What to Do If You Feel Like You're Walking on Eggshells in Your Relationship

Caring man comforting upset wife after fight

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In ideal relationships, communication with a partner is expected to be open, freeing, and easy to maneuver. A significant other often takes the role of confidant and best friend, one with whom very little is off-limits.

When you’re in a healthy relationship, it isn’t very difficult to predict the moods and preferences of your partner. With no one to fear—one partner’s missteps are easily addressed without malice from either side.

If this bears no resemblance to relationships you’ve shared, there are chances that interactions with previous partners often required complicated mind work, careful analysis of your composure, and often bated breath while waiting for their next words. 

It isn’t always obvious that exchanges with your significant other tend to leave you scared to approach them. However, if you’re often hesitant to respond, or excessively mindful in actions around your partner—this could mean that you tend to walk on eggshells around them.

In this guide, we’ll look into the unhealthy relationship dynamic that compels one person to act overly cautious in the presence of their partner. To ensure that the first signs of this behavior are not missed, we’ll also identify pointers of and ways to deal with a relationship while walking on eggshells.

What Does It Mean to Walk on Eggshells?

The same way an egg demands delicate treatment to avoid cracks in its frame, a person that walks on eggshells around their partner will observe considerable caution to avoid upsetting them. This upset could manifest in angry outbursts, or talking down to a partner in response to a perceived slight. 

In this dynamic, one partner’s mood often swings from happy to mildly annoyed, or even angry at the slightest shift in the other’s tone. This places one partner on shaky grounds at all times, causing them to bend over backward to avoid an imminent complaint or change in mood.

These complaints/mood changes may be spontaneous, excessive, and can stretch on for lengthy periods of time.

A person that causes another to resort to eggshell behavior is often guilty of dishing out emotional abuse, as one partner is placed on needless high alert to the other’s next moves.x

It is a sinister form of control, one that targets the psychological well-being of another while tending to subdue them.

Signs of Walking on Eggshells

Emotional abuse can be covert, making it an easy-to-miss form of partner violence. However, there are stand-out behaviors where one partner tends to tread carefully around the other to avoid trouble.

These signs include:

  • A partner that gets angry at the slightest provocation
  • Angry outbursts and complaints that are often blown out of proportion
  • Verbal disagreements or even assault that become staples of the relationship
  • One partner placed on constant guard around the other
  • The abusive partner’s moods are observed by friends and family alike
  • Fighting or physical blowouts becoming usual events in the relationship
  • Abusive outbursts or treatments that are rarely followed by an apology
  • The abusive partner refusing to take responsibility for the pain caused
  • One partner feeling genuine fear of the other
  • Reduced confidence and sense of self in the partner being abused

Causing others to walk on eggshells is toxic behavior and one that can lead to an endless cycle of mistreatment.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to Deal With an Abusive Relationship

Beyond creating a tense atmosphere between partners, a relationship governed by excessive caution on one person’s part may also increase the risk of developing serious mental health disorders.

Effects of emotional abuse such as the learned fear of one’s partner may lead to conditions like depression and anxiety. This abuse has been the basis of self-esteem issues in victims, and may notably cause feelings of loneliness. In this case, discussing the harm and pain endured in the relationship with others becomes too difficult or even embarrassing to bear.

When dealing with a partner who is a constant source of tension, below are ways to protect and safely extract yourself from the situation.

Communicate With Your Partner 

If your partner recently shifted from being caring, communicative, and receptive to your needs, to the reason you wake up tense from sleep—this change might be something that needs to be discussed as a couple.

This is especially recommended if the switch in behavior is linked to current stressors like an upcoming promotion, or perhaps family difficulties.

Finding a calm moment to share how their reactions affect you and your relationship could help with enforcing a change.

Should they be receptive and apologetic about past behavior, a visit to a couples’ counselor should be recommended to avoid repeating a toxic cycle. This can also help to navigate the trauma of their behavior.

However, if you've attempted to communicate with your partner and your concerns are met with resistance or anger, it’s advisable to consider ending the relationship.

Figure Out Your True Emotional Needs

Breaking things off with a partner—especially one who has been mistreating you can be very daunting.

To clarify the importance of stepping away from an unhealthy relationship, visualizing your ideal partnering can help to set things in motion. 

A partner whose presence doesn’t instill fear, one who is able to handle anger without directing it your way, eager to apologize when wrong, and who is above all kind to you—is a prospect worth pushing for the end of an abusive situation.

Speak to Friends and Family for Support

Because it can sometimes take a village, reach out to friends and family for support if you've decided to leave a toxic relationship.

Whether it’s for help with a place to stay after ending things, or a shoulder to cry on during tough days—added strength from others can soften the strain and strengthen resolve.

Advise Your Partner to Get Professional Help

When a partner chooses to be abusive, victims should feel no obligation towards fixing them. However, if and only if you feel safe enough to do so, suggesting to your partner that they seek help might prevent them from mistreating others in the future.

Speak to a Therapist

The psychological scars left from an emotionally abusive relationship can run deep. Sometimes, support from friends and family may not be enough to aid you in your healing process.

Speaking with a professional can help with navigating the pain and trauma endured in an abusive relationship. In therapy, you can also address any other mental issues that have developed as a result of the trauma and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

A Word From Verywell

Relationships can offer a safe, warm embrace from the craziness of the world. In some cases, however, these pairings can cause the most negative imbalances in your mental and physical well-being. Such situations are unhealthy and unsustainable for any relationship dynamic. If you find that you're in an unhealthy relationship dynamic, there's no shame in seeking therapy.

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Karakurt G, Silver KE. Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and age. Violence Vict. 2013;28(5):804-821. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00041

  2. Copp JE, Giordano PC, Longmore MA, Manning WD. Stay-or-Leave Decision Making in Nonviolent and Violent Dating Relationships. Violence Vict. 2015;30(4):581-599. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.VV-D-13-00176