We all have our sore spots.
There are topics that can trigger intense emotional reactions that are likely to warrant time-outs. Examples of conversations that can deteriorate into destructive arguments are those that focus on money, sex, child-rearing, parents and in-laws, eating habits, weight control, and driving habits. It’s wise to be honest but to tread lightly, particularly if one’s partner is sensitive to criticism.
Communication in sensitive areas is necessary. Avoidance of difficult conversations provokes consequences that are more damaging than the conversation itself. Not talking about important issues is harder to repair than conversations that result in hurt or anger.
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes a partner can unknowingly ignite a land mine. When our best efforts to repair the damage fail to be successful, and at times even seem to make things worse, a time out may be exactly what’s needed to resume the conversation at the end of a cooling-off period.
By using the time out intentionally to more deeply understand the nature of the strong emotions, we learn, heal, and grow.
It’s important to note that despite the saying that “time heals all wounds”, it takes more than the passage of time to re-engage in a way that enhances the likelihood of a successful outcome.
The most important ingredient in addition to time is “intention.”
There must be an intention on the part of each partner to use the time to settle themselves down, in a way that enables them to come back together bringing more openness without reacting with judgment, blame, or defensiveness. This level of vulnerability is almost impossible to achieve when we’re in the grip of intense emotions and feeling threatened by our partner. For this reason, it’s necessary for both partners to do whatever they need to do in order to adjust their attitude in a way that will increase the chances of having a productive interaction.
There is no “correct” amount of time for a time-out break. Some situations require no more than a few seconds or minutes. It’s not uncommon for one person to require more time than their partner to calm their overheated emotions. Sometimes it can take an hour or more, depending upon the circumstances of the breakdown.
For maximum effectiveness, don’t overdo the length of the time out.
It’s a good idea to limit your timeouts to a maximum of twenty-four hours, no matter what the issue is. The object of a timeout is not to come back together filled with love and light, feeling completely resolved about the issue. It’s useful to simply to prevent the situation from further deterioration and continuing the dialogue with greater openness, respect, and committed listening.
The presence of differences in relationships is inevitable. Conflict is optional. Differences become conflict when one or both partners try to coerce the other to accommodate their expectations. Even couples with great relationships occasionally experience breakdowns, but the difference is that they are able to interrupt the downward spiral into destructive arguing in the early stages or the disagreement, thus preventing disaster.
The way we initiate a time-out and take our leave is of utmost importance. If we stalk off stamping our feet, scowling, or slamming the door, we’re not very likely to bring about a successful reconciliation. It’s helpful to have an understanding that either partner at any time has the authority to initiate a break, no questions asked. Attempts on the part of the other person to continue the dialogue when their partner has expressed a need for a cooling-off period will only exacerbate an already painful situation.
The solution to relationship conflicts is often to have more communication. Sometimes the opposite is true, and what is needed is a pause in communication. Trying harder doesn’t always help. Sometimes letting go of our efforts and regrouping can be the best thing that we can do to promote greater understanding. Knowing when to let go and when to press on is an essential characteristic of any successful relationship. It’s an acquired skill that is cultivated through experience. Like anything that is worthwhile, it doesn’t occur overnight but given sufficient motivation, it will enhance the quality of any relationship. Guaranteed!
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