Time Outs for Everyone

As a parent of three young children, the days of time outs are not far behind me. What I find interesting is how this behavioral tactic is so useful for children and adults of all ages. When Time Outs are used with self-soothing techniques (ways to calm yourself down), the road to compromise with your offending partner is not so bumpy! But how do you know when to take a Time Out during a disagreement?

John Gottman talks about this important break in his book ”And Baby Makes Three”. The first important step is identifying what you are feeling and if you are becoming flooded. Yes – just like your basement flooding or sadly the Titanic, but it happens more quickly and is felt differently across gender lines.

For some people they may feel:

  • Knots in their stomachs
  • Jaw tightening
  • Changes in their breathing patterns
  • Freezing/or difficulty moving

Gottman describes this as a tidal wave of physiological sensations: called Diffuse Physiological Arousal: DPA. When we are in this state, our reasoning, hearing, and rational self are altered. Thus the fight or flight sensation is activated. According to Gottman, we must then know to take a break and calm down in order to effectively navigate (and compromise) within the argument. If not, we end of saying and doing things that we often regret later. Sound familiar?

Gottman believes that we need to first understand and recognize the signs of DPA so that it does not suck us into a vortex of an alarmist state ’ ready and mobilized for action! Taking this break has to happen before the flooding. It is also important to indicate when you will resume talking about the issue at hand. It is recommended at least a half an hour, but not more than one day.

During that time, our systems have calmed down and we will be better able to compromise with our partner, child, and co ’worker. The details of the time out (the identified mutually agreed upon sign that a break is needed, for how long and can we commit to this ritual) with a partner / child can be discussed during calm times before a heated discussion.

With outside people, one can simply say ”it seems as though we don’t agree, why don’t we talk about this situation later when we can have some time to think about it?” .

Don’t forget to calm yourself down when the time out is happening. Some clients of mine write, other listen to music, exercise, and take deep breathes. This part of the ritual must happen or you won’t be ready or able to do the next big step: compromise!

Try this method out! You will be surprised how well it works.

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