"I Need a Break. Now."
Updated: Jul 4
Most of us are over a month into some version of a "stay at home" order. Whether you're suddenly working from home with your partner and having to figure out how to co-work, or one or both of you is dealing with the added stress of being an essential worker in difficult and sometimes unhealthy conditions, or one or both of you is suddenly out of work and you are dealing with too much time combined with financial pressures, or even if your work life hasn't changed but you are dealing with the stress and worry of living during a global pandemic, it is a time of high stress and anxiety for all of us.
Within this environment of uncertainty, disruption, and isolation our intimate relationships are vulnerable to frequent disagreements and emotional disruptions. This strife, combined with our feelings of stress and anxiety, can lead to a higher level of intensity and more combative
disagreements in our intimate relationships. But we don’t have to operate at the mercy of our most difficult emotions. If we can prepare ourselves and our partners by learning to effectively use tools that will help lead us out of conflict, we can stay much more centered and connected, even when we and our partners clash.
One great tool for dealing with these heated conflicts is a "time out”. In Relational Life Therapy Founder Terry Real's bestseller: "The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work” Terry provides a step by step process for how to take an effective “time-out.” I explain the process here as well as in my free downloadable print-quality infographic “A Guide to Relationship Time Outs.”
No relationship between two people is ever completely painless and conflict-free. The key to relational health and intimacy is to ensure that conflicts are handled constructively. If you find yourself in a conflict with your partner and you begin to feel that you may cross a line in terms of hurting your partner, damaging your relationship, or, if you simply recognize that the interaction has degenerated and become counterproductive for your relationship, a "time out" is an excellent tool to give each of you space while keeping you connected.
The key to making time outs work in your relationship is for you and your partner to have a solid understanding of both the purpose and the process of times outs. Make sure that you discuss the reasons and methods for taking a time out before a conflict arises. Then, be certain to follow the process exactly.
WHY WE NEED "TIME OUTS”
When you and your partner are in conflict and the interaction becomes destructively contentious it may be time for a "time out." If either one of you starts to lose emotional control, or if the discussion has clearly become counterproductive, a "time out" is an opportunity for both of you to reset.
SPEAK FROM "I”
Before you and your partner begin the practice of taking "time outs" make sure that you both understand the purpose and ground rules for using them. If you believe that the intensity of a conflict is counterproductive, and that a "time out" would be helpful, communicate your need for a break to keep yourself from behaving in a way that you will regret.
EXPLAIN & PROMISE
Walking out is not a "time out". When you take a "time out" it is critical that you:
1 - Explain why you need the break based on your own reactions or behavior, not your partner's.
2 - Promise that you will return and clearly communicate when you will be back.
3 - Commit to returning to the topic when you are both calm
Taking a "time out" is not a request or negotiation. Once you express or signal your intention to take a "time out" don't continue the interaction. Leave the room, shut the door, if necessary, leave the house.
Once the agreed upon time interval has passed check in with your partner by text, phone, or face-to-face to see if you are ready to reconnect. If after your initial agreed upon time interval you aren't ready to be calm together communicate how much longer you need and check in again then.
The intervals for check in are customarily:
20 minutes | 1 hour | 2 hours | 1/2 Day Full Day | Overnight
The purpose of a "time out" is to calm down and keep yourself from saying something hurtful to your partner or destructive to your relationship. You are not withdrawing to punish your partner.
DON'T RE-ENGAGE THE ISSUE
When you and your partner reconnect after a "time out" don't hold a grudge or immediately continue discussing the topic that created the conflict, and don't try to "process" the interaction. Take a twenty-four hour break from the issue and the conflict that you had, but agree to when you will continue the discussion and honor that agreement. Focus on reconnecting with your partner with a hug, a kind gesture, or kind words.
KNOW WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
If a particular topic regularly requires that you and your partner take a "time out," or if you frequently find yourselves in interactions that require the use of "time outs" to avoid escalating the level of conflict between you, find help. A trusted spiritual guide, mental health professional, good couples counselor, or trained relationship coach can work with you as a couple to help you find a more effective way to engage and connect.
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The relationship you wish for is possible, but sometimes skills and tools aren’t enough to get you there. Most of us have times in our lives when we need help to rebuild the passion and connection in our relationships. If this is where you are - reach out. I can help.