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Some conflicts become heated as levels of frustration rise. Rather than speaking assertively, partners begin to accuse, criticize, or yell. Rather than listening actively, partners interrupt, belittle, and ignore. Physiologically, the “fight or flight” response is triggered as each person goes into a protection mode with little or no regard for their partner. In this state of escalation, it is not uncommon to say or do things we later regret. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to have a productive conversation leading to a mutually agreed-upon resolution.

This is when a “timeout” can be beneficial. A timeout provides couples with an opportunity to cool down, identify their feelings and needs, and begin to think productively again about how to approach the issues they face. Remember that conflict is healthy, and all couples experience it. There is destructive conflict and constructive conflict. It will be beneficial, for your part, to purpose in your heart to be constructive.


Are your fists clenched? Is your face red? Are you breathing fast? Is your voice raised? Are tears streaming down your face? Do you feel like screaming or throwing something? Are you afraid of your partner’s intensity? Do you feel emotionally closed-off?

  • Learn to recognize the signs that things have become too intense for you to have productive interaction with your partner.
  • What specific, unique physical and emotional reactions indicate your need for a time-out?

Call a time-out for yourself by saying something like “I don’t think we are having a productive discussion. I’m not even hearing what you’re saying. I need to take a time-out. Please give me an hour to calm down and gather my thoughts.”

  • Remember to call the time-out for yourself. It is seldom helpful to tell the other person they need a time-out.
  • Always specify the time when you think you’ll be ready to resume. Honor your commitment to return to the issue when you are ready to have a more productive conversation.
  • When that time comes, be responsible for reaching out to your partner and indicating whether you are ready to resume and asking if they are also ready.

Take some deep breaths. Go for a jog. Take a walk or a bath. Write in your journal. Read your Bible. Watch television for a while. Prayer is always amazing during a timeout. Pray for your heart attitude and that of your partner.

  • Do something that will help you relax and recover from the emotional intensity.
  • What method(s) would you personally use to relax and calm down?
  • Try to identify what you were thinking and feeling that became so difficult to discuss.
  • Think about “I” messages you could use to tell your partner what you were thinking or feeling, as well as what you need from him/her.
  • Try to spend some quiet time considering your partner’s point of view and what they are feeling.
  • 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.
  • You do have an enemy in the world, and it is not your partner.
  • Review the principles of Christlike Communication before continuing the discussion.
  • Balance Truth and Grace, speaking the truth in love.
  • Being open, transparent, and above all, vulnerable, increases intimacy between partners.

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