TimeOuts: The Skill

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 TimeOuts

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It is essential to keep a sense of connection,
even when you need to get a break from your partner. 
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”

Print this paper in PDF.

 

A TimeOut is a relational tool and is an essential skill for any intimate relationship.  The purpose of a TimeOut is to remove pressure from the relationship.  Use a TimeOut whenever you feel overwhelmed, pressed, chased, pursued, cornered, etc.  Also use it whenever your partner appears to be overwhelmed, pressed, chased, pursued, cornered, etc. The goal is to create and maintain a relaxed dialogical space, with open safe communication going on.  Only the pursuee, the one feeling pressured, really knows when a TimeOut is necessary. 

TimeOuts are also the ideal way to deal with temper and to stop  "temper tantrums."

Treat TimeOuts as a necessity.  Do not request them.  Announce and take them. A TimeOut must be non-negotiable.  Steps 2,3,4,6,7 are mandatory.  The other steps are nice. (Optional and Ideal) 

  1. The Time-Out-Requiring partner gives a warning that a TimeOut will be requested shortly.  “I’m going to need a TimeOut in about 5 minutes.” 
  2. The TimeOut-Requiring partner gives a clear signal (hands making a T as in football, says, “TIMEOUT,” etc.) indicating the need for a TimeOut – now!
  3. Responding partner stops all talking, all action, and waits.  This is very important.   
  4. The TimeOut-Requiring partner states a period of time for the TimeOut.  “I need 2 hours.” “I need the rest of the night.”   This step signals that this TimeOut is taking place within the relationship and it is not an exit from the relationship.
  5. (Optional – Ideal) TimeOut Requiring partner makes a note of what the responding partner was speaking of when the timeout was requested.
  6. Both partners separate and are silent until the timeout period is over. Note: Since this must be not-negotiable, the responding partner is given a choice at this point.  If you stop all talking and action, you will get a quiet time with your partner nearby.  If you continue talking, you will get a quiet time with your partner out of the area – e.g. driving off for a while.  Either way the Requiring partner gets a TimeOut – a time of quiet.   When you become good at “silent” TimeOuts, you can try just not talking about subjects that are distressing to either.  
  7. The TimeOut-Requiring partner re-initiates contact. If they don't need so much time, they can reconnect sooner.  If either person needs more time, they announce this addition requirement when they return.  If the time has runout, it can be ok for the other person to initiate contact.
  8. (Optional and Ideal) The TimeOut-Requiring partner initiates dialogue about what caused them to request a timeout.
  9. (Optional and Ideal) The TimeOut-Requiring partner initiates continued dialogue on the subject interrupted by the TimeOut and noted in step 5 above. 

Typically one partner will need more TimeOuts. The goal for this partner is to learn to state their needs with kindness, and yet firmness.  This may be quite difficult and is typically a growth-edge for them.   

Typically the other partner will need fewer TimeOuts, themselves.  Thus they will need to learn to put their eagerness on hold, and to easily give TimeOuts and space, on demand.  This may be quite difficult, and is probably part of their growth edge.  

Practice TimeOuts even when you do not really need them, until both you and your partner get that hang of them.  Initially you will probably have to get out of each other’s presences to make a TimeOut work – sleep separately, go to motel, go for a drive, etc.  As you practice more, you will probably be able to stay closer during the TimeOut period.   

Remember the goal is to reduce the pressure between you, so that eventually you don’t need to use any TimeOuts.   The theory behind TimeOuts is explained here.


Comments

TimeOuts: The Skill — 19 Comments

  1. Al,
    You are a blessing! I am a retired fighter pilot going through issues. Also a bitter clinger whose wife left the other day. I need to read more posts before entering discussion. Glad to know you are still writing and want you to know “I listen to you” and I have watched the blood vessels in my eye wander ever since I was little

      • Whew. Thank you. Sorry. I’m apparently a woman on the edge. I’m currently expending all my self control in not emailing him to beg for reassurance, so I had none left for you. I’ll wait for your response; time to practice patience. 🙂

