Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 3

Click here for Part 1, and Part 2


Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 3

What To Do In Timeout

This third step in the Timeout process is very important and determines the eventual success of this communication tool. Too often, leaving without further blowup is treated as the successful end result of the process but the conflict is not resolved and the communication is incomplete. This step should be used to calm down, review what happened, and prepare to re-engage.

The length of the timeout should be negotiated and strictly adhered to during the process. An hour is generally recommended, but the most important thing is to agree to the length and then stick to it. Of course, the timing can be adjusted if it is too long or too short, but never during the process and never unilaterally.

Calming down means taking some quiet time for the fight or flight response to fade, and to let the angry thoughts and emotions subside. Getting some physical activity is a good way to calm down, and going for a walk is about the best way to do that. Hitting a punching bag, firing up the chain saw, cleaning your gun, or Googling divorce lawyers are examples of how not to take a timeout. Driving is also to be avoided, as a lot of things can go wrong when you drive angry. Some people say that driving calms them down; if that works for you, do it if it is agreed upon.

Reviewing what happened is important to do during the timeout. Drinking, drugging, Facebooking, shopping and playing video games during timeout should be avoided for this reason. They are escapes from the difficult feelings, and the challenge of this new approach is to face the thoughts and feelings. Think about what was going on for you in the argument, use “I” statements, and take responsibility for your part. Try to see things from your partner’s point of view. Look at ways to resolve the conflict and stay away from thinking about how your partner can compromise.
Prepare to Reengage. These last few minutes in the timeout can be used to summarize what you’ve come up with. You can also give yourself some positive messages such as “I can do this calmly,” or “I love my partner and I’m going to keep that in mind now.” Sounds trite, but remember: we can hear the things that we say better.

Now you are almost done with the timeout process; you’ll learn how to effectively finish your timeout in Part 4 – Check Back In.