Taking a time-out is one of the most important tools you will learn. It is very important that each partner knows the importance and value of the time-out. Respect the use of time-outs. Either you or your partner may use a time-out. It is a break used to manage hyper-arousal. Time-outs may be difficult to do at first.
Why? We cannot communicate when we are hyper-aroused. There is no way to negotiate or resolve a conflict. Our impulse is to stay and finish a conflict, take control, defend ourselves, or at least get in the last word. Or we may fear our partner will be gone when we return. Using timeouts is part of trust-building and a part of healthy relating. As each partner follows through with his or her part in taking a time-out, trust grows in each other and the relationship. Trust takes time to develop. Don’t expect trust to happen overnight. Trust requires patience. Time-outs can safeguard your relationship.
The thought of using time-outs in your relationship may be difficult at first. Usually, it gets easier with time. A good way to begin using time-outs is to practice them before you are in an escalated argument. It is much easier to become familiar and comfortable with something when you’re not angry, hyper-aroused or worked up. Time-outs work because couples can’t be violent with each other when both partners are cooled off. Both men and women have successfully used time-outs to stop emotionally bankrupting the relationship or stopping violence.
Drugs and/or alcohol use can be an enemy to time-outs. People sometimes use drugs or alcohol during the time-out. Dr. Paul Standal recommends not using drugs or alcohol during a time-out. He also recommends that no one drive or be around weapons of any kind during a time-out.
How to Take a Time-Out
The sooner you take a time-out, the easier it is to return to one’s normal self-conscious state., take a time-out. The first moment whenever you feel your anger rising, your chest or head pressured, your body getting tense, your heart racing, your body getting hot, or you feel frustrated or out-of-control, say out loud, to yourself and to your partner, “I need to take a time-out.” This is to be said in a normal level and tone of voice; it should not be said in a loud, angry voice. Make no threatening gestures.
We’ve found that it generally takes a minimum of 15-45 minutes for the cortisol and adrenaline to release, for blood pressure and anger symptoms to go down and for the self-conscious mind to return. The amount of time it takes for rational thinking to be restored is based on how early you take the time-out when you realize anger is about to or has already set in. Depending on the conflict, the coming down from anger process can take much longer. During the time-out you should not drink, use drugs or drive. It is better for you to go for a walk or exercise. Do something physical to release built-up energy. It is also important to use self-talk to help change negative, distorted thoughts. Children should not listen to or watch parents argue, or be mediators for their parents’ arguments, violence, or be put in a position where they might attempt to physically protect a parent. Children are negatively affected by violence.
When you return in the pre-arranged amount of time, check in with your partner and tell him or her that you have come back from your time-out, ask your partner if they would like to talk to you at that time. If you both agree to talk about the situation, take this time to communicate what made you and your partner angry or frightened or how you both were feeling. If one of you doesn’t want to talk yet, respect your partner’s needs. Don’t try to resolve the issue at that time. Check back with your partner at a later agreed-upon amount of time. Do not badger your partner by repeatedly checking back. If angry feelings start to rise again, start over with another time-out. Your partner also has the right to take a time-out when he or she begins to feel angry or frightened. In the beginning, you may find that you both have to take many time-outs to resolve the problem. It is normal in the beginning. Remember you are learning a new tool.
Steps for Taking a Time-Out
Step 1: Say to your partner, “I’m beginning to feel angry. I need to take a time-out.”
Use “I” statements. By saying what is going on for you and taking a time-out, you are building up trust and choosing a behavior that is not violent. Instead of being physically, sexually or emotionally violent, you can choose to walk away. This will help develop trust and self-esteem in the relationship and developed trust in your ability to be nonviolent. Give a T-signal that you are leaving. If you are unable to talk, your partner is entitled to give a T-signal or tell you that he or she is frightened and take a time-out.
Step 2: Leaving for a pre-arranged amount of time.
Stay away until you feel that you are back into your self-conscious mind. You and your partner can determine the best time for you both, anywhere between a minimum of 15 minutes and a maximum of one hour. Obviously, if after an hour you think you may be violent, do not return. Phone or get word to your partner that you need more time.
Step 3: Don’t drink, use drugs, drive or involve the children in your argument.
Using drugs and/or alcohol during a time-out will only make a situation worse. Driving while intoxicated or angry can be lethal. Children are not to be used to solve your relationship disagreement. You are an adult.
Step 4: Do something physical.
Go for a walk, run, bike ride, etc. This will help discharge some of the tension in your body. However, talking yourself out of anger is critical. Challenge your negative, distorted thoughts to help bring down your angry feelings.
Step 5: Come back in the agreed amount of time.
When you make a contract with someone, it is binding. If you take a time-out, come back in the specified time period. Keep your word. This will help increase the trust in your relationship. Living up to the agreement shows your partner that you are not trying to avoid dealing with the difficult issues. If you are not able to come back to your partner and be nonviolent, check in with him or her and state you need more time. Give a specific time when you will be back to check in. Do not discuss anything else at this time.
Step 6: Check in.
Checking in is the completion part of the time-out. Always ask your partner if they are willing to talk when you return. If you both agree, sit down in a neutral place, without children present, and talk about your feelings. Start by using the “what do you feel like saying” process, “I” statements and positive communication skills and begin to listen and discuss emotional issues.
Some topics of conversation maybe too emotionally charged to talk about. If this is true in your situation, put those issues off for a while and bring them to therapy. Dr. Standal acknowledges that it is too difficult for the two of you to discuss it alone. Wait until you both have learned healthy ways to resolve conflict. Or you may need to consider taking these issues to a counselor to help resolve the problem. Always remember the first priority when resolving a conflict is to remain nonviolent. Resolve conflict and problems by using nonviolence skills; nothing could be more important than stopping the violence and taking a time-out is a very effective way to facilitate this objective.
1. I understand the benefits and concepts of a time-out will be discussed with my partner, if they are willing, and the agreement will be made by both people to uphold the contract.
2. When I realize that my anger or my partner’s anger is rising, I will take a time-out or signal my partner, and I agree I will leave at once. I will not hit or kick anything and I will not slam the door.
3. I will return in a few minutes or have contact with my partner in no more than one hour. I will take a walk, call and talk to a friend, or get some exercise to use up my angry energy. I will not drink or use drugs or drive while I’m away. I will not involve my children in any arguments with my partner. I will use my self-talk and focus on cooling down; I will not focus on resentments. If I still feel my anger escalating, I will tell my partner I need more time. I will not choose to become violent.
4. When I return, I will start the conversation with letting my partner know I want to resolve the argument. The results I would like to achieve are that I will take accountability for my actions and discuss calmly how I feel and what I desire. I agree to practice safe resolution.
If my partner gives the time-out signal and leaves, I will calmly return the signal and let my partner go without disagreement or following them, no matter what is going on. I will let my partner walk away. I will not drink or use drugs while my partner is away. I will not involve the children in any argument with my partner. I will avoid focusing on resentments. I will use self-talk to calm myself. When my partner returns, I will calmly listen to what he or she has to say. I agree that my partner is entitled to express him or herself. My partner and I will both get a turn in expressing ourselves.
GOTTMAN RECOVERY PROCESS
REPAIRING THE AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT
Stopping the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
1. Criticism: Use of gentle startup
2. Defensiveness: Take responsibility
3. Contempt: Build a culture of appreciation
4. Stonewalling: Do physiological soothing
This information is for processing past fights, regrettable incidents or past emotional injuries. Processing means you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again. It needs to be conversation as if you were both sitting in the balcony of the theater looking down on the stage where the action occurred. This requires you to be calm and to get some emotional distance from the incident. Keep in mind that the goal is greater understanding, addressing the process and how the issue was talked about without getting back into the fight, so wait until you’re both calm before you start the conversation. We assume that each of your reality is has validity. Perception is everything; don’t focus on “the facts.” Pay attention to common barriers to communication and their antidotes as you move through the process. The Four Horsemen referenced on the last page of this book (do you want to reference a book here or change the language?) can help. Work through the five steps below together.
The Five Steps
Feelings: Share how you felt. Do not say why you felt that way. Avoid commenting on your partner’s feelings.
Realities: Take turns describing your reality. Summarize and validate at least a part of your partner’s reality.
Triggers: Share what experiences or memories you’ve had that might have escalated the interaction, and the stories of why these are triggers for each of you.
Responsibility: Acknowledge your role in contributing to the fight or the regrettable incident.
Constructive Plans: Plan together one way that each of you can make it better next time.
Share how you felt, but not yet the reasons why. Read aloud the items from the list below that were true for you during the fight. Do not comment on your partner’s feelings.
Subjective reality and validation. (This doesn’t really fit here as a stand-alone and make sense. Where would you like it to go or how would you like it displayed?) Take turns describing your perceptions, your own reality of what happened during the regrettable incident. Describe yourself and your perception. Don’t describe your partner. Avoid attack and blame.
Summarize, and then validate, your partner’s reality by saying something like, “It makes sense to me how you saw this and what your perceptions and needs were.” Or say, “I get it.” Use empathy by saying something like, “I can see why you’re upset about this.” Validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand even a part of your partner’s experience of the incident. Do both partners feel understood? If yes, move on. If no, ask, “What do I need to know to understand your perceptions better?”
Share what escalated you in the interaction. For you, what events in the interaction triggered a big reaction in you? Share your stories. It will help your partner understand you. As you think about your early history or your childhood, is there a story you remember that relates to what got triggered in you, you’re enduring vulnerabilities? Your partner needs to know you so that your partner can be more sensitive to you.
Samples of Triggers
Validation: Do any parts of your partner’s triggers and story make sense to you?
Under ideal conditions, you might have done better at talking about this issue. “What set me up for this?” Share how you set yourself up to get into this conflict. Read aloud the items that were true for you on the list below.
Overall, what was your contribution to this regrettable incident or fight?
What do you wish to apologize for?
I’m sorry that:
Share one thing each of you can do to make the discussion of this issue better next time. During your turn, also share one thing you can do to improve the discussion next time. What do you need to be able to put this behind you and move on? Be as agreeable as possible to the plan suggested by your partner.
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