If you feel anger building, slow things down and avoid rage by using time-outs. This technique is effective because it allows the rational part of the brain to determine the best response, rather than letting the more primitive part hijack our thoughts and leave us with a limited, fight-or-flight reaction. Time-outs also allow the adrenaline to subside, helping you think more clearly.
The time-out plan
All the steps in this plan are important and are included in the list for a reason. Skipping one or several of the steps could cause the technique to not work, or not work as well as it should. Here are the guidelines:
- Discuss this time-out plan with your partner now, before you need to use it. It will probably reassure them that you are thinking about strategies to keep them safe and reduce the ugliness of your disagreements. Plus, they’ll understand what you are doing when you do call time-out in an argument.
- Identify your own signs that you are becoming angry in advance. Write them down. Study them. Be prepared to take a time-out next time you get angry.
- At the first sign of anger, tell your partner you are going to take a time-out. Taking a time-out is not the same as giving in or a sign of being weak. On the contrary, it’s a sign of tremendous strength and self-control.
- Focus on your own emotions. When you call a time-out, focus on your own emotions and not your partner’s actions. Say something like “I’m feeling angry and I’m going to take a time-out” rather than “You’re pissing me off. I’m outta here!” or “You’re being unreasonable and I’m not going to listen to this anymore.”
- Tell your partner where you are going. Decide this ahead of time (see below). By telling your partner, he or she is less likely to worry about your safety or feel abandoned.
- Tell your partner how long you’re going to be gone. Take a minimum of 45-60 minutes. Adrenaline will be burning off and the lizard brain mode may still be engaged for the first 30 minutes of walking. Once the hormones and emotions drain away, you will still need time to plan how to best handle the issue. If your temptation is to take a time-out that lasts days, however, you are likely avoiding the situation. This is called stonewalling, which also damages relationships.
- Tell your partner you would like to hear his or her point of view and that the two you can discuss it when you return (or at some set time). This lets your partner know that you value them, their opinion, and are willing to discuss the issue and not just avoid it. Follow through on this promise.
- Leave in a respectful way. Your last impression out the door will help set expectations for your return. Make them positive by going quietly and under control.
- Return when you said you would, or call if you determine you need more time to cool off. This shows you are dependable – a quality that is very important to building and maintaining trust in a relationship.
What to do (and not do) with your body
- DO something physical. Physical activity helps burn off excess energy and adrenaline that has built up in your bloodstream. Walking is an ideal activity because you can usually do it anytime, anywhere.
- DO plan to be alone during this time. Give yourself time and space to think.
- DO NOT drive. Adrenaline and driving may be a worse combination than drinking and driving.
- DO NOT go to a bar, consume alcohol, or do drugs. Mind-altering substances will most likely make the situation worse. They definitely will not help you think clearly.
What to do (and not do) with your mind
- DO remind yourself of what you like/love about your partner.
- DO think compassionately about your partner’s flaws. For example, she may not be the most organized person in the world, but her free spirit makes her fun to be around. He may not be a very good listener, but he’s really great with children. These are thing you’ve known that about your partner and chosen to love them anyway.
- DO think compassionately about your partner’s situation. For example, you might remind yourself she may be snappy right now because she’s under a lot of pressure at work. Or maybe he’s sensitive about money because he didn’t get a pay raise.
- DO try to see your partner’s perspective on this issue.
- DO use your time to plan how to best respond. What outcome do you really want? Is it to win this argument, protect your pride, or maintain an intimate relationship with your partner? Hopefully you picked the last one. What words can you say or actions can you take to achieve that desired outcome?
- CONSIDER writing your plan down. Writing will help you see if your response is likely to lead you and your partner to a mutual understanding and a win-win solution or just inflame the situation. Your notes can also help you verbalize it when you talk with him or her.
- DO NOT call your friend or your mother. Conversations waste time that you need to think. Friends and family will often side with us, but it is important to see your partner’s perspective, not have your own reinforced. Plus, many people give bad relationship advice, which really isn’t going to help.
- DO call a mentor that is helping you through the process, if you have one.