Withdrawing (Turtling Up)

I’m a pretty outspoken individual. I was a communications major in college as well as a pretty ruthless debater at times.  I made my living with my mouth as a pastor and speaker for over 13 years so I can formulate an argument in a heartbeat usually. I would often times speak openly in front of hostile crowds in heated situations, dodging fruit, trash and even spit at times. I’m grateful for all of it.

Samantha would hate to argue with me and hates confrontation. After 19 years of marriage and a ton of help from Rick and other mediums, we’ve learned a thing or two about our communication patterns and styles within our marriage.  Samantha will also attest that she is not the best communicator when it comes to her feelings and her emotions. I on the other hand will press and press and press till I get the answer of info I’m looking for. (Insert eye roll I know.)

Early on in recovery, this pattern just would absolutely fail miserably. Samantha would feel attacked, or pinned in, and she would withdraw or turtle up for shelter. Nothing would make me feel like putting my hand through a wall more than Samantha withdrawing, shutting down and refusing to talk. When she would do that, and usually just when I was making a great point that I perceived as perfectly objective and spot on ‘save the day’ insightful, my anger would skyrocket. To say it was me trying to control the situation, and Samantha, would be a gross understatement.  

She wanted to turtle up, hide for shelter and find a safe feeling. I wanted to hammer it out and get things clear and get back to normal life.

There was the rub. She didn’t feel safe.

Now, early on, her need to feel safe wasn’t exactly healthy in the way it was playing out. I had to hear her out, not react one way or the other per se, and just process what she was saying and deal with it. There was little room at all for disagreement or another perspective. It also meant I wasn’t able to say anything which as you can imagine, was relatively excruciating. I was to take a season of time, usually a few hours or afternoon, or a day in some extreme cases, and pray about what she said, process it, think it through and then come back for another peaceful, safe discussion.

It was hard. But it was what she needed then.

We could talk for hours about communication patterns and seasons in this recovery process of healing from infidelity and betrayal. Today though, I’d like to highlight one key element. The element of Samantha needing to feel safe.

Unfaithful, if your spouse does not feel safe, all communication is almost useless and will never accomplish what you want to see happen. You’re better off taking a walk, extinguishing the intensity of the moment and waiting for a more opportune time.

Betrayed, if there is never a safe time, then something is wrong and you’re possibly using the need to feel safe to punish your mate. Revenge will never, ever, ever work in recovery.

Unfaithful, if you can’t simply hear your spouse out and process what they are saying, you’re simply listening so you can find another time to speak, and formulating an argument while you’re listening and that’s not only subjective, but dangerous, and attacking. (I was and am an expert in this and it only makes things worse) It will take help to not do this, especially if you’re a type A personality and used to controlling situations and discourse.

Betrayed, if you don’t feel safe, I’d recommend throwing your hands up slightly in a place of surrender and saying “If you keep making me talk and keep making me engage you, you will be wounding me further. I can’t keep talking. If you push me I’ll say something hurtful or attacking: please stop.”

Unfaithful, if you keep talking, God be with you as this is when the pain will only get worse and you’ll be creating even more damage for both of you to have to deal with in the next few days, weeks and possibly years. I’d encourage you to stop, take a walk and get a glass of water. You have hit critical mass and nothing good is going to come of talking anymore. You cannot win. You may win the argument, but you have lost your spouse.

At the risk of going on too long, I’d simply ask you if you can identify the principles of safety that your spouse needs? If you can, identify them and practice cultivating them. If you cannot, go to your spouse and ask them to help you understand what they need to feel safe.


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This article hits the nail on

This article hits the nail on the head for communication in our house...however our roles are reversed. I am the unfaithful spouse and my husband is the betrayed. I am also the "turtle" and he is the outspoken one and this is presenting many challenges as we navigate communication in recovery.


Same situation as above. Instead of turtleing though I find my unfaithful wife to be stonewalling. It's very frustrating and maddening, especially when they puke out hostile, contemptuous remarks then shut down by stonewalling.

article which may help

lifesentence, hope you're ok and finding a way to make it through. Rick wrote this article a long time ago with some helpful reminders on how to deal with stonewalling. it may help my friend:

Turtleing up

This article was very helpful to me. I am the unfaithful spouse and struggling to try and work this this. He won't talk, won't move forward or backwards and sometimes seems to use this as a way to hurt me, or at least that's the only explanation I can come up with ( he is also very passive aggressive) We are seperated at the time ( his choice) and at times acts very childish Maybe I need to be quite ( also hard for me) I ask for prayer, wisdom and Gods grace as we move through this, hopefully to a better place.

Wow two unfaithful wives in a

Wow two unfaithful wives in a row my wife was also unfaithful and she will not talk especially about her feelings. Just a out from d-day I have tried to make things safe for her to talk. I have never called her names or spoken down to her. I have tried to lover the way I should have before her affairs. I decided early on that my focuse was going to be on making our marriage better than it ever was and I think that was part of the key steps I took that helped me heal very quickly. I lost control (for a short time) only once after a trigger flooded me which was the last time and only real time it happened at about 4 1/2 months. It scared me I did not hit anything but I did slam the car door. She was just so turtled up I did not understand and it got to me.I was able to heal but I can see it will take time to get her to open up which our marriage will need in the long run. But no matter how much I try to create a safe environment for her it is a slow process. Our marriage is mu h better then it was but I know it will only keep getting better. I do understand the frustration it creates when one of you struggles to express their feelings.

I think it was helpful for

I think it was helpful for you to include advice to both the unfaithful and betrayed. As the betrayed wife,I will admit it is possible I'm using the "I don't feel safe" card, possibly to further punish my husband. I guess I don't know yet what "safe" feels like either, so I'm not sure if I don't "feel" safe, or whether I'm actually "not" safe... Thanks for this post. Something to think about and bring up on my upcoming Harboring Hope group.

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