Time Outs: They’re Not Just for Kids, Adults Can Benefit from them Too

I’ve often had clients identify the absence of arguments as evidence that their relationships are healthy. Clients often develop goals for their relationships based in the belief that happy couples do not argue; and in my work with clients this belief has presented challenges to their ability to develop (and strengthen) skills for open and effective communication, and of skills that would support their ability effectively manage conflict in all of their relationships – not just the one they share with a romantic partner.

The reality is that happy couples do not find happiness in avoiding conflict. Happy couples find happiness in working together to resolve conflict through respectful communication.

It is not uncommon for conflict to become escalated as feelings of hurt, frustration and anger rise, or for our ability to maintain assertive and effective communication to become difficult in these states. Our “fight or flight” responses are often triggered by being interrupted, by feeling belittled and ignored, and it becomes almost impossible to have a productive conversation in which a resolution and/or compromise can be achieved.

This is when Time Outs can be beneficial. Time Outs allows for opportunity for all parties involved to cool down, to reflect on and identify their feelings and needs, and to think in more productive ways about how to approach the issue at hand. Having an understanding of how we feel and what we need, also supports our ability to provide our partners (and others) with the information they need to contribute to the compromise that would support all needs being met.

5 Steps for Taking Time Outs

If you’re new to time outs then you may not know how or where to start with implementing them. Here are 5 steps that can be helpful:

  1. Recognize your need for a time out. Our bodies often provide physiological signs of distress that can be helpful to recognize as signals of our need for a break. Some examples include clenched fists, flushed face, shallow or rapid breathing, having the urge to scream or throw something, feeling fearful, and feeling the urge to withdraw or shutdown.
  2. Request the time out. Verbalizing your need for a time out using an “I” Statement is a healthy way to actively participate in getting your needs met in conflict. Saying something like, “I’m starting to feel frustrated and it’s making it hard for me to say what I mean. I need to take a time-out to sort my thoughts.” Suggest a time that you think you’ll be ready to resume the conversation. This often helps with communicating to your partner that you are not avoiding the conversation, and that you are invested in working together to find a resolution. Ex. “I’ll check in with you in 30 minutes so that we can continue.”
  3. Relax and self care. During your time-out, engage in behavior that is calming, relaxing and that supports your ability to re-engage in the conversation more productively. Some examples of activity include: deep breathing, moving your body (walk, jog, yoga, completing a chore), taking a bath or shower, journaling, reading, praying or watching tv.
  4. Reflect on what’s important. Try to identify the relationship between how you were thinking and feeling and their impact on your need for the time out. Think about what “I” Statements you could use to communicate to your partner what you’re thinking and feeling and what you need from them. Try to spend some time considering your partner’s point of view and how they are feeling. Remember that the two of you are a team and that your relationship “wins” when you work towards a solution that all can feel good about.
  5. Return to the conversation. Honor your commitment to return to the issue when you are ready to have a more productive conversation. Returning to the conversation as agreed reinforces trust in your commitment to finding a resolution, and can be reassuring to partners who may feel that they or their concerns are being abandoned if we do not return.

As previously stated, avoiding conflict does not make for happy relationships. Avoidance of conflict is more likely to fuel conflict, especially when it results in feelings of resentment and passive aggressive dynamics of communication. Time outs support our ability to calm, to reflect and to prepare for more productive conversation that allows for growth and closeness in our relationships.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: