What you need to know:
- Both men and women sulk, and your relationship was probably perfectly all right to begin with.
- Often they instantly warm up whenever someone else comes by, but freeze again the moment they go.
Does your partner sulk? Maybe moping for days after being triggered by some chance remark? Right through anniversaries, family celebrations, and expensive holidays?
Sulking is driven by unreasonably sustained anger, and often involves refusing to say what’s really wrong. Your partner thinks you should know without having to be told, so asking, ‘What’s the matter?’ gets the reply ‘Nothing!’ in a tone that says that something’s definitely up. 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 lovers can read each other’s minds. But they can’t, of course!
Both men and women sulk, and your relationship was probably perfectly all right to begin with. But gradually your partner became grumpier. Sulkers typically lie doggo somewhere, put on a pained expression, sigh a lot, and either snap at you or push away every approach, refuse to engage with you or return your affection. Often they instantly warm up whenever someone else comes by, but freeze again the moment they go.
We all need to withdraw emotionally from time to time, but frequent sulking is manipulative, and an insidious form of conflict avoidance. Making it obvious that they’re upset, while refusing to address the issues directly.
Sulking often results from past abuse. Or from being raised in a family where they weren’t allowed to express needs or strong emotions.
But wherever it came from, repeatedly sulking as an adult is a deliberate choice. Your partner might say they have no control over their feelings, but they do. Even when 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’ll wait for them to talk: ‘I know you’re upset, but I don’t really understand why. When you’re ready to discuss what’s bothering you, I’ll be ready to talk about it.’
Until then, carry on as normal. Smile, be pleasant, and stick to your usual routine. Not easy, but completely effective. Because once it’s clear that sulking isn’t working, your partner will gradually return to normal. And probably sulk less often in future.
Later on, when you’re getting along well together again, explain to your partner that their behaviour upsets you. I know that may sound odd, but they may not even realise it. Tell them that every time in future that they freeze you out, you’ll acknowledge they’re upset, but then leave them alone until they’re ready to discuss whatever’s wrong.
Sulking can get so bad that it gradually wrecks your whole relationship. And a partner who sulks often becomes more and more controlling. A good counsellor can improve your skills at dealing with both. And help you decide whether you should stay in the relationship.
Because being with a controlling partner can totally overwhelm your own self confidence and wellbeing. So if they won’t change, it may be better to go your own way.