NAVIGATING CONFLICT IN RELATIONSHIPS: The Importance of Time-Outs and How to Make Them Successful


The ability to shift gears and step away in the heat of an argument is a crucial skill in any relationship.

It allows both partners to calm down, gain a deeper perspective, and have a productive conversation at a later time. However, it can be difficult to recognize when it is time to take a break and just how to do it respectfully. In this blog, we will explore the importance of timing, what to do when an argument is on pause, and how to peacefully reconnect as partners afterward.


Timing is crucial when it comes to taking a break from an argument.

It is essential to learn how to accept low-level conflict without cutting difficult conversations short prematurely. However, it's equally important to recognize when to stop and offer yourselves an opportunity to cool down. In the moments that you feel you are about to lose your temper, take a deep breath and communicate the need for a short break. It would be beneficial to choose a pre-arranged signal, such as a word, phrase, or hand gesture to lean on in those moments to indicate the need for a time out. 


During a break, take care to avoid dwelling on negative thoughts about your partner.

Instead, try to broaden your standpoint and consider that there may be more to the picture than you initially thought. Engaging in activities that bring you peace or provide a healthy distraction such as exercise, prayer, or reading. These can help to clear your mind and decrease the likelihood of escalating the argument.


The key to reconnecting after a timeout is to focus on understanding one another, rather than placing blame. Rather than emphasizing shortcomings, try to highlight the positive aspects of the relationship. Acknowledge the hurt and the feelings that led to the argument, and then commit to finding a solution as a team.

One effective way to reconnect is through a structured method of communication. By slowing down to walk through a conversation methodically and collaboratively, it promotes mutual understanding and connection between partners. 


Try these 4 simple steps adapted from the Imago Dialogue: 


1 Both parties agree to a basic ground rule: only one person at a time will speak. While one shares, the other agrees to actively listen. It is the listener's job to handle the primary three steps of the conversation as listed below… 


2. MIRROR: When mirroring, as your partner pauses, or perhaps when you have asked them to pause, you will repeat back everything you heard them say. You may paraphrase, but you will mirror without analyzing, critiquing, modifying, or responding. 

For instance, when mirroring, you may say, “So you are saying it is… (upsetting when I forget important dates?)” Follow this by asking if there is more your loved one would like to express. 


3. VALIDATE: Once your partner indicates there is nothing further to share, you should attempt to validate what was said. Let your spouse know what makes logical sense to you. If there is any confusion, acknowledge what resonates with you before asking your partner to elaborate on the parts that didn't make complete sense. It is important to note that validating your partner does not suggest you agree or would handle something in the same way. It simply indicates that you can comprehend just why your spouse feels a specific way. 

When validating you may say, “That makes sense, I can see… (why you would think I don't care because I forgot our anniversary.)” Follow this validation by asking for clarification about anything that remains unclear to you.


4. EMPATHY: In the final step, try to infer what your partner might be feeling in the situation. If(s)he has already shared this, you may simply reflect on this once again. On the other hand, if you recognize any additional emotions that may be attached to the circumstance, take time to acknowledge those sentiments. 


When expressing empathy, it is reasonable to say something such as, “I can imagine you feel like …. (you’re the only one working on our relationship).” However, it’s important to know that once the word “like” comes into play, what’s being expressed is a thought, not a feeling. Try to include some “feeling” words, if you can, in this step, as it will give your partner a greater sense of your compassion. To show empathy, you may say, “I can imagine you might be feeling…(hurt.) Then, double-check your assessment. “Is that how you feel?”   


This process can also be used to explore the underlying issues that led to the argument and find ways to prevent similar conflicts in the future. Additionally, another way to reconnect is by offering a “reconnecting behavior,” such as an apology, flowers, or a hug. Small gestures of kindness can go a long way in rebuilding trust and intimacy. 


Taking an intentional break during an argument can be a powerful tool for improving communication and deepening your connection with your significant other. However, it's important to be mindful of timing, use the break wisely, and focus on understanding and reconnection afterward. With the right mindset and tools, conflicts can be transformed into opportunities for growth and deeper understanding in your relationship.


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