Time Out During Conflict

by John E. Turner, LMFT and Sally R. Connolly, LMFT


Share our site.
Bookmark and Share
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when having a disagreement is to continue talking … and arguing … after their heart rate rises and they are flooded. Some of the signs of “flooding” are feeling warm all over, a knot in the stomach, inability to think clearly, a headache or a racing heart.

When anyone is flooded, the tendency is either “fight or flight” … either to run away or to get more escalated, louder, an angrier tone, saying regretful and hurtful things. No one can think rationally when upset and there is no way to resolve issues or hear your partner at times like this. These conversations are deadly for a relationship and, if they happen frequently, can erode even the most loving feelings.


Call A Time Out During the Conflict

The best way to handle the situation is to call a time out. This does not involve running away, but rather a “time out” hand sign or words like “I am starting to feel flooded or get upset” and to take a break. Couples who talk about this before a disagreement arises can also plan a way to get back together after both are calm, to talk about the issue … if there needs to be a continued discussion.
 
It generally takes people a minimum of 20 minutes to calm down after they have stopped thinking about the situation or conversation … so it is important to do something
 
different with your brain … read a book, talk about something else with a friend, play with your child, meditate, play a video game. When both are calm, the conversation can resume.

It is also helpful when a partner can notice signs of flooding in either of them and suggest a break with words that name what is happening .. “I think maybe this is not a good time to talk about this because you are appearing to be and/or I am feeling flooded. Let’s talk again when we are both in a better spot.”

Give Space To The Person Asking For A Time Out

It is often harder for the calmer person to allow the break. There seems to be the idea in many heads that it is better to stay with a situation and talk it out until there is a resolution when, in fact, there cannot be a real resolution, maybe a giving in or giving up … but no real resolution when either person is in a flooded state.

Talk the idea of a time out over with your partner and see if there is a way to incorporate this into your discussions, especially when the discussions can be emotionally charged. Remember, while it is the responsibility for each person to recognize when they begin to be flooded, the relationship will be healthier when both take responsibility for calm and respectful discussions.

Want help with your relationship?  Want help learning how to develop these skills?  We can help.  We are available in person, by phone or by email.

Click here to be taken to our enrollment page and let us help you.




Return to Online Coaching and Counseling Home Page