What you need to know:
- In order to deal with a sulking partner, assess their behaviour and keep from giving in to their sulking. Encourage them to communicate openly, remembering that their behaviour is not your fault.
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 is 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 is definitely up. Or maybe even: ‘If you do not know what is wrong, then I am not going to tell you!’
That comes from the romantic idea that lovers can read each other’s minds. But they cannot, 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 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 are upset, while refusing to address the issues directly.
Sulking often results from past abuse. Or from being raised in a family where one was not allowed to express needs or strong emotions.
Do not ask
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, do not keep asking what is wrong. That just reinforces their behaviour. Instead, say in a friendly way that you will wait for them to talk: ‘I know you are upset, but I do not really understand why. When you are ready to discuss what is bothering you, I will 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 is clear that sulking is not working, your partner will gradually return to normal. And probably sulk less often in future.
Later on, when you are 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 will acknowledge that they are upset, but then leave them alone until they are ready to discuss whatever is 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.
Being with a controlling partner can totally overwhelm your own self confidence and wellbeing. So, if they will not change, it may be better to go your own way.