        • What took me so long to wake up.I read your essays and i wonder how i made it through 32 years of our relationship. I was doing so many things wrong. Now i find myself with a partner who’s at the leaving wall, i only wish i had thought to find you sooner. I new something was wrong but i didnt have the skills to fix it. I never gave my partner that Space Wall. Al, you make it sound so simple….and it really is…i was blind…i hope its not to late

        • Hello Michael, I am still stunned by this Clinger/Avoider issue and solution stuff. It seems the #1 issue out there among couples. Been watching it since 1998 when my wife and I finished our first understanding of it. Now it does seem a) amazingly simple and b) enormously common as a “mystery” problem. Not written about, not talked about, but everywhere. By far the most people who come to my website are Clingers who are just beginning to “wake up.” Cuz, it seems, it is almost mechanical in its simplicity, I am certain it is part of the hardwiring of human brains/bodies. I’m also surprised that no culture I’ve heard about has a solution. Amazing.

          But good luck to you, Michael, now you’ve run into a solution.

      • Just an update – no response needed. I notice that you left the ‘Reply’ prompt off your last posting. I understand that you think I may not be open to what you have to say. BUT I wanted to thank you; you have literally saved me. Not necessarily my relationship, but ME personally. When this happened, I was panicked. Floating around the web looking for some quick fix, any answer. I found a thread for someone who was SELLING a book for almost $50. It used scare tactics and veiled promises in its pitch. I almost fell for it, but am a shrewd saleswoman myself and didn’t want to fall into a trap. So I looked up reviews. Thank GOODNESS for me, there was someone who commented on a review and left your url. I checked you out.

        What you had to say about Avoiders and Clingers and Time Outs and Lizards has literally opened my eyes. I originally felt like *i* was right and *he* was wrong! I didn’t get that we were just “different”. If we are going to work – or for me to function in any relationship – I needed that perspective BADLY.

        I also needed a calm person to tell me to calm down. And more importantly, to give me some advice on how to do so. And your personal experience from your articles – “Testicle Principle” etc. – has been invaluable.

        He has come back, – without me offering the time out – emailed me that he loves me and thanked me: “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to really miss you and appreciate you and for giving me the opportunity take the time to soak in all of the specialness and amazingness of our relationship.” BUT the rest of the email was very negative and was about me pushing him too hard and things he won’t do and criticism of me. If I had not gained the perspective you have to offer, I would have been absolutely crushed by this. I may even have submitted docilely, even to the unfair aspects of the email. Actually, I’ve acquitted myself much better than I normally would have and I used yesterday to really try to calm down and relax. I know that I am still mainly a work in progress and I am not refining too much on the relief that I feel, or the outrage that I feel about some of the negative things that he said. But I wanted to take a minute (and another thousand words) to thank you. I probably would have completely melted down without the benefit of your articles, and if not, I would have sometime in the future. I know this isn’t fixed, and I haven’t decided what I’m going to do. but I know that I now have important tools and knowledge that I need.

        • Just keep going, Kath.  As I’ve often said, “The hard part is the learning.  And unfortunately you have to learn everything at once (Safety, Reliable Membership, Diversity, Autonomy, etc.).  But the good news is there is an end to the learning.  It’s not infinite.”   Good luck. 

  2. PS: He also said that he felt he was constantly disappointing me (and everyone- he has kids and feels a lot of guilt leaving ) similar to what your wife said: “She told me about having so often felt a “failure” that she could not meet my needs.”

    I am learning too that he is a pretty good communicator, I just was so busy judging him and protecting my own poor terrified heart, that I couldn’t accept his words at face value. Also, here is the email I sent today: “No problem. You can have all you need. And you may also ignore the pointed question in my prior email.

    If you ever feel like contacting me, feel free. ~Kath ” that was in response to his “Thank you for respecting my space.” (The pointed question was basically whether he wanted to ‘have his freedom back’ and I’d both required an answer and exhorted him not to ‘leave me in suspense’.

    My third question is: Am I acting like we’re in Time Out and using the ‘Super Fast Switch’ or am I acting like he’s left me and following the rules? Last time he was reassuring me within a little over a day that he was committed (but I had issued an angry text and then clammed up) but normal communication took a few more days. This time it’s been almost two days with no reassurance. I want to tell him all I’ve learned but I don’t want to spook the deer.

