Do You Want The Low-Down On Sulking?

21 Nov 2020

Do You Want The Low-Down On Sulking?

Do you recognise a sulker when you come up against one?  I certainly did not.  That was why I remained married to one for two decades.  Plus, I was used to sulkers – my parents were spectacular sulkers.  In fact, sulking seemed like quite normal behavior in the context of my family

Naturally, I came across sulkers at school.   Even I knew that children sulk –  since young children are helpful enough to explain,  “I’m not talking to you because…”

Still, the knowledge that children sulk only served to mislead me. I imagined that children sulked but adults did not. Somewhere along the line – if you were lucky – you shed childhood, like a skin, and became as wise and perfect as my parents . ( My parents never stopped reminding us chlldren of their grown-up status, and superior wisdom.)

Why would an adult sulk?

Why would an adult sulk?

What need could  these god-like beings possibly  have to sulk?

As it turns out, adults – that is, some adults – have precisely the same need to sulk as children.  They sulk because sulking serves their purpose very effectively.  Sulking serves their purpose because  they may be chronological adults, but they are still emotional children.  “

Older” doesn’t always mean “more mature”.

Talking of” older” but not more “mature”, the wasband (aka the man who once was my husband) was older than me.  Not hugely, but he never failed to remind me of his superior knowledge and experience.

Certainly the wasband did not lack authority. He was a successful professional with a big brain (and a much, MUCH bigger ego).  He was also a champion sulker – but only at home.  Just like my parents, he used sulking to,

  • Control my behaviour.
  • Keep my attention firmly fixed on him. (It can take a lot of time and intelligence to work out what a sulker’s real grievance is.)

The very first time my bright, successful husband embarked on a 3 day sulk, the immediate trigger was my failure to pair his socks for him. Even he must have realized how pathetic he would have sounded if he had said to me, “I’m not talking to you because you’re not a proper wife. You haven’t paired my socks.”  Instead, he instigated The Silent Treatment.

Of course, the wasband could have come out said, “You cannot say, or do X!” But had he done so, he would have risked,

  1. Rebellion
  2. Looking ridiculous – and petty.

After all, I was a feisty, independent woman – on the surface, anyway. 

The power of sulking

When well executed, sulking can be quite an elegant, controlling behavior.  It serves to make the victim of the crime,

  1. Work overtime to try and guess the nature of their crime.
  2. Feel rejected, isolated and worthless.

The use of suspense

Sulkers are masters of suspense. They create it. You suffer with it.

Although not generally known for his politeness, when  the wasband sulked, he was curiously polite – for him.  Sulking allowed him to build up a nice head of steam which he would later unleash in a torrent of emotional abuse.

While the wasband sulked, he would craft the hurtful things he intended to say later. In his own horrible way he was a master of suspense. Sulking allows the sulker to ratchet up the tension for their victim.

Whenever I asked him what was wrong, he’d limit himself to saying: “Nothing”, or, at best, “It’s nothing”. He would utter those words in a very meaningful tone of voice.  That tone let me know that, in his own good time, he would cite chapter and verse at me. (Like all emotional abusers, he had a talent for chapter and verse.) I could never guess what crimes and misdemeanours he would come up with.

All I knew was that when that “nothing” changed to something(s), I really would NOT want to hear what he had to say. There would be a lot of it, it would be very painful to hear, and there would be no getting away from it.  He often stopped me getting to sleep, or woke me up, if necessary.

While I waited, with growing anxiety, for the storm to break, I would try to carry on as normal, in the vain hope that things would go back to what counted in our house as normal.  Of course, they did not. I’d continue to prepare wonderful meals for him. He would sit and eat in stony silence. I would ask him

“Did you like that (meal that I have just spent 2 hours cooking in the vain hope that I can jolly you out of your silence)*?”

“It was fine, thank you.” he’d reply, in a tone that suggested that I may not have been poisoning him with food, but I was poisoning his life in other ways. The “thank you” was meant to show that he, at least, was without fault.

Crazy-making

Sulking is a very effective form of crazy-making.

During his sulking periods, the wasband would only ever speak when spoken to, using as few superficially polite words as he could manage, and wearing his Reproachful Face. That silence served to let me know he was withholding emotional connection because of my awfulness.

His stating that “Nothing” was wrong stood as a nice piece of crazy-making. This was a man who ADORED the sound of his own voice. He kept a wife to talk at. Only a major event could stop him sounding forth.

In his desire to deliver as brutal a rejection as possible, the wasband very pointedly avoided all physical connection, from touching my hand, to even sharing a *bed.  He acted as if I had an exclusion zone around me.  In fact, he was not above sleeping on a floor – fuelled by quite a lot of the contents of our alcohol cabinet.

Even at the time, I was dimly aware (dimly being the operative word) that sleeping on the floor was crazy behavior. Sleeping on a hard floor doesn’t float most people’s boat. He did so not because he was drunk but he drank because he was making some kind of crazy point.

