Click here for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
Couples Counseling: The Art of the Timeout Part 4
Check Back In
Now you are ready to complete the couples counseling timeout. Go to your spouse or partner and say “I’m checking back in, would you like to talk about it now?” If he or she wants to talk, you talk (and if it gets heated again, take another timeout); if either of you doesn’t want to talk, then you don’t talk about it right then. The timeout process has ended at this point, whether or not you revisit the source of the conflict. Although it is important to talk about the conflict eventually, it is more important to respect the desire not to continue at this point.
I get my share of eye-rolling when I explain the timeout process. Some of the feedback I get is: “People argue, what’s the big deal?” or “Are we going to be taking timeouts in twenty years?” Although the timeout process is a good one to have when you need it, it is not meant to be the way you handle conflict permanently. The way that the two of you are engaging in conflict is not working right now, but as you learn how to do it better, you should not need timeouts as often, if at all.
The idea is that gradually you will be able to do the things you do during the timeout when you are in an argument; in other words: “I’m seeing cues to my anger, take a couple breaths and pause, what are my feelings, how can this be win-win instead of win-lose….” And you will be able to stay in the flow of the conversation rather than get too heated and have to leave. Also, the resulting resolution from revisiting conflict in a more calm and constructive manner will teach you both that you can get there. If you have done it before, it’s easier to believe you can do it now.
To summarize: For success, take practice timeouts. They are generally half the agreed time length of a regular timeout. Call it by saying: “I’m not feeling angry, and I’m taking a practice timeout.” Go through the steps of what you both would be doing during timeout, and don’t forget to check back in.
Being rigid is rarely a good thing, but sticking to the process faithfully tends to make it more successful. Simply sticking to the agreed upon time length can help rebuild trust in high conflict relationships, and the reverse is true as well. How can you be trusted with making this work if you can’t even wait another 15 minutes (or come back in 2 hours instead of 1)? Recognize the need, Take it, Leave, and Check back in.
Timeouts help prevent toxic actions and words that could end or severely damage a relationship. They can increase communication and conflict resolution. They lead to more productive conversations that reduce stress and increase connection in a relationship. If you’ve tried it or tools like it and are still struggling, it may be time to get more guidance than a blog or book can give. Call a professional to engage in counseling for help.