Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 2

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Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout – Part 2

Recognize The Need and Take It

Many times over the years, I have explained how to take a timeout and I’ve been told: “But I try to do that and he/she…..” Often it is the case that they are skipping many parts of the process (beginning with agreeing to take a timeout). It is important as you are learning this communication tool to follow the steps as closely as possible every time. In Time Out 1, I described it as a “structured exit from an escalating confrontation.” That structure implies specific steps and repeated similar action. This new way of handling these moments allows you to resolve conflicts because the toxic meltdown part is replaced with a consistent and effective way to get through a disagreement.

Step 1: Recognize Your Anger

Our body and mind give us the data we need to be able to take a timeout. These are commonly called “Anger Cues,” and they come in 4 different flavors. Physical Cues let us know that our “fight or flight” system has been activated. Sweating, flushed face, heart beating fast, breathing hard – these are some of the common physical cues. Some examples of Behavioral Cues are pacing, jerky hand movements, crossed arms, tapping feet, punching walls and cussing. Thought Cues can also be powerful indicators of our anger, as for the most part we think it before we say or do it. Most of us have seen that movie scene where weird, violent things start happening and then it cuts back to the person standing there, none of the mayhem having occurred. Many of us can identify with those scenes because we’ve experienced them. And even if the thoughts don’t lead to action, they also don’t tend to lead to warm hugs and hand holding. Examples of thought cues are “I’m getting ready to just LOSE it!” or “Now you’re just making stuff up!” Emotional Cues are emotions that indicate anger is near or present. Feeling lonely, disrespected, embarrassed – these emotional cues might tell us that it is time to take a timeout. These cues can work differently in different people and at different levels of anger. Knowing what your cues are is most important for the purposes of taking a timeout.

Step 2: Take a Timeout

When you have become aware that you need to take a timeout, say out loud, “I’m feeling angry and I need to take a timeout.” Social psychology tells us that we take in messages that we say better than what other people say. It also tells us that it is important to actually say the words rather than think them and assume our partner knows what’s going on. Still, sometimes people have a code word instead of the sentence. “Grapefruit” has been my longstanding example of a code word, for no apparent reason.

Don’t try to get the last word in, don’t continue the argument, and don’t lob bombs over your shoulder as you are going to take your time out. Just stop and go on to the next step, which is explained in Part 3 – What To Do In Timeout.