Being in a ‘sulk’ means, according to the Collins English dictionary, “to be silent and resentful because of a wrong done to one…to brood sullenly.”
All of us will have been on the giving or receiving end of a sulk at some point in our lives. I feel it is a natural response for a child to sulk if they felt thwarted, angry or hurt as it is a reasonably safe acting out of displeasure. Sulking serves to inform others of their displeasure, and as an unspoken plea for attention. Sulking however, makes everyone miserable and does not solve the original issue.
What happens though when this naturally occurring behaviour carries on into adulthood? Do you sulk when your partner upsets you, or vice versa? How does this behaviour impact on relationships? Let’s unpack the dynamics of what can be behind the scenes of sulking behaviour:
1. The Sulker has learned that emotionally removing themselves from people and situations should earn them some attention at some point.
2. The Sulker is attempting to punish the Sulkee(s) who caused the upset.
3. The Sulker wishes to be ‘chased’ by the Sulkee to get them out of the sulk and to make it all better.
4. The Sulker has a sense of control as they get to choose when they emerge from their funk.
1. The Sulkee may or may not know what sin they have committed to cause the sulk.
2. The Sulkee is often a people pleaser who will try to coax the Sulker out of the sulk by bribery or being extra nice, often asking ‘What’s wrong?’ only to be brushed off by the Sulker.
3. The Sulkee may try to brush over and ignore the sulking event (potentially risking a deeper sulk).
4. The Sulkee will often feel that they are at fault for the sulk whether they are or not.
Essentially, sulking is a passive-aggressive behaviour which is a way of telling someone you are displeased but not actually discussing the matter. It is punitive and frankly, emotionally immature.
If your partner is a Sulker, then the best way around this is to name what is happening and to ask them to talk about what is happening for them. For example, “You seem to be upset as you haven’t spoken for the last 3 hours. Shall we talk about it?” It is up to them if they wish to discuss what is going on. If they continue with this behaviour however, then it is time to state how you feel. “Look, I understand you are upset. From my end it is hard work living with someone who shuts me out for hours/days at a time, and I would like to look at different ways to communicate than having this going on and on. What shall we do about this?”
If YOU are the sulker, then the answer lies in risking vulnerability and telling your partner how you are feeling, instead of shutting them out. You will both benefit from this, give it a try!