Are you a skunk or a turtle?

Written with love, by Pastor Dave Page

How do you handle conflict? In premarital counseling I use a simple metaphor couples find very helpful. I ask, “When faced with conflict, do you act as a skunk or a turtle?”

Let me explain.

conflict marriage advice

When conflict ensues, a skunk will spray and ask questions later. They get upset and usually end up yelling at their spouse and saying things they don’t really mean. The skunk feels better for a little while but then deeply regrets what he or she said and ends up apologizing profusely.

A turtle, on the other hand, will pull back into its shell when conflict arises. The turtle will later poke its head out of its shell to see if the coast is clear. If it senses any form of danger it will retreat back into its shell. Turtles will usually walk away from an argument insisting they need some space to sort out their feelings.

It’s been said that opposites attract and then opposites attack. The characteristics that initially drew you to your spouse can drive you CRAZY later on. In most cases, I find that a skunk is married to a turtle. It’s rare to find two skunks or two turtles together.

I am a skunk. I came from a line of skunks. My dad was a skunk. Whenever he would get in an argument he would yell. Think Old Yeller. He was a big man, 6’3” and 220 pounds. He seemed like a giant to me when I was a kid. I remember him yelling at my mom on many occasions. My mom was a turtle.

As much as we don’t want to end up like our parents, we often do. I became a skunk like my dad. My wife, on the other hand, had a father who never raised his voice to her. So my wife was dumbfounded when we got in our first argument and I yelled at her. The incident demoralized her. I felt horrible. I had become Old Yeller Jr.

In reality we all have tendencies toward being a skunk and a turtle but most of us revert to one dominant style when facing conflict. Skunks need to learn to not spray and muck up the room. Turtles need to learn to not run away from conflict but hang in there long enough to resolve it. We need to meet somewhere in the middle. Both people need to change and compromise to make the marriage work.

SO … which one are you? Are you a skunk or a turtle? Or are you a little bit of both?