“Time Out!” It’s Not Too Late To Start The New Year Right
“Time Outs? I thought they were for kids!”
Yes, folks, time outs are for kids. When a kid acts up, we ask them to go to their room until they “cool down.” But in adult relationships, time outs are different. Yes, they’re used when we need to cool down. But if I notice that either you or I have “lost it,” then I need to take a time out. Note the difference—I’m the one who takes a time out, rather than you. And perhaps more importantly, if I declare a time out, I have to go back to you, and say that I’m ready to try talking again.
Every couple has conflict. That’s healthy. There are going to be times when I want something, and you want something else. How we resolve the conflict is what’s important. We may do so in a direct fashion, “fighting fairly,” saying how we feel and what we want, and then trying to find a creative solution to the problem. Or we may express the conflict in indirect, unhealthy ways—through withdrawal, verbal jabs, and, worst of all, violence—in which case we need professional help.
Time outs are one of the most difficult tools in fair fighting. If I experience you as provoking me, it’s going to be almost irresistible to “bite” back. But this Herculean effort is worth the battle.
The reason that I’m the one who calls the time out, rather than you, is that when I tell you to “calm down,” as well-intentioned as I may be, it will probably be heard by you as condescending or controlling. (Have you ever had anybody tell you to calm down when you’re angry?) And the reason that I’m the one who comes back, to ask us to try again, is that I have interrupted a process, whether you wanted that or not, and, as a caring member of the couple, I need to let you know that I’m available again. Just as declaring a time out, as opposed to biting back, is difficult, so is being the one who is asked to wait. What am I supposed to do in the meantime?
I remember how my ex did time outs. He just walked out of the room . I was the one who timidly asked whether we could talk again, after listening to him watch TV in the other room, while I tried to calm down. (In fairness to him, I could be pretty obnoxious at times!)
With my current partner, Robin, time outs are different. Yes, sometimes we lose it and one of us storms out of the room, but we collect ourselves much more quickly, and try again. Resolving conflict in the best of couples isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. So let’s start the New Year right–by using time-outs to help deal with conflict–so that we may grow in and enjoy our relationships to the fullest!
Jonathan Lebolt, PhD (“Doctor Jon”) is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and group psychotherapist specializing in relationship issues. He lives with his partner of 14 plus years, Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline, and their princely pooch, Cocoa. Robin and Jonathan are proud grandfathers of a beautiful one-year-old girl, Juna. Feel free to contact Doctor Jon at his website.
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