The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines ‘walking on eggshells’ as ‘taking extreme caution’. Other dictionaries add ‘for fear of upsetting someone’. The expression conjures up an image of someone having to be hyper vigilant, always concerned about setting off a dangerous event and, of course, never putting their foot down too firmly.
If you feel that this is the kind of uncomfortable dance you are constantly performing in your relationship, then maybe it is time to communicate more and argue less.
Here are 7 ways to communicate that can reduce the amount of eggshells under your tired feet.
1. Create time and space for each other
The first rule of good communication is making sure it actually happens.
Busy lives make it difficult to be present for each other. Fear of conflict of cause us to use our busy lives as an excuse to avoid communication. But our conflicts don’t go away. If we don’t talk about them in a good way, they will erupt. Which was actually our worst fear anyway…and the reason we walked on eggshells in the first place.
2. Listen more than you speak
One of the most powerful ways to communicate is to listen.
Many arguments bloom from misunderstandings. Misunderstandings start when you don’t listen.
3. Don’t make assumptions, ask
Another very powerful way to communicate is to ask questions.
And the best kinds of questions are ‘open-ended’ questions, questions that don’t push the other person into assumptions you have made without them. For example: ‘What would you like to do tonight?’ as opposed to: ‘When are we going to the cinema?’
4. Don’t accuse or blame, talk about yourself
Find new ways to communicate that start with yourself.
State what is happening with you (‘I feel uncomfortable”) rather than accusing your partner (‘You are always doing this to make me uncomfortable). And by the way, good ways to communicate don’t include the words ‘always’ and ‘never.’ Stay with the current issue, give examples, be precise.
5. Raise issues as they arise
Good communication doesn’t make you wait.
If something happens that bothers you, address it with your partner as soon as you can. Respond with a question, not with an accusation. Listen to the answer. Then you will already know a lot more.
Misunderstandings can be cleared up straight away so that you don’t have to walk on eggshells for days at a time or live in fear of setting off an angry reaction. The earlier you intervene, the smaller the issue usually is. If you wait, the waiting will add on extra issues. And fear. and resentment.
And what if it turns out to be all about nothing? You will have wasted so much time and energy walking on eggshells when you could have danced barefoot in the sunlight.
6. Make sure the issue is resolved
At the other end of the communication process, try not to leave too many matters unfinished.
Of course, a relationship is an ongoing journey, and there is (hopefully) always a ‘next time’ to talk (and listen).But don’t assume that just because you feel that something has been resolved, the feeling is mutual.
Ask, and ask again.Go out of your way to make sure that there is no festering fear or resentment. If you run out of time, arrange the next ‘conversation date’ there and then.
7. Don’t fight to win, fight to understand
Of all the good ways to communicate, this is the most important.
However painful or scary the topic, the person you are talking with is your partner, not your enemy. The goal of your conversation, even if it is about a big conflict, is not to produce a winner and a loser. If that is the outcome, you both lose. The goal is to understand each other and find a way forward together.
Whatever the trouble ahead, throw out the eggshells, plant your feet firmly on the ground, face the music together, and dance!
For further information, please take a look at my specialty page on couples therapy.