Walking On Eggshells? How To Improve Communication In Your Relationship

Updated June 14, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

When you're around your partner, do you sometimes struggle to be yourself, express your feelings, or assert your boundaries? Do you have to tiptoe around your partner's feelings? Are you worried about offending or angering them constantly? That's "walking on eggshells," or when a person needs to carefully watch what they say or do around their partner.

Not only is walking on eggshells unpleasant and difficult to manage, but it can also cause further damage to the relationship. In some relationships, walking on eggshells is a sign that the relationship is damaged beyond repair, but in others, the relationship can be improved considerably by introducing healthy communication. If your partner is willing to work on communicating productively, your relationship can gain new skills that remove the need for you to micromanage your words and actions.

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Can't speak up around your partner?

Know why you're treading lightly

Everyone tiptoes around their partner at some point or another. Everybody needs space sometimes, and occasionally choosing to give your partner space or bring up a concern at a more appropriate time isn't the same as walking on eggshells. However, your partner needs to be able to set boundaries and appropriately ask for space. If you're constantly worried that something you say or do will upset or offend them, you're walking on eggshells.

Let's discuss the hard stuff first. Not every relationship where one partner walks on eggshells around the other can be repaired, nor should it be. If you are walking on eggshells because you are worried your partner may physically injure you, demean you, or manipulate you, it is absolutely essential to take time to consider if your happiest and most effective option is to exit the relationship.

If you feel that your safety and well-being are not at risk, it's time to consider codependency. The terms "walking on eggshells" and "codependency" are often used together, sometimes even interchangeably, but they are not the same. Walking on eggshells does not automatically mean you are in a codependent relationship. However, if you're walking on eggshells every day, it does indicate that you cannot express boundaries, share feelings, and solve problems comfortably in your relationship.

Codependent relationships occur when one partner emotionally and psychologically relies on their significant other to feel happy, secure, and safe. Walking on eggshells is part of this; if your partner is the key to your personal security, you're more likely to avoid arguments and defer your boundaries.

Take time for reflection and introspection. Compare your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to the common signs of a codependent relationship below. Do they describe you?

  • You feel uncomfortable being without your partner.
  • You avoid disagreements or arguments.
  • You do things you would prefer not to do.
  • You regularly put your partner's needs before your own.
  • You neglect your wants and needs or feel guilty when prioritizing yourself.
  • You feel like you cannot make decisions or have no power in the relationship.
  • You feel unappreciated and unseen.

If the descriptions of codependency above resonate with you, it is worthwhile to devote additional time to considering the possibility that you are in a codependent relationship.

A relationship rooted in codependency is likely challenging to improve until your codependency is addressed. The best approach to managing codependency is often to work with a mental health professional. The cause of codependent thoughts and behaviors is often deeply rooted, and dealing with the cause is usually much easier and quicker with the help of a therapist.

If severe problems like abuse and codependency are not present in your relationship, communication can likely be improved. Good communication has long been associated with high-quality relationships; improving it is necessary for you to stop walking on eggshells.

Understanding communication styles

Researchers generally group communication into three styles that describe a person's communication in conflict. Low-stakes communication, or communication in which there is no disagreement, problem to solve, or issue to address, is generally not something that carries a lot of risks. Walking on eggshells is usually reduced or absent when communicating about easy-to-discuss topics. When conflict arises, however, people tend to adopt one of these communication styles:

Passive communication

People who communicate passively tend to avoid conflict if possible. This is the "walking on eggshells" form of communication, where a person struggles to assert their position or set a boundary. They may struggle to bring up issues and leave the relationship rather than address them.

Aggressive communication

People who communicate aggressively stand up for their own position without much regard for the other person's feelings. This is the polar opposite of walking on eggshells and can be extremely harmful to a relationship. Shouting, anger, and other forms of aggression are ineffective ways to communicate.

Assertive communication

People who communicate assertively speak directly and calmly while communicating compassion. Assertive communication is clear, respectful, and considers the thoughts and feelings of the other person.

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Can't speak up around your partner?

Making communication assertive

Assertive communication is compassionate communication. Good communication is never about who "wins" the argument; it is about two people seeking to understand the viewpoint of the other. 

Communicating well means focusing more on yourself than your partner. You are responsible for maintaining a calm demeanor and taking note of your partner's words and actions. Your partner needs to do the same. Communication is two-sided; it requires both parties to be dedicated to compassionate discussion.

Experts recommend four steps to initiate compassionate communication:

Disengage from reactivity

Take a time-out before engaging in communication. If you are upset or angry, this is an essential step, but even if you feel calm, taking time to center your feelings can help. Difficult discussions bring their own emotional weight, and coming to the conversation calmly will help you stay that way.

Practice self-compassion

Take time to understand your feelings and needs. If you're worried, angry, or upset about a problem in the relationship, take time to show yourself the same compassion you want to receive from your partner. Turn your attention to your own vulnerabilities and insecurities to better understand the source of your feelings.

Practice compassion for your partner

Turn your attention to the vulnerability of your partner. Do you know, for certain, their side of things? Are you confident of the way they will react to your attempt at communication? Take time to try to understand things from your partner's perspective. If you're bringing up a difficult topic or setting a boundary, try to imagine what their initial reaction will be.

Know what's important to you

What do you want to get out of the conversation? Examine your core values. Do you want changed behavior, emotional support, or just to be heard? Knowing what your partner can do to meet your needs will help you communicate with them constructively and positively.

Good communication is essential in a relationship. However, partners may communicate differently. Learning to understand your partner and communicate in a way that resonates with them is a foundational component of compassionate communication.

If you approach your partner in a calm, compassionate, assertive manner, it is unlikely that they will reject your attempt at communication. If you can't initiate communication with your partner after multiple attempts, they may not be invested in the process. At this point, it is likely your needs will not be met.

You deserve to have your needs met in your relationship, as does your partner. If you need a lot of verbal communication, and your partner needs very little, asking them to communicate at your level might not be something they are willing to do. 

That doesn't make them a bad person, but it does indicate that you and your partner may not have the compatibility for a romantic relationship. It's scary and unpleasant, but it may be time to move on if you have tried repeatedly to communicate and have been unsuccessful.

How can online therapy help?

If you're unsure about your relationship or your ability to communicate within it, online therapy can help. Visiting a therapist online makes it easier to access therapy than visiting in-office. You don't have to travel to a physical location and aren't restricted to therapists nearby. If you and your partner are dedicated to improving communication, you can work with a therapist together to make the process easier. Online therapists carry the same credentials as those you see in person and use the same evidence-based tools, like the Gottman Method. Although these techniques are administered online, they are just as effective as when used in office settings.

Takeaway

You don't have to walk on eggshells forever; communication between romantic partners can often be improved. However, both partners must be dedicated to the process. If your relationship has other, more severe problems, like abuse or codependency, it is essential to address them before attempting to improve communication. Good communication is based on compassion, respect, and understanding, and your partner must be willing to commit to compassionate communication for your relationship to improve. 

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