When Adults Need Time-Outs


the benefits of taking an adult time outThe Best Defense Against Verbal Abuse Is A Formal Time-Out.

I am sure you have heard of time-outs and may have used them with your kids.

Ironically they also work extremely well with headstrong adults too.

When you call for a time out, you are signaling to your partner the following:

I can’t handle the way this conversation is going any more at this moment.  I am concerned I am going to say or do something stupid that I will regret.  Right or wrong, I need to take a break to calm down and get my thoughts together, so we can continue this in a respectful way later.

Give The Signal

how to call an adult time-outAt a time when you both are in a good place, come up with an agreed hand signal like forming the letter T with our hands or an agreed word or phrase like Time-out or I need a time-out.

The spoken work or hand signal needs to cause an immediate end to the conversation.

The beauty of this approach is that you are telling your partner that “I” am the one that needs the break.

It is a bad idea to ever tell your partner that “YOU” are being a jerk and need a time-out. 

This will guarantee the continuation of the argument or worse.

You are not telling them to change their behavior.  It is your issue, so therefore they cannot argue with you about it.

Once you have agreed to this, either person has the right to leave the conversation at that time and should not be stopped or ridiculed.

How Long Should The Time-out Be?

I recommend a minimum of 20 minutes, but you can specify any amount of time you need. 

You can make the default be 20 minutes.

After the agreed on time, it is critical that you check back in. 

It does not necessarily have to be getting back together.  It can be in person or over the phone.  You may even ask for more time.

why you need adult time-outsI had one couple, Reggie and Nancy who both came from argumentative families.  They would have screaming matches that could last for days.

After learning about time-outs, they described one Sunday afternoon where an argument was starting up.  This time Reggie decided to try the time-out and left for Starbucks around the corner to grab some coffee.

When he called to check in, Nancy responded to his, “Ready to stop fighting?” with an angry rant.  He said, “OK Nancy I’ll be at Starbucks reading the paper. I’ll back in an hour.”

An hour later, he called and got the same response.  So he did some errands around town and called a two hours later.  Same question, same response.

So Reggie called his daughter and took her to the movies.  The fight that began in the early afternoon finally wrapped up later in the evening after he dropped his daughter off…

“Nancy I’d really like to stop fighting…”  He finally heard her sigh and say with a laugh, “Come on home.  It is safe. The crazy woman is under control.”

This was a turning point in their relationship because Nancy’s verbal abuse was not answered in kind and helped them both get control over their habitual responses to each other.

They learned how to control their anger without letting it control them.

Reconnecting After The Time Out

After taking the time-out, whether it was only 20 minutes or an entire day, DO NOT discuss the topic that set you off for at least 24 hours.

If you do, you run the risk of diving back into it again.

If possible set a time after the 24 hours to come back together and discuss it again.

When To Get Help

If you find that you need to keep calling time-outs every time you try and discuss the issue, this should indicate either you let it go or you are not able to navigate this topic on your own.

Either let it go or get help.

If you find you both are frequently using time-outs in your serious discussions it also indicates a need for help.

Clarity Session with Wendy Lynne, Life Coach


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