Creating a Marital Timeout

Rachelle Colegrove

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?

TIME-OUT-SIGNALS-large1Often, 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:

  1. It is not effective when used for the purpose of withdrawal (avoiding your spouse, alienating yourself without resolution, sulking, or using the silent treatment).
  2. 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.

 For a printer friendly version of this article, please click here: Creating a Marital Timeout

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