Friday, March 1, 2013

Time Out: A Great Way to Chill When All Else Fails

Did you ever have a whopper of a fight with your spouse or significant other?  Harville Hendrix, couples therapist, aptly describes one of those conflicts as a nightmare.  Or maybe it's like being stuck in quicksand.  You simply can not seem to extricate yourself. This is not a healthy fight. It's probably going no where - just escalating.

One absolutely fair way to break into this going no where good fight is for one or the other spouses to call a time out. A time out defined as a cessation of conflict and time to chill is perfectly legit.

Some spouses, in my experience, often women, erroneously think that this is an unfair tactic.  They have the mistaken belief that all conflict must be verbally resolved and hammered out at that moment. I have heard of marital arguments that went on all night. One or the other or both spouses are convinced that if they repeat themselves often enough and loudly enough, eventually the other spouse will get it. Sadly this is not the case.

I suggest that if you find yourself in a true couples nightmare of a fight, that one or the other call a time out.  A time out might be taking a break and going in your separate corners or even different rooms. It might be a walk around the block or a trip to the gym.  What is critical is that when you feel that the reptilian part of your brain has been engaged, you feel your blood pressure rising and your heart beating faster that you take a break. If you are behaving like a reptile all the more reason to chill.

My rule for couples who want to use a time out technique is that the person calling the time out needs to set a time to resume the discussion, preferably within the next 24 hours if not sooner.  That way the other partner is not left dangling.

 Dr. John Gottman is a marriage therapist of legendary status who therapists like to quote when they need something say on the level of the 10 Commandments to refer to.  When you hear a marriage therapist say John Gottman says...listen up because you know something profound and as near to the truth as marriage therapists can get is about to come out of their mouth. Here it is --- John Gottman says that the most healthy couples don't actually ever resolve conflict and tie it up in a neat little bow  - I added the little bow part.  Healthy couples learn how to work with conflict and work around it. That's the way I see it too. So don't beat yourself up if you don't end up in perfect agreement after a marital spat.   In fact sometimes a perfectly healthy resolution is to agree to disagree and respect one another's different perspectives.

So, next time you find yourself and your spouse or significant other behaving like George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf  take a time out.  Don't badger the spouse who asked for it.  Show a little empathy and respect their need for space if they call for a time out.

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