    • Dear Kath,  I so much appreciate you posting.  Thanks.

      Since it was kind of long, two sections of almost a thousand words, I printed it out and took it with me when I went to bed.   I planned to read it again there,  but “no”.   Sleep took me over.  Then in the early morning I started thinking of it, snoozed again, and had a most wonderful nightmare.  Haven’t had one for years.  And it was creative and awful and I think your situation triggered it.   So,  thanks.  (I’m not being sarcastic.  I love colorful dramatic dreams.)

      While you asked several questions, you also told a story of your life now and gave some bit of context for those questions.   I could stop and answer the questions, but the bigger value, I think, is in understanding the context that you shared.  Probably many readers will recognize the situation you are seem to be in.

      Now, remember that I look at all relationship troubles through the filter of the Map of Relationship.  I think you’ve done a great job letting your readers (and mine) into what it is like to be at the very end of the Power Struggle, spinning so fast that  you are at the Choice Point with partner #2 while still with partner #1.   Thus your situation shows all the features of this spot.  What a colorful picture.

      Partner #1 is off to the side cuz you’ve chosen Door #3 for him – the divorce door.   Partner #2 is in chaotic pain, probably considering Door #3 with you.  He’s in and out of panic and pain having been the recipient of and producer of Power Struggle tactics from/with you.   Power Struggle always means “trying to get love by doing painful things to each other.”    So you are carrying with you that vision of love (Biological Dream) when you say you are “madly in love.”  And you’ve driven him crazy by pursuing him (among other things I am sure) and he’s driving you crazy by pulling away – particularly passively  (a Timeout without a time is crazy making and abandoning.)  You, being a Clinger, are passionately, panic-ly trying to fix the situation.  Good for you.  He, being an Avoider, is calmly, panic-ly trying to fix the situation.  Lots of panic!  Lizards are wild – in the normal two different styles.

      I am sure most readers who have been here, feel for you, empathize with your anguish.  I do. 

      So what to do?  My general thought is to calm the Lizard and then come up with a plan.   When my lizard isn’t calm, when I panic, I call it “running around like a chicken with my head off.”  Patience and self-soothing, and calming are the first thing.   Tis very hard to be “source of safety” to another person who panics around you, while you are panicking.

      I was about to give a bit of a suggestion that might seem like an answer to your overall question.  When you think your partner needs a TimeOut and when they don’t take one or don’t state a length of time (same thing), then you take a TimeOut with a length of time.  (This is a normal TimeOut situation for a Clinger.  See the Testicle Principle.) Tell this guy you are taking a break from texting, writing, calling, etc. etc. for two weeks because you love him and find yourself being bit crazy.  Don’t point at him needing a TimeOut.  Make it about you.  Tell him you will check in with him on Oct 25th, two weeks from today.  Then go practice a nice quiet TimeOut.  Prove to him you can do it.  By practicing, make it easier for you.  You will probably need the skills many many times in the future. 

      You said the line “I am a woman on the edge.”  Quit this.  It sounds like a left over power tactic seeking sympathy – a tactic that threatens people.   Remember, it’s your job to keep yourself from ever getting to be a “woman on the edge” and to develop tons of “self-control” so that you only expend a little on “trivial” problems like this one – taking some time and “not begging.”

      Good luck, and thanks.   

      • (Wonderful) Al,
        First of all, thank you for your reply! It’s not posting here for some reason. Second of all, I inspired a nightmare?! Wow. I’m not surprised since my situation IS convoluted, to put it nicely, but I AM flattered that you took it so to heart that you thought about it before and during sleep. I have trust issues and you at least have really helped with that. I want to thank you, since I know you DO charge for phone services – which I cannot afford – and because it’s so difficult to really care about others, especially doing what you do for a living – listening to people’s problems, a lot of which (me not excluded) are self-made and exacerbated. Thank you for showing me – a stranger – that level of investment.

