How to Call a Couples Time Out to Avoid a Fight!

couples time out

3 Couples Time Out Tips

By: Couples Counseling Staff

There isn’t a couple on the planet that hasn’t experienced some type of disagreement during the course of their relationship. Usually, these squabbles are minor and are quickly resolved. Other times however, arguments can become so heated that they devolve into a full on blow out, replete with name calling, put-downs and personal attacks.

Is there any way of preventing a major fight from happening in the first place? It turns out that the answer is – yes. What follows is a basic rundown behind the idea of a couples time out with a number of suggestions to think about.

Are you ready to learn more? Let’s jump right in!

Calling a Time Out for Couples

One effective way to avoid an argument from escalating into a nasty fight is to consider the use of a couple’s time out (also referred to as a break). While the process of a “time out” may seem intuitive, there really are some concrete things you should know in order to get the most out of the experience.

Below you will find a video that outlines three important factors that should be in place before making the proverbial “T” symbol with your hands. Under where the video appears, you will find additional tips that build upon what you will hear. Think of these as suggestions to call upon in the future should the situation arise.

FYI: The couples time out video was filmed using a simple iPhone in Palm Springs, California by Dr. John Moore, founder of 2nd Story Counselor, the parent organization of the Couples Counseling Center. You’ll hear background noises from time to time, including people in the distance talking and laughing. It’s raw and real but also straight forward.

Couples Time Out Video

1) Time Outs are Sacred

When one person in the relationship calls for a break, it needs to be considered as sacred. Both parties in the relationship need to talk about guidelines for a time out in advance so that when arguments do occur in the future, ground rules that are already in place.

Here are a few additional items under this point:

  • Sacred means non-negotiable. When the time out is called, both parties stop the discussion on the spot.
  • The break from discussion can be anywhere from 1 hour to 24-hours. It is recommended that you and your significant other try to pre-determine the initial break period. Most couples pick something close to 5 or 6 hours. It just depends on your situation.
  • If one or both of you feel the need to extend the break beyond the agreed upon time, that request must be honored. Example: You and your mate agree to a 5 hour break for time outs. An argument pop up and it gets heated. You call a time out. At the five hour point, your partner decides they really need 24-hours because they are just too angry to talk. The time out period is now extended from 5-hours to 24-hours.

2) Time Outs = Processing Time

The second thing to keep in mind when calling a couples time out is simply this – the break should be used to process what you are feeling. Time outs shouldn’t be used for a hidden agenda, like needing an excuse to go shopping or fishing or whatever else you want to do to. Processing time simply means that you are allowing measured space to better understand your feelings. It also is a time to assess the other person’s point of view.

Here are a few additional items under this point:

  • Check yourself to see if you are saying hurtful things that are not related to the disagreement.
  • Check your tone. Has it been nasty? Have you been talking down to your mate? If so, it might be helpful to start learning more about active listening.
  • It is OK to leave your home to process what you are feeling but you need to communicate where you are going and when you will be back (generally speaking). Time outs are not a permission slip to go out all night long, “hang with the boys” or “chill” with your girlfriends.

3) Revisit Disagreement with Purpose

Once the period of time that has passed for the time out (example: 5 hours) and assuming both parties are ready to revisit the topic, it’s time to resume dialog. Not the ugly, nasty stuff that was going on before but instead, a real discussion.

Here are a few tips to consider under this point:

  • Come back with open ears and if possible, an open heart.
  • Listen to what your significant other is saying and avoid engaging in name calling.
  • Avoid passive aggressive behaviors that may be part of your historical dynamic.

Final Thoughts

If you and your mate decide to employ the use of time outs in your relationship, you are doing a lot to help creative positive change in the way the two of you communicate. We like to think of time outs akin to breaking the proverbial “emergency glass” and pulling the fire alarm. In other words, time outs need to be used in crisis situations where an escalation is likely.

Time outs for couples should not be thought of as a kind of magic elixir to deeply engrained relationship problems. If you are experiencing serious conflict that has the potential for breaking up your marriage, you should consider couples therapy as an option for healing. You can learn more about what to expect in couples/marriage counseling in this post.


Finally, we encourage you to pick up a copy of the book, How Can I Get Through to You by Terrence Real. Inside, you will find lots of practical insight for improving communications in your relationship. One of the most useful parts of this resource is chapter 14 on speaking rationally and chapter 15 on listening skills.

We hope you found this post and video helpful. If you are in Chicago and want to learn more about how couples counseling may benefit your relationship, please give us a call at 773.598.7797 or complete our quick online contact form. It’s completely confidential!

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