Communicate Better In Your Relationship With Timeouts

Timeouts are a great way to help us manage our emotions during difficult conversations with our partner. A timeout gives us a break that allows us to cool down and calm our emotions. Then once we’ve taken this break, we return from the timeout and finish whatever we were talking about.

Timeouts prevent discussion from getting too heated or turning into big arguments or fights. And they allow us to discuss difficult topics without our emotions getting in the way, making it more likely we’re able to come to a resolution.

Improve Communication with Timeouts

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

When we’re talking something over with our partners the more tensions start to rise the more emotional either or both of us start to feel the less likely it is we’re going to be able to continue the discussion productively in a way that leads towards a resolution rather than turning into an argument or fight.

Now there are a few ways we can try to prevent tensions from escalating. We can soften our startups and bring things up with each other in a more gentle manner to set the stage for a more constructive conversation. And we can use repair attempts to ease tensions whenever they do start to rise. And i have videos that describe both of these techniques in detail that i’ll link to in the description.

But once tensions start to rise past a certain level and we start reacting emotionally towards each other, not listening to each other, or we’re getting defensive, upset or angry, then we need to take a break for a bit and allow things to cool down enough that we can then continue our discussions in a calmer and more constructive manner. In other words it’s time to take a time out. So in this video we’ll look at what we mean by a time out, why timeouts are important, and the best way to implement them.

Now pretty much everyone knows what a timeout is, and in the context of communication it can be any sort of break we take in the midst of a heated discussion that allows us and our partners to cool off and calm down enough, that we can then come back together and resume the conversation on a more even keel when emotions aren’t running so high.

So it’s great if we can use a non-verbal signal to indicate we want to take a timeout. If we say something like, “I’m starting to feel really upset, i don’t think i can talk about this right now can we take a little break?” This can sometimes lead to an argument about whether or not it’s okay to take a break right now. But if we feel the need to take a break then it’s important that we’re able to take it. And using a signal to indicate the timeout can make it less likely that we start arguing about it than if we were to make a verbal request.

And of course we need to agree upon this signal with our partners in advance. Maybe we use the standard timeout signal. But if we don’t like that we can come up with our own, like tapping ourselves on the head, or folding our hands together like the emoji. Or we can even both use different signals anything is fine as long as it’s clear what it means and our partners don’t find it obnoxious.

And it’s okay to use a verbal statement for a time out as long as we’ve agreed upon it in advance. And it needs to be short and to the point, unambiguous, and not up for debate. Something as direct as simply time out, or let’s take a break.

And we can never tell someone else that they need to take a timeout. If our partners seem so upset or angry that we’re convinced that they’re not able to continue the conversation in a productive manner, we can still ask to take a break as long as we don’t frame it in terms of, you need to take a timeout, or you need to take a break.

And then once we’ve indicated we want to take a break there’s no more discussion we can go do whatever we need to do to cool down without debate and we leave the room calmly no storming out or slamming the door. And no pleading for the other person this day, or following them out the room still talking. A timeout starts immediately.

And a timeout needs to last at least 20 minutes in order for us to have enough time to cool down. Some people may need an hour or even two, or it can vary depending on the situation. If we come back too soon tensions can start escalating again right away. But if we stay away too long our partners can get impatient and frustrated. So it’s important that they know that even if we’re taking a while we’re still going to come back and finish the conversation.

So it’s good to have a process in place. First the agreed upon signal or verbal request. And then a general time frame: a timeout will last half an hour and if one of us still needs more time we’ll check in with a quick text to say we need another half hour. Or if we’re generally going to need more than half an hour the check-in could take place after an hour. But again the check-in is not a discussion or debate. It’s a simple request for more time that needs to be honoured, not an invitation to start arguing over text about how they need to come back right now. But we do always need to come back

And the sooner we take a time out the better the less time we’ll need to cool off. We don’t want to wait until we’re so enraged that we’re about to explode or we can’t think clearly anymore. We should take a time out as soon as our levels of emotional arousal start to hit around four or above out of ten. Because at that point we’re starting to feel so emotional that we’re not able to continue listening or communicating that effectively anymore. And we need to give ourselves a break until we can calm ourselves back down to a level of about 3 out of 10 or below.