        The “woman on the edge” comment was a joke, partially to mitigate my embarrassment at my panic at not seeing my comment – fear that you removed it or something – but it does sometimes feel true, and I thank you for calling me out on it.

        As for your comments about “Choice Points” you are correct and I have been putting myself into this situation all my life. Moving from one relationship to the next, while staying within the confines. Most recently, I got divorced (this is a 3rd person) but the process took about 5 years and I was in limbo for almost that whole time, even though I was the leaver. The current person I am ‘with’, I am not married to, to clarify. I would like to stop this cycle, but it is very difficult as that is what feel safe to me. You are wise to have sifted through all of my words and divined that as a pertinent point.

        I will say that I’ve dated a lot of people in my day – and this guy is special. Not perfect, by a long shot of course. It’s the ‘we’ of it, not either of us separately. But he’s the ‘one’ for me. That’s why I’m back here again, so many years later. BUT I know that most people think I’m full of it when I say that and also that they think I say this about everyone. I don’t. This is something almost otherworldly. And It’s not the illicitness or the problems that cause that feeling. Again, I’ve had both. I so rarely know what I want that it’s easy for me to be SURE when I do. The only reason I haven’t moved out is fear. Fear of change, fear of him, fear of being alone – I never have been. I’m sure you’ll say that’s why I need to! And you wouldn’t be the first. Also, I don’t want to *push* him into a divorce – or into anything – I have put the brakes on before regarding that, but then again, I have only just recognized my behavior as “pushing” since finding your articles. Prior to that I just thought I was passionate and encouraging.

        Two weeks seems like a fire walk of torture, I must say. I did cave again this morning and write a brief (for me) but controlled (for me) email about what I’ve learned (vague) and apologizing for the pushing and my lack of appreciation for the things that he has done that I treated like they weren’t good enough. I then asked to know if it’s space he needs or if he’s done. It was not too long and not demanding or begging. I just needed to know how to handle the situation, and I didn’t even know which situation I was in! Well, I got a response about an hour later : ” I’m not quite ready to respond to this. But I know how you tend to assume the worst. So I know that complete silence on my end would probably drive you insane. ”

        He’s right. I do. Although I tend to look at this as positive, since I guess he doesn’t want me to assume the worst, but he also didn’t reassure me like he did last time. I know that for you, (and probably for me) this shouldn’t be the point, the point should be whether I am able or capable to be a good partner. And I may need to call my own time out to do that. I don’t want to, of course. It’s difficult to push him away myself rather than to sit around and wait for him to come back to me.

        I have a ton of determination but I’m also weak sometimes emotionally. You would know if you heard my voice how dynamic and insistent I can be, but I’m also very sensitive and easily wounded. Go figure. So… long story short (too late!) … two weeks? Really? I just want your affirmation that you still think this is a good idea after knowing that he did respond to me. Thank you. I’m sorry for all the words.

        • And also, if I do set two weeks or whatever length for a time out, do I ignore him if he tries to contact me during that time to make up? Or if he objects to the time length when I announce it? I know I need to work on myself, but if he wanted to re-connect, it would be very difficult to refuse – distance is not what I want; especially because he has a lot of self control and I am always afraid he will force himself to decide I don’t exist because it’s easier.

        • Not sure how I can help other than the writings I’ve shared. Seems like you are caught in a wonderful, well vicious, cycle that ain’t doing you any good, but that you aren’t ready to give up the pieces that make it work. I am never sure, when someone shares with me this kind of problem, whether they are looking for comfort while they stay in the pattern, or they are ready to leave the pattern. Do I give them understanding or open the doors to the way out? With your writing, I’m just not sure. I wish you lots of luck no matter which way you chose to go. (I believe you will cease the pattern when you are ready.)

          As far as your question about a TimeOut. My suggestion, at this point, is that if you tell him 2 weeks, then close down your communication channels and don’t answer the phone for two weeks. Give your self the peace and quiet. Give him the reliability of keeping your word.

          I hear your fears. Remember he can decide to connect or whatever no matter what you do. You can control yourself but “all humans are chronically disobedient” and “No one can make anyone feel anything” and “no one can make anyone do anything.”

          Hang in there.

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