People who come to me for couples counselling often report that one of the most helpful things they learn is the art of knowing when – and how – to take a break from a fight or heated discussion. Not knowing what else to do, some couples feel like they have to keep talking (or fighting) about the argument, even if it’s obvious it’s going nowhere, and one or both people are just getting more upset. At other times, one of the partners may storm off, leaving the other partner feeling hurt and abandoned.
The kinder option for couple is for them to agree that during a fight, if either one of them (or both) feels too upset or overwhelmed by the argument, that either person can (gently) call a “time out” and request a break from the fight/argument. At that point, both people agree that they will stop talking, temporarily get out of each other’s physical space (e.g., in different parts of the house), and resume talking once they’ve had a break. The general suggestions for taking this kind of break are as follows:
- Either person can request the break, and the other person respects it, no questions asked
- Agree on a time that you will start talking again. Make sure it is at least 30 minutes, and no longer than a few hours (if at all possible).
- Try to get out of each other’s hair, such as going to different parts of the house (e.g., one in garage, one in living room)
- When taking the break, do not ruminate over the fight, or go over and over it in your head, or think about what you’re going to say when you get back with your partner.
- Instead, try to do something (for at least 30 minutes) that you know is relaxing for you, such as deep breathing, going for a walk, spending time with your pet or children, listening to music, meditating, praying, etc. Whatever you do, do not go for a drive!
- Finally, come back when you agreed to. If you need a little more time, as for it, but otherwise, start over again (perhaps offering an apology if you feel it’s appropriate), now that both of you are probably better able to hear and understand each other.
So remember, it’s perfectly okay – and even healthy – to take a break or timeout when you’re having fights with your partner. Just remember to set a time when you will both come back and keep talking, and to do something relaxing during your break rather than going over and over the fight in your head.
Hope this helps. Take care,