There’s a term a lot of my clients use when they express frustration at their partner’s perceived overreactions to every little thing they do—they call it walking on eggshells. It can be a pain in the ass to feel like you have to watch everything you say, and makes many people wonder whether they even want to be in the relationship anymore, because it suddenly requires so much more effort.
I’ve worked through a lot of this in my own relationship, and having subsequently watched some couples work through it themselves, I want to offer my perspective.
Be compassionate towards yourself in relationship
First, I’d like to say that being in a pairing with another person is the most complicated and nuanced dance that you will ever have to learn to do well. There are an infinite amount of moves you need to learn to expertly navigate fights and arguments and differences of opinions with your partner. So be easy on yourself; this is naturally difficult. We are naturally very sensitive to the ways our partners provide feedback. We’re in a bind: we want autonomy, and to be who we are, but at the same time we care for our partners and we have to take responsibility for the impact we have on them. It’s a lot to manage. So offer yourself some compassion in that regard.
Relationships require consistent emotional work from both parties
You can feel a lot more empowered in your relationship if you navigate it as though, with time, you are getting better and better and defusing the emotional bombs that are ticking away within both yourself and your partner. It’s a bit of an intense metaphor, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration. We have a lot of compartmentalized pain, wounding, and trauma that lives within us, and we need to learn how to defuse it. To calm it, and ensure it doesn’t explode all over us and our partners in unexpected ways.
This is a journey in many ways, to learn how to work internally on the ways in which we have felt hurt, abandoned, disrespected, and underappreciated by others throughout our lives. Everyone has their own cocktail of that, and for many of us, it’s a lifetime of work to learn how to understand and work with that so that we can properly track it during a relationship.
As if that isn’t enough on its own, in a relationship there’s also the task of learning how to defuse the bomb that is your partner’s emotional charges, and to navigate the triggers they have, particularly in states of stress. You have to learn how to notice when they aren’t feeling safe, or when they’re potentially feeling triggered by something you’ve said or done.
These things aren’t about walking on eggshells. They’re about learning how to be with the person you’re with, and adapt your behaviors to help them as best as you can. It’s on you to figure out if it’s worth it to you to adapt for the good of your partner’s feelings and your relationship, or if you want to uphold your right to yell across the room if you want to, when you want to.
Listen, don’t assume
A common argument or fight that couples have revolves around a sense of underappreciation. What I typically see in response to that is something along the lines of, “Oh my God, I’m always appreciating you!” There’s a deflective response, naturally, from the other person.
Consider what it would be like to actually hear that feedback. There’s something about the way your partner is responding that shows you, you don’t know how to get inside their internal world and make them actually feel appreciated.
You may have said it, or mentioned it in passing, but you haven’t made it your intention to make them feel it in their bones, so that they can relax and feel confident in the knowledge that you do actually appreciate them the way they want – or need – to be appreciated.
Trust your partner’s intentions
Another common argument stems from two partners’ differing values – political, ecological, economical, you name it – we often have very different values than our partners, and we need to be able to have conversations about them without bombs going off. The framework I invite you to try on is not easy, but it can change your relationship: actively and intentionally set aside your grip on your own values, and what you think is important. Own the fact that you don’t know everything. Accept that your partner may be driving at something useful and truthful behind their apparently-absurd value system.
This isn’t easy. We want to hold ourselves to our sense of what is true and what we believe we know to be facts. We need to set this aside, and allow our curiosity to come through instead of denial or frustration. Ask your partner how they can help you understand their perspective. And then really listen to their response, with the intention of understanding them, rather than the intention of telling them why they’re wrong. Then, let it rest.
This is another high level practice – the ability to say thank you to your partner for sharing their perspective, and just letting it rest there, without coming back to argue about it. Especially in particularly charged situations, it can help your partner to feel like you’re not trying to argue with them. Even if you disagree, you aren’t just waiting for them to be done speaking so that you can fire back and counter their point with your own.
To restrain yourself in this way is one of the hardest things to do.
One of the best ways to work through these difficult conversations, and to help both yourself and your partner feel heard, seen, and understood, is to proactively move towards your partner and really get their perspective. And not only that, but you have to help them feel that you actually get it. From there, they will be in a much better place to actually be able to move forward productively, without these high-level emotions running through the air between you.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into this work and eliminate walking on eggshells once and for all, reach out to me and schedule a call: https://ryanginn.com/contact/