Agree about Time-outs

Do this early on in your marriage, before you find yourselves in an escalating argument.  Discuss:

  1. when it is appropriate to use a time-out (i.e. when one or both of you are feeling overwhelmed with negative emotions and need time to calm down). Agree on the early warning signals that indicate that you need a time-out.
  2. the purpose of the time out, which is to change your state of mind, to create space and time to self-soothe and reflect on what to do next, and not to avoid or control the argument.
  3. how a time-out could be carried out.

  • Loud voices
  • Name calling
  • Attacking ‘you statements’
  • Finger pointing/ blaming
  • Afraid of your partner’s intensity
  • Feel emotionally closed off
  • Any form of physical threat
  • Red face
  • Clenched fists
  • Breathing fast
  • Tears
  • Overgeneralizing (‘you always…’, ‘you never…’, ‘every time I…’, ‘nobody around here…’)
  • Feel like screaming or throwing something


Come to some agreement on how long your time-outs should be. Generally, your body’s heart rate and breathing should return to normal after about a half-hour, but you may feel you need more time to think things through.

  • Generally, more than twenty-four hours is too long as after that length of time it begins to feel like avoidance.


download sample contract

(from: When Anger Hurts: Quieting the Storm Within By Matthew McKay, Peter D. Rogers, Judith McKay)

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