Marriage doesn’t come with a one size fits all handbook that outlines the specific steps that couples can take for how to resolve conflict in marriage.  One method that can be successfully leveraged when conversations become heated is the “time out” method.  By taking a time out, the hopes are that both parties will “take a breather”, calm down, and retrain their focus on solving the issue or issues at hand rather than focusing on the negative emotions of anger, agitation, ignorance or fear that one or both may be feeling.

time-outWhy a Time Out Doesn’t Always Work

While in theory taking a time out for a way of how to resolve conflict in marriage is a great idea, unless both parties take a “proper” time out, it’s not going to be an effective conflict resolution tool for the couple.  There are a few reasons why “time outs” may not work for a couple:

  • The time away is spent ruminating on negative emotions rather than focusing on the core issue
  • One or both parties may take a “time out” simply to escape the issue
  • One or both parties may be looking for a way to distract themselves from the pressing problem at hand and use it as a way to move on without addressing the issue

If either individual spent the time apart focusing on any one of the above three items, once the couple resumes their previous discussion, they would most assuredly end up right back where they were before they parted for the time out because their outlook or perspective hasn’t really changed.  In fact, an individual may feel even more fueled up and ready to argue rather than seek resolution.

How to Take an Effective Time Out

The best time for a couple to take a time out is when there is a shift in the internal state of one or both parties that will put them at the risk of escalating the conversation into a pointless or destructive argument.  The reason for this is simple: when the conversation is at the tipping point of going sour, one or both couples are then at a heightened risk of saying something mean or hurtful to the other, which then often becomes the reason for another conversation which turns into an argument, which is cause for another mishandled conversation that becomes a dispute, and so on.

A time out is never a permanent solution for how to resolve conflict in marriage, but rather should be a temporary measure that’s used to help a couple reenter into an appropriate frame of mind so that they can respond constructively and appropriately.  In order to effectively use this strategy, a couple must:

  • Mutually agree that time outs are acceptable
  • Be able to express the need for a time out without judgment
  • Agree that the time out is short and temporary (try to agree on a set amount of time)
  • Understand that distance is necessary so that the other party can take care of him or herself and reflect upon new strategies and courses of action
  • Return and repair any damage that may have been done

Most couples also benefit from having an objective conversation after the initial discussion about why both parties reacted how they did so that they both gain a better understanding of what their spouse was feeling and how any such conflicts can be avoided going forward in their marriage.

If you would like to work with me in Couples Therapy contact me at (864) 559-8181.

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Remember marriage is a journey and not a destination. My goal is to make sure you have the tools to make your journey happy and successful. 

Suntia Smith, LISW-CP