays around with me by blocking my passing by him or play hitting me. This all worries me that our son won't have the proper skills to get along with other adults both in relationships and the work place later in life and that he will follow in his dad’s footsteps.” -Tasha
Tasha says she doesn’t know when to approach her husband. Just like Kendra I described in the beginning who feels the same way and has resorted to only texting her husband, even when they’re both in the house, in an attempt to try to avoid his response.
Sometimes it works, and sometimes he will get up and go find her to, well you know, let her know how he feels in a very similar way to Tasha’s husband’s loving communication style.
If you feel you can’t escape, like the dog above, then you try to avoid by tiptoeing around. And kids feel the effects of eggshell walking in relationships too.
Does Walking On Eggshells In A Relationship Ever Stop?
Relationships where you have to walk on eggshells are abusive relationships. Period.
The abuse typically is justified by blaming the victim (“If you weren’t such a...” or “If you didn’t...”), but even if these were true, which they almost never are, talking to or treating someone like this is still abuse. And wrong.
Can you directly stop it? Usually, no.
All abusive partners believe their behavior is justified, but a few don’t realize it’s actually abuse. Those who will acknowledge it’s wrong and are willing to learn how to change can change. In other cases partners don’t care about changing and thus ultimately don’t truly care about you.
As you can see from the real-life examples I’ve included, walking on eggshells in a relationship happens to both women and men. Here’s another guy’s story:
I've been married for 18 years. She is mentally, verbally and physically abusive. I was often and repeatedly told that I couldn't do most anything correctly, and that my opinions didn't matter. She would break windows, hit walls, hit or kick me, yell or even hit herself or pull her hair, often in front of our children. I was required to check in multiple times during the day at work, and was flat out told that I couldn't go on work trips because she didn't trust me, even though I had given her no reason not to. I liken it to walking on a flaming mixture of eggshells, needles and ever thinning ice, while carrying buckets of gasoline. To be fair, I would often stonewall, which wasn't right or productive, but it was my only defense, as I'm well aware of how Domestic Violence laws work, and how they have the tendency to target the man. In March, I left her. Not proud of how it fell apart, but I finally figured out that I matter. The divorce process is long and tiring, as she is delaying it in every way she can, but in the end, my peace of mind is worth every cent I'll be asked to pay. While it's true that there are a lot of abusive men out there, there seems to be far too little coverage or information on abusive women. Upbringing, past experiences and the like can definitely influence someone, the fact remains that you are still responsible for your actions and reactions. Turns out there are a lot more damaging ways to kill a marriage than infidelity.” -Mitch
If you’re in a relationship where you have to walk on eggshells remember it’s always a choice. You could choose to be in a different relationship where this response isn’t necessary. Believe me, I know firsthand that’s not an easy or uncomplicated decision. I help people sort through it every day.
I also grew up with this and even though I wanted my mom to leave and take us with her, she never did. And I still have the scars.
If you’re in this kind of a relationship and want to talk to someone right now, please call the National Abuse Hotline, which is available 24/7 at 800-799-7233. Obviously, there are experienced professional counselors like myself available too.
While you can’t directly stop someone else’s abusive behavior, you can influence it. Walking on eggshells in your relationship is a coping response – there are other ones you can choose. You could also learn strategies on how to minimize how it impacts you and your kids. Leaving is always a last resort for everyone, and most people aren’t ready to take that of a drastic step, but learning how to deal with it better is always an option, and a smart choice.
Do you walk on eggshells in your relationship? Please share what that’s like with other readers and they’ll likely respond to you too.
Looking for More? Check Out These Articles
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- Get More Help with Abusive Relationships