10 Time Out Commandments – for better communication
WHAT IS A TIME OUT AND HOW TO USE IT
1. Time Outs as a circuit breaker
The main job of Time Out is to stop abruptly a psychologically violent or unconstructive interaction between you and your partner. If you are angry or distressed and open your mouth to speak, demons will fly out. You may not be able to control that. What is always under your control is the ability to turn heel and leave. It is a way to avoid immature words or actions.
2. Take your time out from the “I”
Calling for a Time Out has everything to do with ME and NOTHING to do with YOU.
Calling for a time out means that I don’t like how I am feeling, what I am doing, or about to do. Whether or not you think you have a problem with how you’re behaving or how “it’s” going between us is strictly your business.
3. Take distance responsibly
Time Outs are a form of distance taking, and like all forms of distance taking, there are two ways to do it:
- Responsible distance taking has two pieces to it: 1) An explanation and 2) A promise of return. “This is why I am seeking distance and this is when I intend on coming back.”
- Provocative distance taking, by contrast, has neither – you just take the distance without any explanation or taking care of your partner’s anxieties about your leaving. I also speak of provocative distance taking as incompetent distance taking since it tends to get you chased.
4. Use the phrase (time out) or the gesture (the “T” sign) as an abbreviation.
The phrase “time out” or the T sign as a gesture are abbreviations for the following phrase: “Honey, no matter how you may be feeling or assessing things, I don’t like how I’m doing and I don’t trust what I am about to do.
So, I’m taking some time to regain my composure and I will be back to you when I do.”
5. Don’t let yourself get stopped
You’re not asking permission and you cannot allow yourself to be stopped. Don’t call a Time Out and stand there to keep talking! Leave. Leave the room and go into another – a bedroom for example – and close the door.
If your partner won’t leave you alone, then leave the house – with or without the kids, your call. Go down the block for a cup of coffee. If your partner physically blocks you from leaving call the police, have them come to assist you. I have rarely met a couple where the police had to be called more than once.
6. Use check-ins at prescribed intervals
- Since you’re Not using a Time Out to punish your partner but rather to calm things down, it is critical that you check in with your partner from time to time to take the emotional temperature between you.
The intervals I suggest are:
– 20 minutes
– 1-3 hours
– a half-day
– a whole day
– an overnight– Check-ins can be done in person although cooler media might be advised. You can check-in by phone or even by texting.
7. Remember your goal
Time Outs are about one thing – stopping in its tracks emotionally violent, immature, destructive behavior. Stopping such behavior in your relationship is a goal that supersedes all other goals. You may need to work on better communication, more sharing, or negotiation, but none of that will happen until you you stop toxic patterns of communication. Nothing takes priority during a Time Out.
8. Return in good faith
When you are ready to end a time out don’t return with a grudge or anger, because you will start the unhealthy sentence exchange all over again. Come back when you are truly ready to make peace.
9. Use a twenty-four-hour ‘rest period’ on triggering topics
A mistake a lot of couples make when they meet after a Time Out is to try to “process” what just happened. Bad idea. When you come back from a Time Out just make nice to each other. Give your partner a hug and a cup of tea.
10. Know when to get help and use it.
If you find that a certain topic – kids, sex, money – ALWAYS triggers a nasty transaction, take that as a signal that you need some outside support to have that conversation constructively. Go to a minister or a mental health professional for help.