It’s an unassuming weeknight and you’re slowly unpacking from a long day at work. There’s no plans for the evening besides a quiet night in together. Maybe a glass of wine, some take-out, and some quality, relaxing adult time.
Unfortunately, your partner has come home in a ‘mood’.
After so long together, you’re pretty finely attuned to their ups and downs. You can read the subtle (or not so subtle) signs: the look in their eyes… the tone of their voice… the ever-so-slight tension in their body.
You can’t help but wonder:
“Have I done something?”
You don’t want to make matters worse, so you begin ‘managing’ the situation… you start walking on eggshells.
- Choosing your words carefully.
- Bending over backwards to keep things ‘light’ and cheery.
- Overcompensating with ‘niceness’ – from a sickly sweet tone of voice, to forcing a smile that you don’t genuinely feel.
You’d like to think you’re effortlessly nailing this charade. But deep down you know you’re coming across awkward as fuck.
And because you’re all weird and awkward, they’re even more weird and awkward too.
Suddenly the whole night is spiralling out of control and you’ve barely said ten words to each other.
You either end up arguing for reals, or shutting down and walking away.
Grabbing that bottle of wine you sit by yourself on the couch, scrolling social media and ignoring your partner completely.
You both feel like shit, and you both feel totally alone.
Walking On Eggshells Happens In Every Relationship
This whole scenario sucks, right? Yet some version of it plays out in almost every relationship.
On one hand, your heightened sensitivity to your partner is a good thing:
It allows you to know and relate to each other better than anyone.*
When that attunement’s working and you’re in flow, you’re like a beautiful, bad-ass synchronized swim team.
On the other hand, that same sensitivity can make it really challenging to be around each other sometimes.
That feeling of walking on eggshells puts you in full fight-or-flight mode. The stress and anxiety fries your nerves and hurts both you and your relationship.
Because here’s the thing – you’re not as good at reading your partner as you think you are. People in relationships misread and misunderstand each other far more than they realise.*
So what can you do to stop walking on eggshells, and avoid a whole heap of unnecessary drama?
To put it simply – you create a strategy that works. Or as we like to say – a set of Agreements.
A Blueprint For Ditching The Drama
We have Agreements for all sorts of things in our relationship:
Walking on eggshells became an annoying occurance in our relationship, so we created a set of Agreements for that too.
On the surface, ‘Agreements’ might sound kinda rigid or restrictive.
But they’re more like a how-we-play-this-game instruction manual. They help us avoid the unnecessary anxiety of walking on eggshells, and instead lay out a simple blueprint to avoid arguments and drama.
So instead of feeling boxed in or restricted by these agreements, we actually feel more free.
We now use Agreements on the regular, and they work miracles for our couples clients too.
So if you’re tired of walking on eggshells, here’s our 7 Agreements to ditch the drama and handle it like a boss.
stop walking on eggshells #1:
We Agree to Hold Ourselves To A HIGHER STANDARD
First, we agree that the whole walking-on-eggshells scenario painted above totally sucks and is counter-productive to the relationship we want. It’s a terrible strategy that harms our relationship, so we commit to finding a better way.
Essentially this means that we agree to change our behaviour. That we hold ourselves (and each other) to a higher standard, even when it’s hard.
We know that we might not always get this right – and that’s OK. But we make the commitment to try anyway.
stop walking on eggshells #2:
We Agree that ALL FEELINGS ARE WELCOME
There’s space in our relationship for #allthefeels. No one is made to feel ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. Or that ‘there’s something wrong with them’ simply because they’re feeling normal human emotions.
How does this help?
If one of us is in a mood, we agree that we don’t have to hide it or feel ashamed. We can speak openly about it, and we know it will be held with compassion and empathy.
And if we’re on the receiving end of a mood, we make the effort to not walk on eggshells and get all weird about it. ‘Cause it’s OK. All the feels are welcome.
stop walking on eggshells #3:
We Agree To Simply ASK
When we notice that something might be going on for our partner, rather than walking on eggshells, we agree to tackle it head on.
Instead of tiptoeing around each other, making up stories in our head about what their problem might be, or what we might’ve done… we straight out ask a question:
- “Are you upset with me?”
- “Is there something wrong?”
- “Have I done something?”
- “Are you OK?”
This is both allowed and encouraged.
Because if you want a high-functioning relationship, you have to agree to be direct and face challenges head-on.
stop walking on eggshells #4:
We Agree That It’s Not An ACCUSATION
When we ask one of these direct questions, we agree to not see it as an insult or an attack.
They’re not ‘having a go’ at us. They’re not insinuating that there’s something wrong with us for having feelings. (Remember – we’ve already agreed that All Feelings Are Welcome.)
Why is this important?
Think about a time that your partner questioned you about your mood.
Did it feel like you were being attacked? Like it was an inquisition? Like they were hassling or ‘picking’ at you?
Here’s the thing – shitty moods are uncomfortable to feel. And having them pointed out to you – especially by your partner – can be especially uncomfortable.
We often mistake a question for an attack because deep down we feel ashamed of our ‘ugly feelings’.
We think we shouldn’t have feelings like anger, sadness, shame, or defeat.
And if it’s difficult for you to accept your shitty feels, it’s a stretch to believe that your partner accepts them.
So as hard as it can be in the moment, we do our best to remember that our partner’s questions are motivated by love. They’re asking because they genuinely care about us.