Needless to say, a couple of nights on a floor did little to improve his mood. So, when he had a full head of steam, he would choose his moment and then blow.  (Even when he took himself to the spare room, and slept in a bed, a couple of nights’ sulking still enabled him to build up a quality head of steam.)

The pay-off

Usually, he would start to let off that head of steam by telling me what a terrible mistake he’d made in marrying me – although, sometimes, he’d start right in by announcing that he was divorcing me.

He’d tell me how lucky I was to have him. (Well, I was, wasn’t I? Not everyone can find a man who’s so full of rage that he’d be willing to go off and nurse that rage on a hard floor, rather than talk about things like a rational adult).

He’d work through all of my faults, going right back to the beginning of our history together. I’m not sure how the words ‘fatally flawed’ escaped his attention, but that was more or less how he saw me. And he’d get his pay-off.  He would have the fun (and the ego-boost) of watching me breaking my heart over him, and begging him not to leave, begging him to love me, again.

Sulking sucks.  It is a powerful technique that abusers use, quite deliberately, to keep you feeling powerless and needy. It works so well because it acts to rub salt in the wounds of low self-worth. Sulking also serves to remind the victim of the sulk that there is only one possible supply of love.

Sulking is actually a very attention-seeking. Behaviour. The sulker pretends to ignore you in order to monopolize all of your attention.  In an ideal world, you would leave a sulker to their own devices – permanently, if necessary. In reality, that can be a big ask because the sulker knows exactly how to push your buttons.

The solution to the problem of sulking lies in healing the old wounds that make you vulnerable to a sulker. Once you do that, the sulker loses all of their power over you.

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Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

22 thoughts on “Do You Want The Low-Down On Sulking?”

    • If he goes quiet on you for hours, days, or longer for no apparent reason, with no subsequent explanation or apology, he doubtless is.

      If so, he won’t change and it is unacceptable behavior.

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

      Annie

      Reply
  1. My husband sulks for days and sometimes weeks on end. Just as he can go into a sulk he can also come out of it when it does not attract any attention from me. Is sulking learnt behaviour?

    Reply
    • Difficult one. What you can be sure of is that it is quite infantile behavior. Toddlers seem to master the power of a sulk quite young.

      More important than how it came about is how you respond to it. Ignoring it is an excellent idea. However, the bottom line is that it is unacceptable behavior. Your husband sold himself to you as an adult partner not an emotional toddler. If he can’t show up in the marriage as a grown up, do you even want to be in the marriage with him?

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

      Annie

      Reply
  2. My husband is sulking/ignoring me at the moment. I do know why, it’s because I got drunk the other night and he wants me to give up drinking, despite him drinking every night.
    He has always been like this, he is passive aggressive and will ignore me for days on end if I do something that doesn’t live up to his high standards. He is so childish in that if I walk in to the living room he will get up and walk out! If he absolutely has to communicate with me he will do so through one of our children “ask mum if…etc”
    When he is sulking he makes a point of trying to isolate me by taking the children out all day and not telling me where they’re going!
    I’ve tried so many times to tell him acting like this is very emotionally damaging for me but he does not see he has a problem! His opinion is as long as he doesn’t physically or verbally abuse me all is fine!
    I have got to the point where I feel like giving up, some days I feel so worthless and alone.

    Reply
    • It sounds like giving up on the marriage could be the best thing for everyone concerned.

      You will never feel as worthless and alone as you do in this toxic marriage.

      You and your children deserve better.

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

      Annie

      Reply
    • This is what my partner does. The isolating me from my son is the worst. He is sulking right now. I’ve been dealing with it for years. He has upped the level now with sulking while at the same time being possessive and jealous despite not sleeping with me for over 2 years. Just wish it would end but he won’t leave.

      Reply
      • One of the lessons of abuse that we are all forced to learn, whether we want to or not, is that we have to take charge of our relationships.

        Sometimes that means ending a relationship rather that hoping that the other person will do the honorable thing and “just” leave.

        Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

        Annie

        Reply
  3. This sounds like my husband, only he explodes before the sulk as well as the end of the sulk….I’m on day two of his current sulk over the washing piling up more than usual (me and our young children have been sick for the week) My husband rage cleans on his sulks, even though the cleaning jobs he does aren’t needing doing….I think it’s to prove what a very bad housewife I am for letting the washing pile get too big….Looking forward to hearing all of his other issues with me when the sulk breaks.
    How can he be such a great husband and father and then just snap like this over the smallest thing?
    Thank you for this read, it’s good to know that this is not normal adult behaviour.

    Reply
    • This is not normal behavior. However it is not that unusual where abusers are concerned.

      My guess is that he is constantly proving to himself that he is The Best. He likely does a Best Husband and Dad routine when it suits him. Then, when he flips into his toxic sulks – with rage at both sides (which is really awful) – he flips into showing himself that he is The Best housekeeper and horribly put upon by his incompetent wife.

