Having 4 kids, I have said the words “Go to time out” more than I can count.

Think about the purpose of a time out. It gives everyone the chance to “cool off” and take a breather. It helps us slow down and think about our behavior and what needs to be different.

Many couples are surprised when I tell them to call a time out in conversations as adults when the conflict is getting too intense. Sometimes things are going down a rough path and need to be redirected fast. Taking a break can help do that!

Here are the rules for a time out from conflict:

If the conflict is getting unfair and you notice you are not getting anywhere, literally say the words “Time Out”. Whoever says the words needs to also set the time limit for how long the time out will last (i.e. 15 minutes, until later tonight, after the kids go to bed, etc.). It is NOT an option to not set a time limit.

Once a time out is called, the conversation HAS to stop. Pause and walk away. Catch your breath and think. Use the time out to help you get back on track, not as a way to let things stew and build up.

Once the time limit is up, it is important for the person who called the time out to initiate conversation again. Then you can sort through the issue in a calmer way and move on. Your goal should be to go in trying to figure out what the other person is trying to say to you. When you are focused on trying to discover their message more than stating your own, it helps you empathize and stay calmer.

Remember that rules for a time out for adults are a way to fight fair in your relationship. The goal is to understand each other better and resolve the issue at hand. If you work on this skill, it will help issues get resolved instead of getting swept under the rug.

Have you ever tried this in your relationship? How did it go?