And often one of us wants a timeout because we feel like we’re unable to keep talking about things right now, but the other person is really upset and urgently wants to keep talking about things until they get resolved. And even if we’re feeling like we really need to keep talking about this right now and find it hard to stop and don’t want to take a break, we’ll probably benefit from taking a break. Because if we’re so desperate not to take a break until we’ve resolved whatever we’re talking about our own emotions are probably running pretty high. And we’ve probably reached a point where we’re not communicating or listening as effectively as we could.

So even if our partners have called for the break and we’re anxious to get right back to talking about things, instead of anxiously pacing back and forth waiting for them to return, which will keep us at a heightened emotional level, we need to use this break to calm our emotions and allow ourselves to cool down.

And then during the break or timeout we need to have a plan in place to help calm ourselves down some people like going for a walk or a run or a drive. Or maybe we like taking a long shower or a bath. Or we call a friend and talk for a bit. Or we listen to some music or a relaxation exercise. Or we do some meditation or yoga—just anything that helps us calm down and reset mentally and emotionally.

But it’s important to remember that there are three parts to taking a timeout. The first is actually taking the time out. The second is doing something during the break to calm our emotions and allow ourselves to reset. And then the third is to come back together with our partners and finish the conversation. And this third part cannot be skipped. Once we do cool off enough to be able to talk about things again we absolutely have to return and resume the conversation..

And this is a huge issue in many relationships. If one of us feels like the other is using a break or timeout as an excuse to get out of talking about something, then we’re going to resist allowing them to take a timeout, because we think if we stop talking about this now we’re never going to finish it. You always want to leave as soon as we disagree about something. We never get to finish a conversation. Don’t walk away from me when I’m trying to talk to you.

So it’s so important that we don’t just use the timeout as a free pass to get out of talking about an uncomfortable topic. A timeout is not an avoidance technique. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s a tool that gives us the ability to have difficult conversations, because when it feels like it’s too hard to continue talking about something, we can take a break. And then this allows us to come back to whatever we were talking about and discuss it in a less emotionally charged atmosphere when we’re both feeling a little calmer.

Now what if there isn’t time to continue a discussion after a timeout? Maybe we started talking about something over breakfast and if we take a time out there’s no time to come back to it and talk about it before we go to work. Or we start talking about something late at night and if we take a time out now it’s going to be the middle of the night before we can start talking about it again.

Well this is a good reason not to start potentially difficult conversations unless we know we’re going to have time to finish them. And it’s a good idea to schedule these conversations so that we don’t run into these sorts of time issues. But sometimes we’re just talking and we don’t know that things could get heated enough to warrant a timeout. Or sometimes we’re just really upset and bring something up spontaneously.

So in these instances we still need to be able to take a time out and give ourselves and our partners time to cool down, even though we may not be able to come back and talk about it in an hour or two, and we might have to wait until later that evening or even later the next day. And that’s fine, but we just need to check in with our partners to let them know what’s going.

I’m sorry i had to rush out this morning, let’s finish this conversation when we get home tonight.

I’m really tired and can’t talk about this anymore tonight, but let’s talk about it tomorrow.

And then no texting back and forth continuing the discussion during the day and just waiting until whenever we’ve set aside the time to continue the conversation before bringing things back up again.

And then when we resume the conversation we want to ease into it gently, not picking right back up where we left off if it was in the middle of a fight or argument, but going back a few steps before things started to get so heated and going from there, this time starting from a calmer and less emotionally charged place. And softening our start-ups or using repair attempts can help get things started on a better note than we ended off with before taking the time out.

Thanks for coming back and talking about this I’m sorry i lost my temper before.

Or i didn’t mean to get so upset. Let’s try to work this out.

So timeouts are an important tool in managing our emotions during difficult conversations, allowing us to cool down enough to be able to continue discussing these topics without our emotions getting in the way, making it much more likely we’ll be able to engage in productive conversations that lead to a resolution.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.