Time Out! – Take a Break
Connection and understanding are vital to any relationship. Relationship time outs allow you and your mate to process and digest without saying the wrong things in the heat of the moment.
~ Teresa Hicks, LoveRecon
As we know, relationship arguments can escalate quickly. When our hot buttons get pushed, we often begin to attack each other. Kindness and civility go out the window. Since we are feeling threatened, conflict can even reach a point of verbal or physical abuse.
One of the best ways to prevent your fights from escalating out of control is to take an effective time-out. A well-timed break must happen before partners start to feel overwhelmed. When either of you are emotionally flooded, the part of the brain that generates “loving feelings” shuts down and the part that generates the fight response takes over.
Don’t wait until you are in the heat of a disagreement to try to work out how to take a “time out.” Here are some steps that can help you prepare ahead of time so that you will be ready to take an effective time out when needed.
- Agree Upon a Signa First of all, agree upon a signal that will let you both know that the time out is needed. This can be a verbal or a non-verbal signal. A verbal signal could simply be to say, “Time Out!” or “Break!” Some couples decide upon a word that is unique to them like “Bananas” or “Sink Hole.” Non-verbal signals could be making a “T” with your hands, making the peace sign, or putting your fists together and making a breaking motion.
What signal, verbal or non-verbal, will you use to signal that a break is needed?
- Conversation Must Cease. Immediately stop talking! When a time out is called, both partners must agree to return the signal or key phrase and stop all conversation. There will be no last words, explanations, or a final comment. Don’t think to yourself, “We can take a time-out after I make my point,” because then a break will never happen.
- Calm Down. It takes most people at least 20 minutes to regulate their emotions and return to their normal self. Therefore, don’t attempt to re-engage in the conversation with your spouse until at least 20 minutes has passed. What can you do during this time? Take a walk, listen to music, read inspirational thoughts or scripture, pray, etc.
For a break to be effective, you need to make an intentional effort to replace these negative and destructive thoughts with relationship- building thoughts that will help you calm down. For example:
“It’s okay. I’m upset. Take some big breaths.” “This isn’t personal. We can work through this together.”
“I’m hurt and I love my partner. There’s something I’m not understanding right now and we will figure it out.”
- Re-engage. Come back together when the time is up. After the agreed upon break, if you are apart, text one another. The text could say, “I’m ready now for us to work together on resolving this,” or “I need some more time. Is it okay if we take another 20 minutes?” It is very important that your mate doesn’t begin to feel that you are abandoning them or avoiding the issue, so communicate!
When you do come back together from the break, don’t just jump right back into the conflict. Take a few minutes and connect with each other at a heart level. Say what you appreciate about your mate. Hug for a moment and let your blood pressure lower. Doing this will let your brain know that it doesn’t have to signal your body to protect you!
- Practice taking a time out, even when you don’t really need to. It may sound silly, but it will help you use this tool effectively when you need it. If you have time, practice today.
- Don’t use any substances that would alter your thoughts or feelings during your timeout.
Make a Time Out Agreement
Come up with your own agreement. It could look something like this:
Our Time Out signal is________. We agree to take a ___ minute break from each other and return when the time is up. If needed, I will request additional time to calm down. If my partner requests additional time to calm down, I agree to let them take that time if it’s not over an hour. I agree to avoid alcohol, drugs or any substances that might alter my thoughts or feelings during our time-out.
End with a hug, a kiss and a prayer or wish for your mate!