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How to deal with a sulky partner

Saturday April 25 2015

Does your partner sulk? Perhaps triggered by

Does your partner sulk? Perhaps triggered by some small remark, and maybe lasting for days? Right through anniversaries and family celebrations? Even expensive holidays? ILLUSTRATION| IGAH 

CHRIS HART
By CHRIS HART
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Does your partner sulk? Perhaps triggered by some small remark, and maybe lasting for days? Right through anniversaries and family celebrations? Even expensive holidays?

Sulking’s a mix of anger and refusing to say what’s wrong. Because your partner thinks you should know without having to be told. So when you ask, “What’s the matter?” you get the reply “Nothing!” in a tone that says there is. Or maybe even: “If you don’t know what’s wrong, then I’m not going to tell you!”

That comes from the romantic idea that true lovers should be able to see deep into each other’s souls. It’s not true, of course!

Both men and women sulk, and your relationship was probably all sweetness and light to begin with. But then the sulking gradually crept up on you. Sulkers typically push away offers of comfort, hide away somewhere, or behind a newspaper or book, put on a look, sigh, and refuse to speak to you or return your affection. Perhaps warming up whenever someone else comes near, but freezing again the moment they go.

We all need to withdraw emotionally from time to time. But frequent, regular sulking’s manipulation. A form of passive-aggressive behaviour. Avoiding conflict by sending “messages” to say “I’m upset” instead of addressing the issues directly.

Behaviour like this can come from verbal or physical abuse in the past. Or being raised in a family where it was impossible to express needs or strong emotions.

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NO CONTROL

But wherever it came from, repeatedly sulking as an adult is a deliberate choice. Even if they say they have no control over their feelings. Or you wonder if you really have done something to offend them.

So don’t keep asking what’s wrong. That just reinforces their behaviour. Instead, say in a friendly way that you know something’s the matter: “I know you’re upset, but I’ve no idea why. When you’re ready to discuss what’s bothering you, I’m ready to talk about it.”

Until then, carry on as normal. Smile, be pleasant, and stick to your usual routines. Not easy – but effective. Because once it’s clear that the sulking’s not working, it’s likely that your partner will gradually return to normal. And sulk less often in future.

Explain to your partner, sometime you’re getting on well, that their behaviour’s upsetting you. I know it sounds odd, but they may not realise that. Tell them the next time they freeze you out, you’re going to acknowledge they’re upset, but then you’ll leave them alone until they’re able to talk.

Sulking can get so bad that it gradually wrecks your whole relationship. Or perhaps your partner’s becoming steadily more and more controlling. A good counsellor can give you some more advanced techniques for dealing with both. And help you decide whether you should stay in the relationship.

A controlling partner can totally overwhelm your own self-confidence and wellbeing. And ultimately the responsibility for fixing their behaviour is theirs, not yours.

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