Encore: Eggshells and Living BIG

Cyndi Doyle talks about eggshells and the conflict they create in law enforcement relationships.


Do you ever feel like you are walking on eggshells at home to avoid conflict in your first responder relationship? The eggshells may grow and layer on top of each other until both people address the conflict AND the eggshells.

We need to learn how to get past those eggshells and what your role and responsibility in creating that for your relationship can be.

React not respond

First responders are conditioned and trained to react and control situations, not to respond. They control a crowd; they control a scene and they’re trained to control and protect what’s going on. They’re protecting themselves; they’re protecting the public.

This reaction doesn’t stop, suddenly, when they get off duty. It doesn’t mean they’re not capable of responding and being flexible in a situation. What it does mean is that the first initial response is going to be to react and possibly control. If you’re accommodating that behavior as a spouse or significant other, you are creating eggshells in your relationship. Enabling the “react not respond” behavior will also cause the brain to continue to engage in that pattern instead of the it realizing that the situation is different when they are at home. First responders need to know they can act differently and be more human at home. We start to see eggshells as something that happens to us as opposed to something that we have the power to change and correct within our relationship.

As spouses, we can make some accommodations. We can understand what’s going on with our spouses. We can understand that there’s some conditioning. We can understand hypervigilance. We can understand a lot of different underpinnings, but that doesn’t give our first responders or spouses a free pass when it comes to their behavior. Neither does our stress or our loneliness as spouses, give us a free pass to behave badly.

Living B.I.G.

In Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong, she talks about living B.I.G. “What boundaries do I need to set and follow, to work and act from a place of integrity so that I extend the greatest generosity when it comes to interpreting others’ intentions and actions.” Let’s apply this concept to eggshells.

She has three keywords that represent big. They are boundaries, integrity, and a generous explanation.


Boundaries teach people how to treat us. We’re not telling somebody how to behave. It’s about knowing our limits and changing our behavior to honor ourselves. If I don’t like how my spouse is speaking to me, I can say, “Hey, I don’t do well in conversations when people are yelling at me, I need to take a time out. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.” When you do this, you are taking responsibility for your behavior. You’re not saying I don’t do well when people are yelling at me. So quit yelling. You’re saying, I’m going to go take a time out. I’ll be back. That gives them time to cool off potentially, but then also allows your fight or flight response to calm down and be able to approach the situation differently.

This might be hard for your spouse to accept. It might be something that you talk about when you’re not having the conflict, but it is a boundary. Setting a boundary can be done at the moment, but it’s important to let people know where your limits are.

An example of what you might say to your spouse when there isn’t a conflict is, “Hey, I understand that you want to know where I am because you see bad shit happen every day. I’m really happy to let you know my plans and I’ll make sure to update you if they change. Just please understand that when you’re texting me multiple times asking where I am, it makes me feel like I’m kind of walking on eggshells or it makes me feel like a kid. It makes me feel like I’m being controlled.” When saying this, a boundary is being set. You have to be able to tell people no, and you have to be able to tell people what you need.


Integrity is showing up as the best version of yourself. You have to honor yourself and know how you could be true to yourself. Think about the example of receiving multiple texts from your spouse. Integrity is saying, “Hey, I want to be respectful of you. I want to respond. I want to honor the fact that you are maybe worried about me and to do that, I need you to understand that this is what I have to do.

Generous explanation

This is a way of giving people grace. It’s thinking about what could be going on for them to be acting or behaving the way they are. When this happens, behavior isn’t personalized. If somebody’s yelling, it’s not because you don’t have the kids quiet, the kitchen cleaned, or you suck as a spouse. Maybe it’s because they are tired. Find the reason for the behavior instead of making the situation personal and accommodating their behavior. When we enable the situation, we create eggshells.

Every behavior has a reason

For first responders, accepting that every behavior has a reason is hard! There has to be a belief that people are doing the best they can, and this can be hard when first responders see people do dumb stuff daily. This concept doesn’t have to extend to all of humanity and society. Start with one small step to extend this idea to your spouse/family/ kids. Work on believing that they are doing the best they can. Every behavior has a reason. Get curious about what is really going on. Instead of reacting to a situation; ask what is going on with the person that I love that is causing them to be this crazy person or what is causing them to not think a certain way. This is a process and it’s going to take some time to get used to it and apply in your relationships.

Let’s talk about it

As a spouse, if you feel like you’re on eggshells, bring it up with your spouse. Don’t blame them, take responsibility. Let them know that you’ve been uncomfortable and apologize for not speaking up and talking about it because it’s not fair to them. If they don’t know these eggshells are happening because of the behavior then they can’t fix them. Communicate with each other and take care of those eggshells. In the moment of the conflict, think of living big. Think about what boundaries you need. Stay true to yourself and give that generous explanation.

When to get professional help

If your spouse does not respond well to your change in behavior or to a conversation about what’s causing the eggshells in your relationship, then you may need some professional help. Be aware of the red flags.

Until next time work on living big in your relationships, work on those boundaries, integrity, and the generous explanation. Remember with that generous explanation, people are doing the best they can. Extend that with just your immediate family right now, and then we’ll work on the rest of humanity.

Brene Brown: Rising Strong


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Encore: Eggshells and Living BIG

Cyndi Doyle talks about eggshells and the conflict they create in law enforcement relationships.