Which means we don’t need to be defensive, we just need to breathe and uphold the next agreement…
stop walking on eggshells #5:
We Agree To Be HONEST
Sometimes, what we’re feeling will have nothing to do with our partner:
You had a crappy meeting at work, you’re stressing about money, or you’re just having one of those days.
Other times, you are annoyed with them:
- You asked them 5 times and they still didn’t take out the trash.
- They said something in front of your friends that you felt embarrassed and hurt by.
- Maybe they didn’t return your texts and you started to get worried.
Whatever it is, we agree to speak the truth.
Is it something outside your relationship? You can simply name it and put your partner’s mind at ease. No walking on eggshells necessary.
If it is something inside the relationship, we agree that it’s OK to speak about it. As uncomfortable as this is, saying ‘it’s nothing’ when it’s really something doesn’t help. You gotta own that shit.
This doesn’t mean you have to talk about it there and then. If you’re not ready, be honest about that too. You have the right to choose when you unpack something. You don’t want to leave your partner hanging for days, but you also don’t have to rush your own process.
Be brave, speak your truth.
stop walking on eggshells #6:
We Agree To TRUST THEIR RESPONSE
We agree to trust (and respect) each other’s response, and let go of the second guessing.
If they say it’s not about us, we believe them.
If they say they’re totally fine, we don’t keep asking.
This takes a leap of faith – especially in the beginning. Radical honesty and transparency is not how most couples do relationship. People often say everything’s fine when in reality there’s some serious shit going on.
Remember that you’ve agreed to be honest – even when it’s difficult.
If your partner finds it challenging to be transparent (because yeah, it’s scary), it’s not your responsibility to elicit the truth. Whatever their response, it’s OK to stop walking on eggshells. You’ve taken your share of responsibility by checking in. What they chose to do with that is up to them. (This is also known as having healthy boundaries.)
Practiced over time, this will become second nature. The more you share truthfully, the more you build trust. And the more trust you build, the safer it becomes to share openly.
stop walking on eggshells #7:
We Agree To COLLABORATE
If we ask a question and there’s nothing ‘wrong’, this part is easy. We stop walking on eggshells and go about our evening. Safe in the knowledge that everything’s OK.
If there is something wrong but it has nothing to do with us, we collaborate.
One person offers support: “That sounds like it sucks. Is there anything I can do?”
And the other person asks for what they need, whatever that looks like:
- Sometimes we want to vent.
- Sometimes we need alone time to decompress.
- Or maybe we just want to move on and forget all about it.
Either way, there’s no guessing or failed attempts at mind reading. We simply agree to give clear directions and to respect each other’s needs.
But what if your mood is about your partner? That icky uncomfortableness that you were both trying to avoid all along?
Navigating this territory requires its own strategy and agreements – which is more than a single blog can cover. ‘Cause conflict in relationships ain’t simple. (If this is the part you find difficult, keep reading. There’s some important next steps for you.)
Ultimately, the strategy is the same: take responsibility for your feelings, own what you need, and communicate clearly.
Collaboration is possible, even in times of conflict.
➜ RELATED: Be A Better Husband By Avoiding These 21 Common Mistakes
No More Walking On Eggshells
Couples walk on eggshells when they’re scared of facing the elephant in the room.
And while it might seem like a good strategy, it ends up creating more problems than it solves. It stresses you out. It strains your relationship. And far too often, it creates drama when there’s no actual problem to begin with.
The power of these Agreements is that they filter out the unnecessary conflicts from the necessary ones:
- They prevent second-guessing, misinterpretations and misunderstandings.
- They remove tension, clear the air and stop you from having to ‘manage’ each other.
- And they can spark deep, important conversations.
The conversations that move your relationship forward, grow you as individuals and deepen your connection.
You miss these opportunities when you don’t have a reliable strategy.Sure, these agreements are only a small piece of the puzzle. In some ways they’re just the first step before the real work begins. Because you still need to know:
- how to have difficult conversations in a way that makes you both feel heard and understood.
- How to manage your anxieties around upsetting your partner, or doing something ‘wrong’.
- How to take responsibility for the impact you have on each other, and how to repair any damage that’s been done.
But there is hope.
Because they’re all learnable skills, and it’s what we teach couples in our Rockstar Relationship program (more on that below).
These Agreements are an essential step in the right direction. A step towards each other, instead of away from.
If walking on eggshells is causing anxiety and stress in your relationship, talk with your partner about it. Decide on a strategy for how to handle those tense moments. And get brutally honest about whether it’s time to upgrade your conflict management skills.
Because having an effective strategy doesn’t just ditch the drama, it deepens emotional intimacy and creates more connection between you.
And that’s worth breaking a few eggshells over.
If you’re ready to ditch the drama and create a relationship that rocks…
No matter how long you’ve been together, we’re here to help. Rockstar Relationship is our personalised 6 month program where we help couples navigate the tough stuff and get back to a relationship that feels fun and easy again. More depth, more passion, more connection.
If you and your partner would like to find out how Rockstar Relationship could work for you, click here to book in a time for a free chat.
Reece Stockhausen & Jodie Milton have made improving people’s lives and relationships both their passion, and their career. With over 25 years experience in the Personal Development industry, and 9 years coaching singles and couples, their no-BS advice has been featured in Today, The New York Times, Yahoo!, Insider, Cosmopolitan, and Men's Health.
Book in for a complimentary online video call to discover how their men's, women's, and couple's coaching programs can support you.