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6 Simple Rules for Calling a Timeout

Taking a timeout can be a helpful tool when dealing with conflict in your relationship. Here are a few tips for taking timeouts successfully:

1- Know when you need a timeout. What are the signals in your body that you’re starting to get overwhelmed (e.g. sweaty palms, flushed face, muscle tension, rapid heartbeat)? As soon as you notice your signal it’s time to call a timeout because; once you’re overwhelmed you won’t be able to think or communicate clearly.

2- Voice your need. Don’t just leave! Clearly ask for a timeout so your partner understands.

The key to asking for a timeout is to say, “I really want to understand your point of view, but I’m feeling overwhelmed. I need a timeout. Can we revisit this after dinner tonight?” Reassuring your partner that you want to understand them helps comfort their anxiety about taking a break.

3- Press the pause button. If your partner asks for a timeout it can be difficult to restrain yourself from saying “just one more thing”. Try to keep in mind that by calling a timeout your partner is trying to protect the relationship. Also, by accepting a timeout when called, you convey to your partner that you respect them and they are emotionally (and physically) safe with you.

4- Actually take a break. Make sure you allow yourselves enough time, at least an hour, to calm your body down. Take a few moments if you’d like to journal about what you want to convey when speaking to your partner; but don’t ruminate for the whole hour! Set a timer for 10mins, journal, and then practice self-care (e.g. meditate, go for a walk, color, exercise, take a hot shower, clean).

5- Keep your word. If you ask to revisit the issue after dinner, make sure to do so! This conveys to your partner that you actually want to understand them and it will be easier for them to be ok with a timeout next time because they’ll know they will be heard.

When choosing a time to revisit the issue try to pick a time when both partners are relaxed and present. It is often helpful to start the conversation with something like,

“I’d like to revisit our conversation from yesterday. Is now a good time for you?”

6- Remember, you’re talking to someone you love. The cardinal rule of communication is to speak from your perspective using “I” statements and non-blaming language. Start sentences with “I” rather than “you” to avoid evoking defensiveness in your partner. Also, avoid using “always” and “never”. For example: “I felt hurt when you missed dinner without calling to let me know you’d be late” rather than “You always put work first and never take my feelings into account.”

Using these steps can help avoid escalation and promote a sense of security in your relationship. If you’re interested in improving the communication in your relationship further, a couples therapist can help! Contact us for more info.

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