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When It Feels Like You're Walking on Eggshells With Your Partner

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistAugust 04, 2020

Your relationship is tense. So, you work hard to create a positive atmosphere, countering your partner’s negativity and perhaps trying to prevent them lashing out in anger. But no matter how intent you are on creating a happy relationship, you might as well be trying to walk on eggshells without crushing them.

Even if you can avoid upsetting your partner, your efforts probably won’t meet your emotional needs and will inevitably wear you down. Being vigilant about what you say and do is exhausting and leads to self-doubt. Current health and political crises only make the tension worse. So, it’s important to talk about your concerns with your partner (this article might help). 

If the discomfort of talking with your partner is so strong that you prefer not to share your concerns, you need to ask yourself: What does this say about me, my partner, and our relationship?

In reflecting on your reaction, you might realize that your discomfort or fear of talking to your partner is out of proportion to the situation. One common cause of people being excessively worried about their partner’s reactions is their sense that they must earn acceptance and love. This makes them sensitive to feeling rejected. The underlying reason is often that they question whether they are really lovable. If this describes you, then you can improve your relationship by attending to this sensitivity. Work on feeling more positively about yourself, such as by paying attention to your strengths and engaging in activities that make you happy.

If your partner really is negative and critical, consider whether you are willing to continue accepting that behavior. If you are not, consider taking a deep breath and picking a neutral time to talk with your partner about it. Be sure to focus on how it affects you – rather than on what they are doing – because focusing on how terrible they are will only make them defensive.

However, if expect that your partner will respond defensively or even aggressively no matter what you say, you may not want to address your concerns. Maybe you believe the situation is temporary and you can wait it out – such as if your partner is struggling a serious health issue or was recently laid off from work. But if it’s a chronic problem, your relationship needs some help. To improve the situation, you will need to find the courage to address the problem. You might be surprised by your partner’s willingness to admit and work on the issue. If they are not open to it – or you can’t make headway for another reason – then you might consider couples therapy.  

None of this is pleasant. But walking on eggshells as a way of life is no way to live. While we need to be understanding, caring, and forgiving in our relationships, we must also feel that we matter and are valued. The constant vigilance and sense that you must appease your partner at all costs are telling you that there is something seriously wrong in your relationship. As you reflect on what that problem (or those problems) might be, you may realize that it’s time to risk breaking a few eggs.


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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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