Married couple having conflict

Steps to an Effective Relationship Time-out

Conflict is natural in a relationship, in fact, done effectively it can have purposeful and positive influences on a couple’s emotional intimacy. So then why do so many couples struggle to reap these benefits? A big issue is that they don’t recognize when and how to stop the argument before it turns explosive or damaging. To be fair, it’s hard! About 70% of couples’ problems are perpetual, meaning they don’t get solved over time, they aren’t going anywhere, and they often involve unspoken underlying needs. You know the triggers for these fights well – the division of labor, the in-laws, those once beloved personality differences, to name a few.  So, before the next conflict spirals into disaster try using the STOP technique to de-escalate and reset:

S = Self check 

  1. What is the level of your own distress? 
    (0 = none → 10 = as intense as you can imagine) 
    5–6 = yellow light 
    7–8 = red light
  2. Time-outs are for your sake.

T = Time-Out 

  1. Nonverbal and verbal indication. 
  2. Immediate stop in communication. 
  3. Agree on an amount of time and circumstance for returning.

O = Outlet 

  1. BREATHE. 
  2. Avoid activities that fuel your negative emotions. 
  3. Clarify what one or two things are most upsetting. 
  4. Consider one thing you can do to improve communication.

P = Process 

  1. Return at the agreed-upon time and circumstance. 
  2. Resume communication, with focus on your goal for improvement.  REMEMBER: TIMEOUT IS ONLY AS GOOD AS TIME-IN. 
  3. Self-monitor and repeat if necessary.