Reduce conflict with your significant other: Try a Timeout

Timeouts aren’t just for kids. They can be used to keep relationships in check as well. Many of us encounter conflict when in a relationship. While this is normal, knowing how to address it is even more helpful.

How to take a timeout:

  1. Notice your body cues during a fight with your significant other.

When we get into conflict our body will give us signs, many times before it event starts to escalate. These signs can be a sinking of the stomach, tightening of back or shoulder muscles, clenching of jaws, louder voice, or clenching of fists.

The goal is notice your body cues before a fight escalates. This is your early warning system.

  1. When you notice your cue, take a time out.

When you notice your “cue” or body reaction, take a time out. The body’s reaction is a sign you are entering your stress response. This means parts of the brain go offline, which is a normal part of our stress response. This is why fights normally occur in patterns or over similar subjects without resolution. Taking time apart in different rooms, for 5 or 10 minutes, can help the body calm down and allow those parts of the brain to come back online.

  1. After the time out, decide if you want to talk about the conflict now or another time.

Conflicts must be worked out in relationships, sweeping them under the rug will only cause more problems. After the time out, when both of you have calmed down, ask your partner if he/she would like to discuss the conflict now or later. Both of you need to agree upon the time in which you discuss the issue.

  1. Use the timeout again if needed.

Sometimes the conflict can escalate again after the first time out, if this occurs it is fine to take another one. Taking breaks from the fight helps the conflict lose steam and create space for the brain to go into problem solving mode rather than an attack or defense mode.

  1. When the conflict is resolved, discuss how to reduce future conflicts using what you have learned.

Conflict is inevitable in relationships; however, most issues never need to escalate into a fight. Talking about the patterns, feelings, and meaning behind the conflict can help shed some light on how to address future issues like this in a healthier manner.

Why this works

Taking this approach helps interrupt our body’s stress response. If one or both people are experiencing their stress response many higher-level brain functions are taken offline. This means one or both of you have little ability to empathize, problem solve, understand, or communicate properly due to those areas of the brain being taken offline. Taking the break helps give the body time to relax, reboot and the ability to better navigate the situation.

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