Published on July 12th, 2013 | by Healthy Gay Lifestyles
Are You a Tiger or a Turtle?
by Joseph A. Zagame, LCSW
We often take on roles that are familiar to us. When we recognize the roles that we play in relationships, we become more aware of our habits and behavior patterns; with this awareness comes the possibility for change within ourselves and an improved sense of well-being with our partners. Two particular roles emerge in many relationships: the pursuer, or the “tiger,” and the withdrawer, or the “turtle.”
Tigers often react quickly to situations from an emotional rather than rational place. They tend to pounce rather than retreat, and may prefer to feel than to think. Tigers are typically intense and energetic; they like to work things out in the moment, and may even threaten to leave a relationship in order to feel heard or pull a reaction out of their partners. Tigers may also exaggerate their feelings and needs.
On the other hand, turtles often turn inward and hide in their shell when things in a relationship seem difficult. They seldom voice their feelings and typically shy away from confrontation, preferring to rationally think things through over time. Turtles can struggle to acknowledge their emotions and emotional needs. Often times, turtles avoid negative feelings in relationships by working, drinking, or engaging in other compulsive behaviors.
It goes without saying that tigers and turtles are often drawn to each other. Tigers find turtles calm and relaxing; turtles find tigers to be alive and passionate. Unfortunately, if conscious effort is not put in to balance the tiger’s and turtle’s needs, these two roles can lead to a destructive, negative cycle. The tiger is often afraid that the turtle has become disinterested and they begin to scratch with their claws; the turtle is scared of being overwhelmed by emotion and they hide in their shell. As the turtle hides the tiger becomes more frightened and scratches more, the turtle then becomes more and more inclined to hide.
Luckily, there are ways to avoid this negative cycle. The key is to have the tiger feel safe enough to stop scratching and the turtle to begin to come out of his shell. This may seem like a difficult or even overwhelming proposition, but there are simple things that both tigers and turtles can do to avoid these negative, destructive patterns. Read below for tips on how you can steer clear of this cycle in your relationship.
Tune in before you tune out. Though tigers feel a strong pull to reach out to their partner when things feel uncertain or difficult, they should do their best to check in with themselves first before seeking reassurance from another. Journaling or meditation can often help tigers get grounded with themselves, as can some slow, gentle, deep breaths.
Name your needs. Although it may seem intuitive or obvious, turtles sometimes don’t know what tigers are looking for. This can cause frustration on both ends. Being specific, rational and clear about your requests will help tigers feel understood by their turtle partners, and will give turtles insight into the tiger’s reality.
Be kind to yourself. Being in a relationship with a turtle will involve some uncomfortable moments when your partner has pulled away. Those are the perfect moments to treat yourself to something special. A massage, a solo trip to the movies, a candlelit bubble bath, or even just a walk around town can help tigers remember that they are whole and that everything will be alright.
Recognize your patterns. One of the trickiest things for turtles is when they don’t realize they are pulling back into their shell. Ask yourself: What do I do when I’m feeling stressed or worried in my relationship? Where do I go and how do I spend my time? Once turtles become aware of their habits and patterns, they begin to be able to work through them more easily.
Label your feelings. Turtles are often excellent doers and thinkers but may leave feelings on the back burner. If you get the sense that something may be “up” with you, your partner or your relationship, take a second to look inside and explore how you might be feeling. Putting words to your own feelings is often a first step to being and seeming more available to your partner when it’s needed.
Reach out. Sometimes, it’s up to the turtle to tolerate some uncomfortable feelings and reach out to their tiger partner. This will probably be tough at first, but practice makes perfect. Think baby steps: if there’s some small feeling of discomfort or irritation that you’re having about something in the relationship, use that as an opportunity to practice reaching out instead of turning in. The good news is that your tiger partner will probably be very glad that you said something!
Joseph A. Zagame, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist who works with individuals, couples, and groups in New York City. He specializes in working with the LGBT community. He received his Masters Degree in Social Work from Columbia University and has completed post graduate training in psychodynamic psychotherapy. www.jzagame.com