Q: My wife and I have gotten into arguments lately that seem to spiral out of control. We end up saying and doing things that hurt our relationship and which we later regret. What can I do?

A: One conflict resolution skill that can help is to create a therapeutic time-out. Therapeutic time-outs have several components. First, you must agree that either partner can call a time-out, and should, when they feel the discussion has turned from helpful conflict resolution into an unproductive harmful argument. Second, you must agree on the specific length of our time-out. The typical times are from 15 min to 1 hour. Third, the moment either calls a time-out, you both agree to stop talking and separate for the established amount of time. Even if you feel you have calmed down, complete the whole time-out. During the time-out you will seek to cool off, and try to think of a good solution to the problem that demonstrates compromise. Third, you agree that at the end of the time-out, you both must come back and readdress the issue you were discussing when the argument occurred. This way one does not just avoid the issue only to have it return and get you later. Fourth, you must agree on the specific word(s) you will use to signal that you are calling a therapeutic time-out. Otherwise, you may think you are calling a time-out when you say, "Just lay off man!" Meanwhile the partner thinks you are spouting off and does not realize you want a time-out. Some examples of agreed upon signals that I have heard of are, "This is our therapeutic time-out," or "Stop in the name of love." It does not matter what you use, just as long as you have clearly agreed upon it and both recognize it. One word of advise, as you discuss this technique with your partner, it can be helpful to bring out that you love and care for her, and want your relationship to be happier and successful. That must be your reason behind the technique for it to be successful. If you try to use it to limit your partner's conversation, or stifle her, or to avoid issues, it will fail. If you have more questions about how to use this technique, please feel free to call me.

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