There Are Only Two Ways People Respond To Conflict

Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt explain the "hailstorm/turtle" binary — and how to overcome it.

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People react to conflict in one of two ways: minimizing or maximizing.

In Imago Relationship Therapy, we call the Minimizer the Turtle and the Maximizer the Hailstorm. It is derived from our most primal instincts to protect ourselves — when we don’t feel safe, we fight, flee or freeze.

And of course, given the reality that “opposites attract,” Hailstorms and Turtles fall in love. At first, the opposing qualities are a source of attraction. However once the inevitable conflict begins to show up in the relationship, these protective modes escalate the relational tension.


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The Hailstorm-Turtle Dance And The Pursuit Of Balance

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, and figuring out things by myself.”

This Hailstorm-Turtle dynamic ends up perpetuating itself with drastic consequences: The more the Turtle retreats, the more the Hailstorm hails, and vice versa, creating a never-ending cycle of “Here we go again.”

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The Nature Of The Dynamic

First, it’s important to recognize and understand that you and your partner have two completely different ways of dealing with conflict and stress.


Turtles need distance. They want freedom. They like to spend time alone, lost in their own thoughts. This is how they recharge.

Hailstorms, on the other hand, thrive on contact. Their energy flows outward, and they prefer to process their feelings with others.

Neither way is right or wrong.

Learning How To Dance Together

Next, Turtles and Hailstorms need to re-learn how to dance together. And they do this by teaching each other what they know best.


Turtles need to learn how to push their energy out and “show up.” And Hailstorms need to learn the Turtle’s wisdom of stepping back and containing their energy.

They learn to become more like each other.

As the Turtle becomes more storm-like, and the Hailstorm becomes more turtle-like, balance in the relationship is restored.


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Harville Hendrix, Ph. D., is a couples therapist with over 40 years of experience as a counselor, educator, clinical trainer, author, and public lecturer and has received many awards for his work with couples. He and his wife, Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-created Imago Relationship Therapy, a therapy for couples now practiced by over 2,200 certified therapists in 30 countries.