Hailstorm vs. Turtle
By: Karen
June 25, 2019

The Hailstorm vs. Turtle is an analogy created by Harville Hendrix to explain some of the very different ways a couple can behave and react within a relationship. Considering all the ways two people in a couple can be so very different, it often looks like the result of a divine or cosmic joke. Sometimes it seems as if the power that brought an unlikely couple together just kind of sits back and laughs, telling them to ‘have at it’.

There is a myriad of ways in which couples can be polar opposites or at least very different. While it is easy to believe this represents incompatibility, well managed differences help balance a relationship and enhance the growth of the individuals.

Conflict – Confrontation vs. Avoidance

Hendrix refers to those who maximize conflict as Hailstorms and those who minimize as Turtles. Hailstorms tend react externally, sharing loudly and vehemently in an effort to make their point. Turtles retreat into their shells holding in their reactions and working hard to avoid conflict.

Consider this scenario. Hailstorm is feeling ignored, needs attention, and lets Turtle know straight up. Turtle feels they have been connecting well and having a great afternoon working around the house. Hailstorm then makes it clear they have not been connecting and further they have not finished everything on the list. Turtle senses the storm brewing and retreats head first, then feet and tail, into the shell. The further Turtle retreats, the more anxious and louder Hailstorm becomes.  How does anything ever get resolved?

Processing Styles – External vs. Internal

Differences in handling conflict are often related directly to how individuals process feelings and issues. Some prefer to process externally and immediately. They want to work through things by talking. They have no concern if it goes late into the night. Others process best internally and deliberately. They need to get into their own head before talking it out with a partner.

In an attempt to resolve to a conflict after the storm has calmed down, one partner says, “Let’s get this done. Let’s talk.” The other has been busy recovering from the storm and is not ready to talk about it. “Give me some time to think about it.” The conflict erupts all over again.  Pretty clear which style belongs to Hailstorms and which to Turtles, right?

Recovering Energy – Extrovert vs. Introvert

People sometimes think extroversion means outgoing and introversion represents shyness. In fact, extroverts can be very shy and introverts can be outgoing. In reality introverts and extroverts are differentiated by how they are reenergized. Simply put, extroverts are reenergized by spending time with people and introverts are reenergized by spending time alone. An emotionally and intellectually exhausted extrovert often wants to go to a party. Under the same circumstances an introvert might want to sit quietly or go for a walk alone.

Imagine when a couple comes home in the evening, both a bit worn out from whatever the day brought. Extrovert says, “Let’s talk. Let’s go out to dinner. Want to invite Justin and Sue?” Introvert says, “Please, please, please just give me a minute to myself. “ As you can imagine these extrovert vs. introvert characteristics correlate to the Hailstorm vs. Turtle.  How can the two connect and enjoy the evening?

OK, so now what?

How can these individuals who have chosen or been chosen for each other find peace?  Helping clients navigate differences is a favorite part of what I do. I enjoy working with couples to understand how the differences originated and how they can be managed to the benefit of both.

We examine thoughts and feelings; look at how they translate into behaviors; work through how those behaviors impact the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of the other. After that, we talk about what changes each person is willing and able to make and how those changes might positively impact the patterns established within the relationship. Then the couple does the work. We check progress and add some layers to understanding.

Communication is another important relational aspect that is a favorite of mine. Developing strength in this area is essential to healthy relationships. Effective communication helps bridge the gap created by the differences. (See my blog Effective Communication: A Learned Skill October 31, 2017)  Solid communication skills allow a Hailstorm to express needs without adding the element of emotional chaos letting the Turtle listen without retreat. It can allow the Turtle to explain a need to withdraw for processing and give the Hailstorm ears to hear.

As always, it is a joy to help people thrive individually and in their relationships.