Thursday, July 29th, 2021

R Shopper Columns


When the anger becomes too intense during an argument, it is wise to call a 'time out.' We know we will not solve our problem when we are this angry. It will probably get worst. When we are angry, we tend not to hear clearly because what we hear is distorted by our feelings. Also when we are angry there is the strong tendency not to see our part in causing the problem but rather blame our partner for what is going wrong.

Time outs work in sports. When things get out of control, a time out is called. It is a time to reexamine and come up with a new strategy. It is a time to motivate or cool off. Time outs can work for couples as well. Couples need an agreed upon structure for dealing with conflict so that it will be safe to be angry and so they can deal effectively with their conflicts.

When do we call a time out? When we feel it is no longer safe to keep talking or when we keep saying the same thing over and over again, it is time to call time out.

How does it work? When it gets to the point when a time out is necessary, one partner gives a pre-agreed-upon signal. The signal could be a sports' time out with the hands making a 't'. Once the time out is called, there is no more discussion. The time out is not even discussible. Each person retires to selected places to cool down.

How do we exit to a cool-down place? While it is important to agree to disengage without comment, it is equally important to exit in a way that does not escalate the argument. Slamming the door and giving a few parting shots are not done.

How much time do we spend for the time-out? Many couples agree to limit their time-outs to thirty minutes. After an argument, the woman's heart rate goes down but the man's heart rate goes up even after the conflict. The conclusion: men need a longer time out, so thirty minutes seems to work for most.

What do we do during the time-out?

Once there, soothe yourself. One way to soothe yourself is to breathe with your stomach. Take several deep breaths, hold and exhale slowly.

Write in a journal if you like to clarify for yourself what happened. Write what you think the problem behavior is and what would you like to see happen. Write what you honestly think your partner is saying and desiring.

Do not magnify what your spouse did wrong or generalize about his or her traits.

How do we reengage?

Wait to reengage until both of you are feeling normal.

Both you and your partner are to sit down when reengaging.

One partner will share while the other reflects without interrupting.

The one talking will use an 'I' message and share what he or she has con tributed to the problem and what is desired.

Problem solve.

Affirm each other and show some sign of affection.

Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through

Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700