How to Save Your Relationship With a Time Out

If you know me in real life, you’ll know I’m not much of a sports fan.

OK, I know next to nothing about sports. I prefer to spend my Sundays with my nose in a magazine rather than yelling at a sports team on the TV (as my husband Chris does).

But since football season is upon us, I’d like to share an aspect of many sports that’s a perfect tool I often suggest to my clients: a time out.

During a time out, the teams will pause the game for a short break in order to regroup and work out a new strategy. This usually happens when one or both teams are in trouble.

A real life time out is a tool to use when you and other person (such as your partner, kids, friends, family members, or coworkers) are arguing and getting nowhere fast. So you’ll step away from each other and put the disagreement on “pause.”

A time out is an excellent way for you to communicate better and be a better team. And it’s much more effective than throwing dishes or upending a table.

I’ve seen friendships, career partnerships, and marriages fall apart when they could have continued if the parties involved had taken a time out.

Here are the steps for a mutually beneficial time out that will save your relationships.

Recognize the Need to Step Away

When you’re in a heated argument, there often comes a point when you’ll realize that neither one of you will budge. Maybe you and your partner are disagreeing on how to raise your kids. Or maybe you and your mom can’t agree on who should host the Christmas party this year.

There’s a need for a time out when both parties are convinced that they are correct.

If you care about the other person, you MUST call a time out instead of escalating the fight or saying something you’ll regret later.

Announce It

Nearly everyone I talk with who has used a time out in the past begins the time out by walking away from the other person, usually after shouting some cutting remark.

Don’t just run off and slam a door behind you!

Be the adult that you are and say something like, “I think we should take a time out.” The other person will probably be grateful for the break. It’s exhausting and frustrating arguing your point to death. Take a breath and announce a time out.

It’s the kind thing to do.

Choose a Length of Time

By putting a deadline on your time out, you’ll feel more urgency to find a solution and wrap up the argument instead of stewing about it for days or weeks.

A 60-minute time out is ideal.

That’s a short enough amount of time to fit into a work day at the office if you’re fighting with a coworker, and it works in the evening at home during family time.

A hour is plenty of time for you to step away, maybe get a glass of water, go for a walk, and brainstorm solutions. That brings us to the next step…

Open Your Mind

The purpose of the time out is not to come up with more ways to support your argument. At this point, you could find a million new reasons, but the other person still won’t take your side.

It’s not about being the better debater—it’s about saving the relationship.

First, put aside your feelings and try to see the other person’s point of view. How would it feel if you were in their shoes? What fear is making them dig in their heels about this issue?

Next, look for a compromise. Is there some way you can both give in a little? Don’t concern yourself with whether you think the other person will accept this compromise. People can surprise you. Would you be OK with this compromise? Why or why not?

Finally, ask yourself how you would feel if that person never see things your way. Would you still love him or her? Would you want to continue the relationship despite this disagreement?

Come Back Together

Meet up with the other person at the agreed upon time. It’s important that you come together at the same time. It shows respect, and one person shouldn’t have to hunt down the other person.

If you want to find a solution, avoid the power plays.

Once you’re back together, do these 3 things:

  1. Acknowledge both sides of the argument, and it helps if both parties state both sides out loud so that there are no misunderstandings.
  2. Present the compromises and ideas you came up with on your own and choose a solution.
  3. Part on good terms and begin implementing the solution.

No one likes to argue, but communicating effectively (like adults!) will help you move past future arguments with respect.

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This post focuses on Step 2 of the Life Editing Process, Delete Bad Influences. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.