How to Take a Time-Out for Conflict

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Just the word conflict itself can make someone’s skin crawl.

We all know life is full of conflict and yet we seem to do whatever we can to avoid conflict. Especially those of us who came from families where conflict was always occurring and never resolved. However, trying to avoid conflict actually creates more conflict.

Taking a time-out is different than ignoring conflict.

For a moment avoiding conflict seems to “resolve” the conflict. However, the “peace” is artificial in nature. It is not sustainable because the true conflict has not been resolved, only tabled for the moment.

Now, tabling a conflict (better known as a “time out”) can be a very useful tool to help with conflict especially when the people who are in conflict reach a high emotional state. High emotional states are what causes wars, not peace time. So, by taking a time out or tabling the conflict, for a specific amount of time, both people can take the time while separated to “cool down” and bring their emotions back to a better, more manageable level.

How long should a time-out last?

The time out could be a couple of minutes or it could be a couple of day or even weeks. The time limit depends on the severity of the conflict and what each person feels would be the best for them on the time limits. It is important when taking a time out for both people to agree on how long the time out will last and where they will meet again to check in. So let’s say both people agree to take a time out for an hour. Both people separate for an hour and hopefully go do something to help them get back to a calmer state emotional state. Once the hour is up, both people meet back up and check in with each other to see if the hour was long enough for both of them to “cool down.”  If it is decided that one or both people need more time to “cool down,” then the process starts over with an agreed amount of time and both people separate again and hopefully continue working on “cooling down” some more.

How many time-outs should we allow in an argument?

I feel it is important to set a limit of 3 postponements of the conflict per conflict. Otherwise, one person may feel the other person is trying to avoid the conflict and finding a resolution to it.  The main purpose of a time out is to allow a “cool down” period for both people in to be able to calm the emotions down to a more manageable level. Therefore, when the people come back together again, the lower state of emotions will help in finding a resolution for the conflict that each person can agree upon. 

If both people agreed that an hour was long enough for each of them to “cool down,” then the discussion can resume about the conflict until one of two things happen. The first one is the conflict has been resolved to the satisfaction of both people and life moves on. The second is the emotions start to escalate to a high level again and both people deicide to take another time out. The above process is repeated for the time out in regards to the “cool down” period. I feel it is important to stick to the 3-limit rule when dealing with time outs in a conflict. I feel that if this rule is not adhered to, it is possible that the pattern of not resolving conflicts (i.e. running away/avoiding) could keep both people stuck in the pattern that has no end because the conflict is never resolved.

Constantly avoiding conflicts in itself can be a defense mechanism which is a way someone can try to protect themselves from the negative past experiences with conflict. By setting limits on the number of time-outs per conflict, the limits will help to teach each person a different way of handling conflicts when emotions get too high. Remember that learning a new way to handle conflict in a healthier way, rather than avoiding the conflict will help reduce the amount of stress and tension within a relationship between two people. This is turn can lead to a reductions of conflicts overall.       

And a reduction in conflicts in any relationship is a good thing.

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