A definition of the Walking on Eggshells Relationship (Dysregulated Relationship)

In a “Walking on Eggshells” Relationship, one or both partners feel a continuous sense of apprehension about triggering the other’s anger, disapproval, or emotional outburst. This dynamic leads to an atmosphere of tension, where partners become hyper-vigilant about their actions, words, and decisions, aiming to avoid potential conflict. This constant state of anxiety can stem from unpredictable moods, past explosive reactions, or the fear of repercussions from certain topics or disagreements. As a result, genuine communication becomes stifled, as individuals censor themselves and suppress their true feelings to maintain peace.

Over time, this suppression can lead to feelings of resentment, isolation, and emotional exhaustion. The relationship lacks the freedom of expression and security required for healthy relational growth, as partners feel they can’t truly be themselves or address underlying issues.

(This article is part of the series: Unhealthy Relationship Patterns: Categorizing the 21 types)

The Perspective of Partners

Partner Creating the Tension:

  • Perception: May not fully recognize the extent of the tension they create. They might view their reactions as justified or believe that their partner is overly sensitive.
  • Emotions: Might experience frequent irritability, frustration, or feelings of being misunderstood. There could be underlying issues, such as past traumas or emotional regulation challenges, amplifying their reactions.
  • Behaviors: Exhibits unpredictable moods or reactions that can range from coldness to explosive outbursts. Might frequently disapprove of their partner’s actions or words.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that their partner should know better or that their reactions are warranted given certain triggers. They may also feel that it’s their partner’s responsibility to avoid topics or actions that upset them.

Partner Walking on Eggshells:

  • Perception: Feels that they must constantly monitor their behavior, words, and actions to avoid upsetting their partner. They might believe that they’re the primary cause of the tension and that they need to be more careful.
  • Emotions: Experiences continuous anxiety and apprehension about potential conflicts. Over time, might also feel resentment, isolation, and emotional exhaustion from the constant self-censorship.
  • Behaviors: Engages in self-censorship, avoids certain topics, and might suppress genuine feelings or concerns to maintain peace. They may also withdraw or isolate themselves to avoid potential triggers.
  • Rationalizations: They might believe that it’s their duty to maintain peace in the relationship or that they’re responsible for their partner’s reactions. They may also think that if they can just “get it right,” the tension will dissipate.

Is it the Walking on Eggshells Relationship, or something else?

The “Emotionally Dysregulated/Walking on Eggshells” relationship type has overlaps with some other dynamics. Here’s how this type intersects with others and the unique attributes that set it apart:

  1. Emotionally Abusive Relationship: In both dynamics, one partner may employ behaviors that lead to emotional distress in the other. However, in the emotionally dysregulated type, the behaviors often arise from the partner’s inability to regulate their emotions, leading to unpredictability. In contrast, the emotionally abusive type involves consistent patterns of one partner intentionally demeaning or hurting the other for control and power.
  2. Passive-Aggressive Relationship: Passive-aggressive behaviors can also generate an environment where one feels like they’re “walking on eggshells”. Yet, the passive-aggressive dynamic is characterized by indirect expressions of hostility, whereas the emotionally dysregulated dynamic arises from broader unpredictability and volatility, not necessarily hidden aggression.
  3. Coercive and Controlling Relationship: In both types, one partner might feel hesitant about how to act or respond, fearing adverse reactions. However, in the coercive and controlling dynamic, this fear stems from the other partner’s overt attempts to dominate, while in the emotionally dysregulated type, it arises from the unpredictability of the partner’s emotional reactions.
  4. Manipulative Relationship: A manipulative partner might create an environment where the other feels uncertain about reality (e.g., through gaslighting), resembling the feeling of “walking on eggshells”. Yet, manipulative behaviors aim to achieve specific outcomes, whereas the emotionally dysregulated dynamic is rooted in broader emotional instability.

Unique Indicator for “Emotionally Dysregulated/Walking on Eggshells” Type:

The key hallmark of the emotionally dysregulated type is unpredictability stemming from one partner’s unstable emotional state. The other partner often feels anxious, uncertain, or apprehensive about potential emotional outbursts or mood swings, leading to them constantly monitoring their actions and words to avoid triggering the emotionally dysregulated partner. The primary issue is not intentional manipulation or abuse but rather the volatile emotional state of one partner creating a tense environment.