“The more I tried to get him to respond to me, the more he retreated into silence.”
People react to conflict in one of two ways: by Minimizing or Maximizing their energy. Under stress, Minimizers tend to hold in their reactions, containing their energy deep inside. Conversely, when Maximizers are anxious, they tend to express themselves loudly to whoever is in hearing range. In Imago, we call the Minimizer the Turtle and the Maximizer the Hailstorm. All of us are both, but one response is dominant and the other recessive when we experience conflict. And of course, given our unconscious attraction toward opposites, Turtles and Hailstorms fall in love – which becomes problematic later on in the relationship.
This is the unconscious voice inside the Hailstorm: “I’m going to make my partner give me more attention and love by raising my voice and expressing my feelings and thoughts with a lot of energy.” Simultaneously, the unconscious voice inside the Turtle says, “I’m going to make my partner honor my boundaries by retreating even further into my isolated shell, excluding them from my personal space.” The Hailstorm-Turtle dynamic ends up perpetuating itself with drastic consequences: the deeper a Turtle retreats into its shell, the more a Hailstorm will hail. The more the Hailstorm hails, the deeper the Turtle withdraws, exacerbating their mutual anxiety. Neither of these ways are wrong. Both are ways we adapted to what we perceive as danger (think “freeze or “fight”). But these cause deep rifts in the relationship that can spiral out of control fairly quickly. One solution we teach is to become more like your partner (and for your partner to become more like you!)
Turtles need distance. They like to spend time alone, lost in their own thoughts. This is how they recharge. Turtles process their feelings quietly on the inside, reflecting carefully before offering input.
On the other hand, Hailstorms prefer to process their feelings with others. They thrive on contact and respond in the moment. And they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and dive headlong into a heated debate.
Just because you and your partner are programmed to respond in pretty much polar opposite ways, doesn’t mean you have to be victims. This is the growth and healing opportunity – through the stretching activities of becoming more like the other.
Turtles need to learn how to push their energy out and to “show up” and participate. And Hailstorms need to learn the wisdom of stepping back and containing their energy. This exchange helps each one gain important skills and develop muscles that needed strengthening. As Turtles and Hailstorms find common ground thru becoming more like each other, balance and connection is restored in the relationship.