Holes in the wall, screeching tires, clenched fists, and hateful words are just some of the indicators that a relationship has gone awry. Angry words and actions affect lives forever. How can you stop these reactions early before they are out of control?
Often, the beginning of healing in a relationship comes by calling a “cease fire”. While calling this “time out” will not bring healing by itself to your relationship, it will help to avoid further damage. I often use the “marital timeout” with couples who are new to therapy and cannot even have a conversation without it escalating out of control.
So how does the timeout work?
Unlike a timeout for a child, adults put themselves in timeout. As emotions start to rise, one spouse might say to the other, “I can tell I am getting angry and need a timeout. Let’s resume this conversation in 20 minutes or in the morning.” Then, because the timeout has been discussed previously when both parties were calm, each spouse proceeds to a place to think about the situation.
During this time apart, I suggest each spouse go through The Care Cycle from the National Institute of Marriage outlined below.
Disagreements happen because one or both persons are having their “buttons” pushed. I suggest that couples print off The Care Cycle, move to a quiet place to process, and then come back to share what each has learned about themselves.
Here are a few things to consider when taking a marital timeout:
- It is not effective when used for the purpose of withdrawal (avoiding your spouse, alienating yourself without resolution, sulking, or using the silent treatment).
- It must always contain a specific time frame by when the situation will be discussed and resolved.
If couples cannot resolve situations within a week or two by themselves, I encourage them to see a counselor for help. Your relationship is too important to let it sustain prolonged damage.
The Care Cycle
Aware: Create Space
- Physically remove self from situation
- Internally give self permission to slow down
- Take several minutes in this safe place. Physiologically, you may need 20+ minutes
Goal: Seek a quiet space for comfort, clarity, and objectivity.
Accept: Identify my own feelings
- What are my emotions, buttons, and fears in this moment?
- View my feelings as information
- Adopt a curious rather than judgmental stance about my feelings
Goal: Validate and accept emotions, buttons, and fears.
Attend: What are my thoughts?
- Did I do anything to contribute to my feeling?
- Did I play back an old message?
- Do I have memories of broken places?
- Do I have negative beliefs about myself?
- Am I dwelling on negative past experiences?
- Is this feeling deeply familiar? When have I felt it before?
- Am I judging or condemning myself?
- Am I mind reading rather than checking it out?
- Could I have possibly misunderstood?
- Did I get myself all worked up?
- Am I aware of any temptation to soothe/medicate my hurt? (with food, substances, shopping)
Goal: Discover the role you play in the emotional intensity of the situation.
Allow: Allow God to Enter
- Ask yourself: What will bring life to this situation? What is the TRUTH?
- What does God say to me (comfort, truth, conviction, value and worth)?
- Allow Him to remind me I am the caretaker of the body/mind He has given me.
Goal: Between you and God, allow your wants to be met.
Act: Choose to respond instead of react
- Will my response create safety within me?
- Will my response create safety for my relationship?
- How does God want me to respond?
Goal: Behave with honor and integrity.