Taking a 'timeout' is probably one of the most taught techniques in anger management classes yet so often I meet clients who say they don’t work.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You are having a difficult discussion with your partner and you begin to feel the tell-tale signs of your anger rising. You decide you need to take a timeout so you walk into another room but your partner follows you and continues the argument. Now you feel ready to explode.
Or perhaps you go out for a walk to get some space and some fresh air - but your partner just keeps phoning or texting you. You just can’t seem to catch a break and the anger keeps rising.
Frustrating isn’t it? You seem to be trying so hard but nothing is working for you.
If this sounds familiar, let me ask you one question. Did you tell your partner you were taking a timeout? It is amazing how often the answer is “NO”. As a result, rather than showing your partner that you are taking positive steps to control your anger you probably left them feeling abandoned and frustrated, not quite sure what is going on.
The timeout can be a hugely effective part of your anger management arsenal - but you need to make one crucial addition: a contract with your partner so that you both know what is happening.
The Timeout Contract
- How do you start the timeout? When done wrong a timeout can leave your partner with feelings of rejection. Perhaps they also feel that the conversation is not important to you. Try and pick word that speak to these concerns. Perhaps something like “I really want to resolve this problem with your but I can feel my anger rising. I would like to take a timeout so that I can continue this important discussion with a clear head”.
- How long will the timeout last? This is up to you but I would suggest at least 15 minutes. This can be how long it takes for the adrenaline to leave your body when you are angry
- Where will you be during the timeout? From my work with couples it is often important that your partner remains in contact with you. Again this may help manage any feelings of rejection or abandonment they may have. Knowing where you are can help maintain a sense of connection
- How will you restart the conversation? Often this can be a moment of high tension. Many couples decided to restart with a cup of tea/coffee as an icebreaker. Restating the positive outcomes you are looking for can also lower the tension.
You don’t have to renegotiate this contract every time you have an argument. Agreeing the process with your partner in advance is OK - then when you feel your anger rising you can shortcut straight to your agreed action. Just don’t forget to tell your partner you are implementing the timeout contract!