We all know this phrase - but what does it really mean?
If you find yourself watching what you say or being careful with your facial expressions around another person for fear of upsetting them - you are "walking on eggshells" around them. It literally means being careful not to break the eggshell you are metaphorically walking on, which a very difficult thing to do and takes a lot of effort.
It is very different from not wanting to upset another person, we are usually mindful of others' feelings and wouldn't want to upset them. But there are people who are so unpredictable, we don't know what will provoke them and so we "walk on eggshells". This takes additional effort and energy to do and creates anxiety within us. This behaviour doesn't happen overnight, it's a learned behaviour.
It also means you cannot be yourself around that person and you have become unable to create boundaries or express yourself openly. Over time, this effects your self-esteem and you my even begin to think differently as well as behave differently. This is a dangerous indicator in a relationship and limiting contact is a way to reduce the harmful impact on you. This isn't always easy to do if the person is a member of your family or someone at work. But you may be able to appeal to someone else to explain what's happening.
If your romantic partner is the one you have to walk on eggshells around, try to gently explain that their unpredictable reactions are causing you stress. This may seem like a risky strategy, but it could be a temporary phase of increased stress which has caused them to behave out of character. A wake up call explaining the impact they are having on you may be enough to break the tension.
However, more often than not, it is an indication of an abusive relationship. We all deserve and need to be able to relax and express ourselves freely. If this isn't happening, something is wrong. Couples therapy isn't always the answer in this situation because abuse typically happens outside of the therapy room, not inside it. Exploring the issue may ignite more abuse and suffering for you.
Focus on yourself and, if this is a pattern you have seen in your previous relationships - remember:
You don't attract them, you tolerate them.
Ask yourself why you are tolerating this situation. Do you believe they will change, do you make excuses for them, do you believe love is enough, do you put their needs before your own? You can change the situation by focussing on yourself and not the other person. Gradually bring yourself back to the person you want and need to be.
Don't engage in arguments - walk away until things calm down
Spend more time with supportive people
Don't blame yourself - this behaviour is not happening because of you, despite what you are being told
Ask them calmly what's wrong and if there is something they need to do
Don't try and fix it for them
You may need to be ready to walk away from this type of relationship if things don't improve. You are not being selfish to want to look after yourself, grow and thrive. The more you focus on meeting your own needs you will find the clarity you need to make a decision and see it through. Individual therapy will also help speed up the process to get back to yourself and take action.