What to do during the Time-out

Use the time away to soothe yourself to restore your ability to think clearly and reason so you can get to the deeper issues involved.

Focus on relaxing as you take some deep breaths. Let go of any angry, self-righteous thoughts you are thinking.

Do something that helps you soothe yourself in a healthy way. Perhaps take a walk, draw a bath, listen to some music, or meditate. Do some stretching. Some people find that they think best and calm down more easily while doing physical work such as washing dishes or working outside.

Once you are more calm, use the time to yourself to reflect on why you were feeling angry or upset.

What can you learn from your emotions?
What might you be feeling underneath the anger?
Sad? Hurt? Lonely? Afraid? Why are you feeling that way?

Try to identify what you were thinking and feeling that became so difficult to discuss.

Think about how you might  express those softer, more vulnerable feelings, and the relationship needs behind them, to your spouse when you go back?

Don’t talk about the situation with friends.  With friends, you’ll tend to complain and build a case against your partner.  This time is about cooling down to be able to think rationally about a win-win solution.

Were you accusing or judgmental?

Could you have unwittingly triggered your partner to be defensive because of your tone or the way you said things?

How did your own actions help perpetuate the argument?

  • Consider your partner’s point of view and what they are feeling.

Use the time to come up with possible win- win solutions – that are reasonable from each of your perspectives. Be ready to continue to negotiate to come to an agreement.

Remember the two of you are a team, and the only way your relationship will “win” is if you work toward a solution that both individuals can feel good about.

Find the right words to use for the conversation – to apologize for your part in the argument, to explain your position and your ideas for resolution.

  • Think about “I” messages you could use to tell your partner what you were thinking or feeling, and what you need from him/her.

Always return at the pre-scheduled time and talk things through.

Failing to come back only makes things worse; your partner will feel rejected.

Check in with your partner. Confirm that they are ready to talk about the conflict.  If not, set a specific time to re-explore the issue. “I know that I was partly wrong and partly right,” and share a mistake you made during the fight.  (This softens the tone of the conflict and allows both of you to reexamine the issues without defensiveness.)

Sometimes after this calming down period, partners realize that what they were fighting about wasn’t important enough to fight about. Share your thoughts with each other.  You both have to agree that it isn’t important, (and mean it, not just to avoid conflict).

Neither of you may want to stir up the negative feelings again, so you may be tempted not to discuss it anymore. However, it is really important to repair the damage that was done and to apologize for the hurts caused by the things you said or did prior to the time-out.


It can be helpful to have a calm, objective discussion about why you both reacted the way you did so that you have some understanding of what each of you were feeling and how you can avoid such hostilities in the future.

This is why it is so important to spend some time really thinking about what you needed and what you were feeling when you responded to your spouse initially with anger or withdrawal.

You may also realize that what you were fighting about was not the real issue, and shift the focus of your discussion to the more central issue.

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