Time Out with a Caring Plan to Reconnect
by David A. Yeats LCSW
In relationships, a conversation can escalate so that one or both partners may feel angry, scared, out of control, hurt, or otherwise triggered. When this happens either partner may need to take a break in order to feel safe, stay in control, or reduce the tension in the situation. At such times, taking a Time Out can be useful. or necessary!
A couple should first come to an agreement (at a time when both are calm) that they will use the Time Out in such circumstances hwere they are triggered, as well as together understand specifically what a Time Out actually means.
A Time Out should not be used as a form of punishing a partner, but as a means to maintain a sense of connection with a partner.
A partner who feels triggered takes permission to 1) call a Time Out: "I'm feeling upset, so I'm taking a Time Out...I'll be back in (previously agreed on length of time)"
This signal means that the partner who called a Time Out should 2) leave the situation for a specific period of time. Sometimes, leaving a room is enough: for some couples, leaving the home will be necessary.
The length of time for a Time Out is predetermined and understood and agreed on by both partners. Usually a Time Out lasts an hour. A couple may agree on more or less time, (again, in advance, before becoming triggered), but generally with a two hour maximum. (Mini Time Outs-before the situation escalates might be five to fifteen minutes long—agree in advance). A Time Out should rarely last longer than 24 hours without reconnecting somehow.
During the time away, partners should have no contact and no exchanges with each other.
During the time away, it might be useful to do something physical (walk, ride a bike, do some push -ups, run in place, etc.) to relax one's body. Give some thought to what is going on, to the cycle of mutual triggering. What do 1 need here? What would be helpful for my partner? How can we create a win-win?
After the agreed on period of time away, 3) return, with A Caring Plan to Reconnect (CPR) in mind. Find a way to build a bridge with each other. We may agree to table the issue for a later time (but usually within 24 hours) if we are not able to talk about the issue at the time...
It is not important to reach one version of what's true. (There are always two truths in a relationship: the goal is not to get to one truth, but to hear and respect each person’s truth, and eventually to find a way to create a win-win. It's much more useful to create an opportunity to hear and acknowledge the different experience of each partner, to witness as each person speaks what is true for them.
Remember, nothing positive can be accomplished until and unless both partners feel safe.
1)take permission to take a Time Out 2)leave the situation for a specific pre-agreed on period of time 3)return with CPR (Caring Plan to Reconnect
Building Safety and Respect over time is the surest, fastest, best way to a deeper, more satisfying relationship. Good Luck!!