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Take Five! – How Adults Can Benefit from a Time Out

 

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A time-out according to Wikipedia, “Is a form of behavioral modification that involves temporarily separating a person from an environment where unacceptable behavior has occurred.” It is a disciplining technique we associate with children. The logic behind the time-out method is that if you remove the child from a fun surrounding when they do something wrong, then it will eliminate that behavior.

Although this is a popular discipline method with children, it is also one that adults can and should use as well. I am not ashamed to admit that my husband Bernard has successfully used this technique on me, whether he is aware of it or not.

Before I explain how he did this, I must first clarify why it was necessary. My preset response when in conflict is to fight. By this I mean, I won’t listen, I get defensive, I make demands, I speak in absolutes, and lastly, the worst, in my opinion, I yell. Many times when my emotions are running high, I don’t even realize my voice has gone up two octaves. Although I have made numerous changes in how I engage in conflict, I feel I will always be a work in progress. It is not simple to make modifications to our behavior without mindfulness, perseverance, and I believe the help of others. Which brings me back to my husband, Bernard and how he assisted in correcting my conflict behavior.

We got into a heated conflict some months back. I was yelling, and Bernard asked me to stop. I responded how I always did when he said this to me, “I am not yelling.” Finally, Bernard had reached his tolerance limit and told me that we were having a verbal time-out for five minutes. I began to protest, but he held up his hand implying he would not be continuing unless I stop speaking for five minutes. So I sat in silence, at first I was annoyed by this pause.

It felt like a break and taking a break from conflict always felt counter-intuitive to me. While I know it can be helpful for you to calm down and be more productive when you come back to it, I still felt like it thwarted the momentum of the discussion. Usually, one person initiates the break, and it is that person who seems to hold power as to when the conversation recommences. Being as I am impatient I never liked conflicts to linger, and I found when breaks were initiated it prolonged a resolution.

As I continued to sit in silence, I noticed that I had calm down. When Bernard spoke after the five minutes, he said, ” Okay, I am willing to listen to you if you speak calmly, if you start yelling I’m initiating another time-out.” I felt irritated that he spoke to me like a kid, but in hindsight, my yelling did mirror a temper-tantrum thrown by a child. Now months later, I can acknowledge that his insistence on a five-minute time-out when I would start yelling (this occurred several more times) is what led to the minimizing of that behavior. I now will catch and correct myself before he even has an opportunity to say something.

If you are like me, you are not a fan of time-outs when in a fight. A break meaning you leave the room or house, go for a drive or a walk, or do something else for a while and then come back to the conversation after some time has passed. Try taking a five-minute time-out instead. It removes the fear that the conflict will go unaddressed or that you won’t revisit it later. While also giving you a moment to calm yourself down.

Just like with children, a time-out can be beneficial for addressing and even eliminating poor behavior and assist you in becoming a better you in conflict.

Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

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Just Sleep On It – Insight on Challenging the Age-Old Wisdom, “Never go to bed angry!”

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The age-old wisdom that married couples imparted to my husband, Bernard and me before we got married was, “Never go to bed angry.”

I do not enjoy being in conflict with my husband; for that reason, every time a conflict has occurred between us throughout the nine years we’ve been together I usually try to get it resolved as quickly as possible. Another reason I tried to resolve it quickly is that I feared the consequences of going to sleep still fighting with my husband.

If we did go to bed mad what would happen? Would it automatically mean we were doomed to failure? I believe this fear is why I had always pushed for a resolution, sometimes before we were ready because illogically I thought if I fell asleep and Bernard and I were still fighting we wouldn’t make it.

Recently, Bernard and I got into a heated conflict. Without going into detail, I will say the fight escalated after I lost sight of my emotional triggers. After the battle had met its climax, Bernard did not want to talk. Bernard not wanting to speak moments after an argument is pretty standard; as mentioned, I usually push for a resolution and break his silence. However, this time was different. It was late in the evening and time for bed. I remember thinking to myself, ” Do we go to bed angry? What will come of our relationship? Will we be okay?”

I recognized that a time-out was necessary, recalling all the conflict resolution literature I have read over the years that says sometimes time-outs are fine; good even! I acknowledged that pushing for a resolution on this particular matter could make things worse. So for the first time in our relationship, we went to bed angry. The next morning, we didn’t speak either. I spent the next day researching how going to bed angry could affect your relationship, and I became even more panicked as I read more negative results. I then decided to pull myself together and gain insight from this experience rather than promote a prophecy that has no merit.

So for this post, I wanted to share my insight on what I learned from going to bed angry.

I was at fault in this argument, and I realized that every time in the past when I had pushed for a resolution, and I was to blame, I was minimizing my behavior. My husband was clearly upset with me and my actions, if I pushed him to forgive me, I recognized that I was reducing his hurt feelings to make my uncomfortableness with being in a fight go away. I did not like this realization about myself and immediately felt guilty for all the times in the past I had done this; therefore, this time, I didn’t push for a resolution. I apologized but then I backed off and let my husband make the call on when we could speak and resolve the issue.

Going to bed angry gives you time to calm down and gain perspective. I am aware this isn’t a ground-breaking revelation to most people but to me it was. I have a sharp tongue, I have been told this since I was little, and it has gotten me into trouble before. Therefore, calming down and shutting up helped me not to say anything I would later regret. It also allowed me to gain the perspective I needed so that when Bernard and I did talk I was able to articulate my points and feelings without a high level of emotion.

Lastly, going to bed angry does not automatically mean that your relationship will meet its demise. It is important that you take a break if needed when arguing with your spouse or significant other to gain clarity and de-escalate a conflict. If that means sleeping on it, then that is something you should do. It might make you feel better to know that no one has ever cited “we went to bed angry” on their divorce papers – I checked!

Have a Great Week,
Abigail R.C. McManus
Apprentice

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