Remember the skills and strategies that you are learning today are not only applicable to romantic relationships, but also friendships, roommates, co-workers, family members, etc.
A time-out is a plan for what to do when you feel yourself getting too angry to continue a discussion or resolve a disagreement. It’s a tool to keep relationship conflicts from turning into destructive interactions. It is also a way to respect yourself and your partner, family members, friends, etc. A time-out is NOT a tool to be used to avoid talking about difficult topics, to manipulate others, or to get revenge.
When we are quickly rising up that anger scale, our thinking becomes narrowed and we often can’t see the whole picture. Therefore, it is essential that we have a plan in place ahead of time that can be immediately implemented in these cases. Here are a few things to think about as you develop your plan for taking a time out:
• Develop a way to express that you need to take a time-out. Find a way that is comfortable for you and respectful of your partner, parent, friend, etc. (“I am starting to feel too angry to keep talking now,” “I need some time to cool down,” etc.).
• Set a specific amount of time that you will be gone (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.) and where you will be (the gym, the beach, etc.).
• Leave respectfully. No door slamming or rude last minute remarks.
• While you’re away, refrain from using alcohol or drugs or doing other things that could make the situation worse (i.e. going to a bar, calling an ex- boyfriend or girlfriend).
• Do something calming to help you de-escalate. People do things differently to calm down, such as taking a long slow walk, listening to music, or just sitting quietly. You may also want to talk yourself down to a calm state. Use soothing statements like, “Everything will be okay,” or “We can work this out.” It is important that you do things that calm you down.
• Come back when you said you would. If you find that you are still too angry it is your responsibility to call your partner and say, “I am still too angry. I will be home in another hour.”
• Once you’ve returned, decide together how and when you will resolve the issue. You have three options:
- Finish talking about it now.
- Drop it because you realize that it wasn’t that important.
- Decide to talk about it later and agree when “later” is.
- When you are feeling overwhelmed with anger, or extremely upset with your partner, you are more likely to say things that you will later regret. Learning to calm your self down at those times is a crucial skill.
- For most people calming down takes about 20 minutes, so take a time out. Get away from each other and do something that you find soothing.
- Examples for calming down may include: deep breathing, sitting quietly, listening to music, calling a friend, exercising, etc.
Listening and Responding
- Be intentionally both verbal and non-verbal…listening requires effort.
- Show understanding and empathy by putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and imagining how they feel, and not trying to talk your partner out of those feelings.
- Be fully present, don’t plan your responses while the other person is talking.
- Avoid interrupting, ask open-ended questions, and use “I” statements.
- Reflect and clarify content and feelings.
- This includes taking responsibility for your own behavior, apologizing for mistakes, and complimenting your partner on handling a situation well.
Rules for Fair Confrontations
- Remember that sometimes you have to agree to disagree.
- 31% of all conflict are solvable and 69% are unsolvable problems (Gottman, 1999).
Rules for Fair Confrontations
- If possible, arrange to fight when you are feeling good about yourself.
- Choose the right time and place.
- Get away from the win/lose concept.
- Be direct and specific.
- Know what you are asking for and what results you desire.
- Bring up one item only and stick to it.
- Focus on the behavior – not the person.
- Do not hit below the belt – don’t bring up topics about which the other person is especially sensitive.
- Don’t agree with something the other person says which you don’t believe to be true.
- Do not use character analysis or psychoanalysis.
- Don’t try to mind read. ASK.
- Avoid Stereotyping – women’s liberation, male chauvinist pig, autocrat.
- Avoid storing up small grievances until you explode.
- Avoid playing “archeologist” – don’t dig up past history.
- Do not generalize – “you always”, “you never.”
- Do not “drop the bomb on Luxembourg” – don’t threaten divorce for failure to pick up socks.
- Avoid “round robin” fights – don’t let it become a repetitive, stale argument.
- Emphasize the positive along with the negative.
(Based on the list of rules extrapolated from Bach’s The Intimate Enemy by Holmberg, and by Osborn and Harris’s Assertive Training for Women – p.187)