Responsible Time Outs

We have all experienced arguments where we or our partner are so flooded with emotion and upset that we need a break to stop the destruction. The best way to stop  verbal abuse – from self and another- is to take a formal time-out.

A time out is not the same as saying “I’m out of here”, then taking leave with a door slam. A responsible time out has specific guidelines.

When either partner calls a time-out – by saying the words, “time-out,” by using the “T“ hand signal, or by using any agreed upon sign – the interaction comes to an immediate stop. Partners agree in advance that a gestured signal means the following spoken word: The spoken or gestured signal is understood by both partners to be an abbreviation of the following words:

“For whatever reason, right or wrong, I am about to lose it. If I stay here and keep this up with you I am liable to do or say something stupid that I know I’m going to regret. Therefore I am taking a break to get a grip on myself and calm down. I will check back in with you later on this.”

Twenty minutes is a good break time but you can agree to something else if you like.  But if no time is specified, 20 minutes is when you need to check in. Checking in does not necessarily mean getting together to resume the discussion.  You can check in – either in person or by text or telephone – and tell your partner that you need more time. With each extension, the time-out interval gets longer. The recommended length between check-ins is:

Twenty minutes

One or two hours

Half a day

A whole day


It’s best to give the topic of conflict a minimum of 24 hours rest before revisiting. Timeouts limit the damage and show respect and value for the relationship.

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