      Either way, it doesn’t sound like there is really much room for you in the relationship.

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

      Annie

      Reply
  4. I was married to a sulker who would disappear for hours and even make and serve visitors tea and biscuits but not me. For years he used to say ” I should have divorced you for what you did” until one day i replied “well for f…. sake do it”. I eventually left him and have never looked back.

    Reply
  5. My husband sulks and is currently sulking because at the weekend I had a rant about having to do everything the house with little or no support from him or our son. My son apologised and has made an attempt to be more helpful, my husband has completely blanked and ignored me and just goes to bed in the spare room and to work not talking to anyone.

    it drives me crazy but it nice to know that I not alone in this type of relationship but I really want to scream at him and tell him to grow up!

    Reply
  6. Yes, it is horrible to be on the receiving end of passive-aggressive abuse. The silent treatment and sulking can bring even the most reasonable person to tears. It’s painful not being spoken to for weeks on end and even worse not having your existence acknowledged. In my case my husband’s sulking, brooding, and silent treatment grow worse over the holidays. Year after year he backs out of helping me even though he promises to do so. And like clock work he sits in his chair and sulks while I do the work of two people. He won’t answer the doorbell, won’t let the dog out while I’m busy cooking, won’t set out chairs when asked, won’t serve beverages to guest, and won’t help bring food to the table. He doesn’t even come to the table when I announce dinner is ready. Every year one of us has to get up from the table to tell him personally dinner is being served. I thought he could at least participate in New Year’s Eve by calling the restaurant to book reservations but year after year he claims he “forgot” or he calls the restaurant on the day of New Year’s Eve when no tables are available. And all of this is compounded by the fact he’s been stonewalling for years about making much needed repairs to our home. It’s difficult having guests under these circumstances and I always hope they understand I did my best within my powers. Rather than partnering with a husband, I feel like I’m working with a disgruntled employee who obstructs progress.

    Reply
    • You are working with a disgruntled, sulky child.

      To me, the question has to be what is the point of staying in this relationship?

      Warm wishes for your healing and happiness,

      Annie

      Reply
  7. Hi Annie,

    My story is similar, but different. I was married to a woman for 10 years and we had two daughters.

    We have been divorced since 2012 because of her sulking. She sulked for the whole time I was with her. I thought she would grow out of it, but it only got worse as life took hold. She would sulk for days, if not weeks, and it eventually got to the point where I she snapped out of one of her sulks with threats of divorce. I had enough and made that wish come true.

    Anyway, my youngest daughter moved in with me, while my eldest moved in with her. My eldest daughter has decided to move in with me, and you can now guess what she’s like.

    I now have a daughter who is the same. What do I do now? I can’t walk away from her. Do you have any advice?

    Reply
    • Very hard.

      You can’t walk away from your daughter. However, you can set some ground rules about what is and is not tolerable behavior.

      You don’t say how old she is and this is important.

      Your daughter has learnt from her mother that sulking is effective behavior. She has to learn from you that sulking is the most effective way of NOT getting what she wants. Hopefully, she is young enough to learn that.

      Reply
  8. I’m 72, and after 50 years am so sick of this Jekyll and Hyde behaviour, sulking to me and so pleasant to others (fake).
    I don’t care any more because his controlling does not affect me any more. This makes him really mad, and he goes into himself even more. Also starts cleaning, dusting ironing with a sour look on his face, ignoring me. He’s 75, and rarely happy anymore. Do they ever grow up?

    Reply
    • Since he hasn’t until now, there is not a cat’s chance in hell that he will, sadly. The only small upside is that at least he does a bit of housework.

      Reply
  9. One of my husband’s fetishes is that he wants me to sleep with another man so he feels good. He sulks when I tell him I’m not really interested and am more interested in getting to know him and raising my daughter. It doesn’t do anything for me. I’ve joked around with him about it but never really wanted to actually do it – still he persists and when I was honest and told him how I really felt – later that night he got upset for no reason – went to his office and told me he wasn’t upset but sulking – and he said he was sulking about me telling him I wasn’t comfortable and that I threw him off and he was getting so excited over the idea etc.etc. – I was like there’s something wrong with you. Anyways we are newly married – it was fast and I’ve noticed since coming together he gets sulky and upset when I don’t do what he wants me to do – I was independent and single for 3 years with my daughter and happy. So I just walk away when he acts like that and he always comes back and tells me how much he lives me and wants to be with him – once I noticed a repetition in his behavior I started walking away – I do not feel like I have to put up with it – do you have any advice for me? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Leave. This is absolutely not OK.

      He is trying to coerce you into having sex against your will.

      For all you know, this could be the start of something even worse – even pimping you out to his “friends”.

      This is not an acceptable basis for a relationship and it certainly does not sound like a loving one on his side.

      Reply

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