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Walking on Eggshells


Millions of people walk on eggshells in their love relationships. Partners are in constant dread that the other will set them off – push their buttons – or make them feel disregarded, rejected, unattractive, incompetent, inadequate, or afraid.

The most insidious aspect of living with an angry or abusive partner is not the obvious nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behavior. It’s the adaptations you make to try to prevent those painful episodes. You walk on eggshells to keep the peace or a semblance of connection. Women are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of walking on eggshells due to their greater vulnerability to anxiety. Many brave women engage in constant self-editing and self-criticism to keep from “pushing his buttons.” Emotionally abused women can second guess themselves so much that they feel as though they have lost themselves in a deep hole. Emotionally abused men tend to isolate more and more, losing themselves in work or hobbies or anything but family interactions.

Start the healing process by taking the Walking on Eggshells Quiz

Please put a check mark next to your answer.

I am anxious, nervous, or worried about my partner’s:

Attitude or moods___







Gestures (like finger-pointing)___

Cold shoulders­­­___


Part II

I edit my thoughts before I speak and second-guess my behavior before I do anything, in fear that it might “set my partner off” or cause “the silent treatment.”___

My partner is fine one minute and into a tirade the next, all seemingly over nothing or about the same thing over and over.___

I feel tense when I hear the door open or when my partner comes into the room.___

Sometimes when I walk by my partner, I feel my shoulder tense, until we get past one another.___

I feel that that nothing I do is good enough.___

Our relationship is in a cold stand-off (disagreements are minimal, but there’s a chilly wall between us).___

It seems like defensiveness and other reactions to my partner are on “automatic pilot,” like they just happen on their own.___

I frequently feel stomach distress – a pit in my stomach – and muscle aches that have little to do with physical exertion___

Total Score (add all the check marks)___

Any score indicates that there is too much tension in your household.

5-10 or above indicates that in your efforts to tiptoe around someone else’s moods, in the hope of avoiding blow-ups, put-downs, criticism, disgusted looks, sighs of disapproval, or cold shoulders, you unconsciously edit what you say. To some extent, you second-guess your judgment, ideas, and preferences about how to live. You might even begin to question what you think is right and wrong.

11 or above: You probably have a vague feeling, at least now and then, that you’re losing yourself. Your perceptions of reality and your sense of self are changing for the worse. You may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, or stomach aches.

Recovery from walking on eggshells requires removing focus from repair of your relationship and your partner and placing it squarely on your personal healing. The good news is that the most powerful form of healing comes from within you. You can draw on your great inner resources by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner does. It will give you the strength to seek a relationship in which you are valued and respected.