Time-Out: Not Just for Teams and Toddlers!

Marriage Dynamics InstituteCommunication, Conflict, Connection

When was the last time you called time-out?

Perhaps your team needed to regroup before a big play. Or your toddler refused to follow directions.

Are there times when conversation with your spouse starts as a discussion but turns into a heated argument? Maybe you found yourself thinking. “Somebody needs to call time-out.”

Relationship expert John Gottman suggests how a discussion break can be an effective relationship management tool when used appropriately.

Who should call time-out

First, it’s important to know that either partner should feel free to call for intermission during an argument when they feel overwhelmed with emotion. But sometimes, the less emotionally charged spouse realizes the need first.

When to call time-out

It does not matter who makes the call. But timing is important. For example, it is not wise to call for a time-out because you don’t like the subject and your spouse is in the middle of presenting their point of view. Because it’s important to listen to your spouse even when you disagree.  However, if the conversation that follows becomes heated, you may need to suggest taking a break.

How to make the call

When someone says, “I think we need a time-out,” both husband and wife should stop the conversation and agree on a time to resume the discussion. Dr. Gottman suggests a twenty minute break, because that’s how long it takes for the heart rate to slow and the body to calm down.

And the conversation should resume within 24 hours, if at all possible. Longer than that, Gottman says, and you run the risk of deepening resentment when issues are not addressed.

One Dynamic Marriage Course facilitator suggests saying something like, “This discussion is really important to me, but I’m feeling a little overloaded right now, can we take a break and come back at  ____.”  Then couples should set a time, and keep their appointment to continue the conversation when  both spouses can be more logical.

What to do during a time out

This is not time out to rehearse your arguments for the next round. And it’s certainly not time to phone a friend and argue your case. Therapist Kerry Lusignan warns against using a time-out to make things worse, and suggests a more positive approach.

it is important during a timeout to intentionally cease any negative thoughts about your partner. Instead, try to consciously cultivate a receptivity to the idea that there may be more to the picture than what you are seeing and feeling from your angered vantage point. For this to succeed, refrain from venting to others, or even to yourself. Instead, channel your turmoil into something unrelated. Go for a walk, fold the laundry, weed the garden, or do anything that takes your mind away from the conflict.     -Kerry Lusignan, MA, LMHC writing for the Gottman Institute

Most arguments in marriage are not resolved because one person says to the other “I am wrong and you  are right.” Because people have differing points of view.

So most arguments in marriage resolve when spouses are able to appreciate the other person’s point of view. Then they reach some sort of compromise, even though they don’t agree.

And in the midst of an emotional discussion, taking a time-out can offer a way back to more productive conversation.

Dynamic Marriage and United are nine-week courses that help couples improve communication and grow stronger marriages. A New Beginning is a three-day workshop for couples in marriage crisis.  Communication issues are also addressed in the workshop. All three resources are now available online.  Contact us for more information about any of our courses or workshops.

About the Author

Marriage Dynamics Institute

Marriage Dynamics Institute (MDI) wants to cultivate healthy families, churches, and communities by helping create marriages full of joy, meaning, and purpose. Having served more than 75,000 couples since 1994, MDI offers workshops and seminars for marriages at every stage, including those in crisis.