Time-out is a simple, yet very effective tool that can help couples manage their conflict in much healthier ways. Learning how to use time-out effectively can help improve the quality of the marriage. It can also prevent damaging the relationship as it assists each person in calming down before they blurt out those hurtful things they might sometimes say in the midst of a heated argument.
Why Time-Out Works
The more emotional you become, the less logical you are. This is why when people are really angry, they say and do things that they normally wouldn’t. Ever say and do things you later regret? It is because you weren’t thinking clearly at the time.
You will likely become less rational the more intense you feel an emotion. This is especially true with anger. When you feel slightly angry, you may still be able to talk to your partner in a rational, healthy manner. However, if you become really angry, it becomes impossible to communicate effectively. Too much anger prevents people from listening, responding, and making requests in a healthy manner.
Research studies have shown that people are less intelligent when they are really angry. For example, if you took an IQ test in a calm state, you would score much higher than if you took the same test when you were really upset. Therefore, solving a problem when you are really angry isn’t a good idea.
Don’t Use Anger as an Excuse
It is important that you don’t use your anger as an excuse for your behaviors. You need to be in control of your feelings. If you say and do things when you are angry, an apology later on can’t erase the damage.
When you are angry, if you say mean things, call your spouse names, or make threats, it is going to damage your relationship. It will break down your trust, loyalty, and partnership. Even things such as the “silent treatment” or attempts to punish your partner will damage the marriage. Learning how to be in control of your feelings is part of being a responsible, healthy partner. Being in control of your feelings may require you to take a time-out when you feel upset.
Negotiating a Time-Out
If anger is a problem in your marriage, even if it is only occasional, it is important to negotiate a time-out plan with your spouse. Discuss the basics of when, where, and how time-out can be used. Creating this plan ahead of time is important.
Determine a signal to use when you need a time-out. For some couples, a hand signal works well. For other couples, a keyword works as a signal. Having a signal can be helpful because if you feel really angry you may not feel like you are able to get effectively say, “I need a time-out.” Also, use the signal if you think your partner is becoming too angry to rationally have a conversation. A signal also shows your spouse that you aren’t just walking away from an argument. It shows that you are communicating that you are willing to address it, just not in your current emotional state.
Agree that either of you can call a time-out at any time when things are getting heated. Discuss where you will go and what you will do during the time-out. For example, will you go outside or go to another room? It is important to give each other some space during this time to calm down. Discuss what you will do if you are in the car or in the community. Sometimes, agreeing to not talk for 20 minutes can be effective if you are able to use the silence to calm yourself down.
It is important to leave each other alone during your time-out period. Don’t follow your partner into another room! That will only make things worse. Instead, agree that you will give each other space.
Decide on a specified amount of time for your time-outs. Twenty minutes is usually a good amount of time for the body to calm down. Plan to check in at the end of 20 minutes to see if you are calm enough to try discussing the subject again. If not, you may need to extend the time-out.
When you are both calm enough to talk again, try to re-visit the issue. With less emotional intensity, you may be able to see things from your partner’s perspective better. You may also be able to tackle the problem more easily.
Changing your communication patterns takes practice. So if it doesn’t seem to work the first few times, don’t give up. You may need to tweak your plan over time to develop a strategy that will be effective for both of you.