As parents, partners, even friends, we tend to fall into one of two categories:

  1. An octopus (the pursuer)
  2. A turtle (the avoider)

Understanding the role we play in relationships is crucial in creating and maintaining healthy relationships. With greater self-awareness, there is a sense of freedom for both individuals to pursue growth and handle conflict in the healthiest way possible.

Still confused on the octopus and the turtle idea? Let me explain… with a rhyme… Because why not?


The Story of the Octopus and the Turtle

Once upon a time, in the depth of a Hawaiian beach, an octopus and a turtle came into contact,

There was an instant connection, they would be BFFs…and that is a fact,

They chatted about their past and how they’ve seen the ocean change over time,

Before you know it, the sun was setting over the coral reef and it was bedtime,

Eventually, it became a morning routine for them to take a leisurely swim around the coral reef,

They laughed how the octopus once thought they would never be friends and now felt relief,

Anyone could tell their personalities were extremely different, their friendship was almost comical,

The turtle relaxed and cautious, while the octopus was quick and eager to learn as much as possible,

This difference didn’t only apply to the way they moved throughout the ocean,

It was even true for how the Octopus and Turtle expressed emotion,

One day, the Turtle was acting very “off” as the octopus keenly noticed,

The octopus asked him, “what’s wrong?” and “are you okay?” He couldn’t refrain,

The turtle responded to every concern with, “I’m fine. Just a bad migraine.”,

The octopus’ concerns for the turtle only grew, and his eight arms began to shake,

Eventually, his anxiety got the best of him as he grabbed the turtle’s shell and screamed, “no way it’s just a headache!”,

The turtle, rightfully frightened, quickly pulled his head inside his shell,

And as soon as the turtle retraced his neck, the octopus began to YELL,

“I need you to talk to me! Please come out and tell me what is going on!”,

But the turtle didn’t come out as the octopus thought to himself, “well this is quite the phenomenon.”,

Eventually, the octopus gave up and swam home, not knowing if the turtle was mad or not,

And it turned out, the turtle just needed a moment to collect himself to form a free thought,

The turtle, insightful and wise, realized that their relationship had a blind spot,

When he is afraid, he wants to hide, and when the octopus is worried, he wants to talk a lot,

With this new-found knowledge, he went to discuss this more with his friend,

He had a plan for how their friendship could quickly be on the mend,

The turtle told the octopus they both had areas where they could improve,

They needed to work on how they communicate when they are worried with a countermove, 

The turtle promised to try to poke his head out every now and then for a check-in,

He would work on letting the octopus know how he is feeling, and tell him how his day has been,

The octopus would try to keep his arms down, no matter how anxious he would become,

He would try to practice patience and try not to think about the worst possible outcomes,

This simple change seemed to make all the difference,

The two practiced courage and patience, taking away a good deal of bitterness,

So, the main take away from this unlikely pair of the octopus and the turtle,

Is to practice giving our loved ones space or speaking up when we want to hide,

Be willing to meet the other where they are and learn to enjoy the ride.


Are You an Octopus or a Turtle?


Are You An Octopus or A Turtle?

Are You an Octopus or a Turtle?

Question 1 of 5.

When you are upset with a friend/partner/family member, which are you more likely to do?

Try to talk to them.
Say everything is fine and just move on.
Question 2 of 5.

When you know someone is upset, what do you do?

Help them fix it. Make a game plan. Ask they how you can help. Duh!
Hide or change the subject! They will get over it eventually.
Question 3 of 5.

When someone asks you, "what's wrong?", how do you typically respond?

"Well, where do I begin? I'm feeling overwhelmed." (aka, you are openly honest, maybe too honest)
"Everything is fine." (even if you are really, really mad)
Question 4 of 5.

Let's say your partner is more quiet than usual, what would you say?

"Hey, you seem off, is everything okay? Are you sure?"
You might not say anything at all. Maybe you'll crack a joke to get them to laugh or smile.
Question 5 of 5.

What feedback do you tend to get from friends or family members about how you handle conflict?

"I wish you would give me more space every now and then and would trust me that I will be okay!"
"I never know how you are feeling during conflict. It seems like you shut down sometimes."

Next question 1 of 5

All 5 questions completed!


Share results:

Are You an Octopus or a Turtle?

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If You’re an Octopus (Pursuer), Here Are Some Tips!

Practice some mindfulness skills to be aware of your anxiety when it comes to relationships. If you feel an urge to approach out of anxiety or frustration, try to delay reaching out to someone until you feel more grounded. It could also be helpful to use the DEAR MAN skill from DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).

Describe the situation just using facts! Drain all emotional descriptors and absolute thoughts. For example, “For the past 3 nights, you have come home an hour late and missed dinner with the family.”

Express feelings. “And it had made me really sad.”

Assert your needs. “If you will be late, please let me know and it is really important to me to have you home for dinner. I need you to prioritize that time with me.”

Reinforce how this would benefit them. “If you can be home for dinner, we can have that time to connect more and catch up instead of me spending time being upset.”

All the while…

Mindful. Be aware of your anxiety and frustration! Make sure you are grounded and calm-ish at least before using this skill.

Appear confident. Don’t back down on your needs! You are allowed to have needs and to express them.

Negotiate. Be willing to negotiate with your partner since they are allowed to have needs, too! For example, they might say, “I can’t promise I can be home every night for dinner, but I promise to give you a heads up and to only miss a max of two dinners a week if I have to.”

If You’re a Turtle (Avoider), Here Are Some Tips!

Any chance you have to “poke your head out” take advantage of it. Remember, the more you are willing to put yourself out there and be honest with your partner, they less anxious they will be in the long run. Here are some simple ways you can express your feelings in a safe way:

  • Leave a little note saying how you are grateful for your partner. It can be as simple as, “I love you” or “Just wanted to tell you I’m so grateful for you.”

  • Give them a hug. Any physical touch paired with a positive statement will go a LONG WAY. Squeeze their hand and say, “I’m proud of you.”

  • If you are feeling frustrated with your partner, say, “I’m feeling upset and need some space to think. Could we talk in an hour?” The key here is you are saying how you feel, expressing your needs, and being clear with how much time you might need to process. If you are in a relationship with an octopus, giving them a timeline will help them not get anxious.

Are you an octopus or a turtle? Let us know in the comments!

Click here for more content by Laura Hamilton, M.Ed., NCC!

Laura Hamilton, M.Ed., NCC
Laura strives to facilitate insight, positive change, and growth for young adults and adults. In her work, she considers collaboration and the therapeutic relationship to be the foundation of change and healing. Laura helps individuals overcome difficulties such as substance abuse, adjustment to college, grief & loss, and relationship concerns.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m the octopus, he’s the turtle. He said he was going into turtle mode, but now it’s been 4 days of radio silence. It’s the longest we’ve gone without speaking in over a year.

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