How to Be the Good Kind of Interrupter: Use a Time Out Before Emotions Overheat

Time out in relationships? Of course, it can be done! But you have to learn how to do it effectively to make sure any conflict eventually arrives at a resolution and it doesn’t end up in a stockpile. When we find ourselves in a conflict, we often forget the importance of embracing the pause. And it just might be the best thing you can do at that moment. 

Withdrawal vs. Time out

Never finishing the conversation and never resolving the conflict is not a timeout but a withdrawal.  For instance, when things heat up so much, you just go your separate ways. Things finally calm down after hours or maybe a day or two. And then now you’re talking about other things. But you’ve avoided that conflict and so you’ve stockpiled the problem in the house.  This happens because people haven’t learned how to use time out effectively.  Now, time out is an effective communication tool designed to regulate your emotional intensity and maintain respect in that discussion or argument. 

The Purpose of a Time out

A time out is a time-limited break in an argument with the purpose of lowering your emotional intensity. It is used to maintain or regain mutual respect through that argument.  Look at the time out as a mechanism designed to protect the relationship, and not that you’re trying to silence the other person. You’re trying to protect “us” and trying to manage this conflict so you’re asking your partner to join you in the management of that conflict.

5 Rules for How to Effectively Execute a Time out

  1. When one partner calls for a time out, the other partner has to honor it. 
View the time out as a friend in a relationship and it’s meant to protect you from harming each other. Avoid using the “you” language and use the “we” language.
  1. Use the time out to cool off in a separate space.
When you take a time out, it gives your brain a chance to cool down so go to an area where you can cool down. Go for a walk or go for a drive. You’re creating a separate space so do not follow your partner around and do not text your partner while your partner is gone. 
  1. Use the time out to regroup within yourself and gather your thoughts. 
Distract your mind and do something to get your mind off whether you need to go to a garage, listen to music, or work out. Once you’ve cooled down, you get to a point where you can start to think about what happened and understand where your partner is coming from. You begin to understand the conflict from their perspective.
  1. The person who calls the time out is responsible to re-engage the conversation with their spouse or partner. 
You want to express to your partner that you’re ready to talk, but you also want to check in with him or her to see if they’re ready to talk because you might be ready but they’re not. Again, it’s all about regulating the emotional intensity.
  1. Agree together to give each other the opportunity to speak without interruption.
This is the part where you’re breaking the conflict cycle. Balance the listening and the speaking and give your partner the consideration to hear and understand their point of view. When your partner is talking, seek to understand. And when you’re talking, don’t use “you” statements but “I” statements.  Instead of saying: “You made me angry.” Say: “I became angry when…” Using that summary and validation is the key to effective communication. While validation is the most powerful form of communication, it is used the least. Look for points of agreement where you both agreed on something. Be flexible, if you have to find a compromise. Admit your faults if you think you’ve done something wrong. If you want to learn more about how to use a time out before emotions overheat, check out