Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 1

Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 1

Sometimes adults need timeouts, too. When an argument becomes unproductive, a timeout provides a structured exit from the escalating confrontation. The anger spirals up, the “fight or flight” circuitry flips on, neurotransmitters are swirling about, and then what happens? Too often, we say or do something that damages our relationship with our spouse, partner, or children. We scare them, rupture our trust, appear unstable, or utter the unforgivable curse – something bad happens. Over time, these events can accumulate into a toxic pattern of not wanting to engage in any conflict or being locked in battle from sun-up to sun-down. Couples counseling can help teach you how taking a timeout can reduce the negative impact of these explosions.

So, how to take a timeout? It’s a very important skill and I’ve devoted 4 articles to the subject (see here for Parts 2, 3, and 4). Knowing and following all of the steps will lead to more successful outcomes, so please give them all a look.

The first step is what I used to teach as the last step, but it needs to be done before all of the others: practice! It may sound silly, but it’s true; couples that practice timeouts report much better success than those who don’t. And it makes sense in many other areas of our lives. Pro basketball players in the league for years still practice; on the other hand, most of us don’t throw our 15 year olds the car keys and say, “Let’s take that learner’s permit you just got out on the highway tonight.” We have to learn how to do most of the things we do; assuming that we know it because it has the same name as putting a toddler in the corner may lead to some sullen muttering trips back to the drawing board.

The other reason practicing is important is that both partners participate in the process. It is hard to take a timeout if only one of you knows about it or has agreed to add it to the tool box (see related blog on “Following”). Practicing timeouts also lets you have a little fun with it and work out the bugs without being stressed.

More on practicing a little later, but now on to Part 2 – Recognize The Need and Call It.