Facts for Living: Take a time out!

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension District Agent

Previously, I shared information about how negative communication patterns and interactions can erode relationships. As a reminder, communication danger signs include: put-downs or invalidation; withdrawal or avoidance, negative interpretation and escalation. These four danger signs are common, we all do them. But when we do them too much and they become the main pattern of interaction, they are likely to slowly poison a relationship. To keep a relationship healthy, you need five positives for every one negative. If you don’t maintain more positives than negatives, your relationship is probably going down.

080714-facts-for-living1Have you ever tried to talk to someone who is all riled up? It’s not easy. Have you ever been so angry that you later regretted what you said or did? During those times, you are operating in your lower brain (the part of your brain that controls vital bodily functions like blood pressure, breathing reflexes, etc.). Your lower brain doesn’t think, it reacts. It’s impulsive. That’s why you can’t reason with someone who’s all riled up. You can’t return to your thinking, smart brain and use that power until you calm down with your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones at normal levels. This takes at least 30 minutes. So, during those times, instead of using your “angry brain”, take a time out. The time out skill provides a way to calm down and bring you back to your more powerful thinking brain. The time out skill sounds simple, but when you are in the heat of the moment it isn’t easy to stop. So, here are the rules and steps for the time out skill.

  • Never say “you” need to chill, or “you” need a time out. That will only make someone more defensive. Always say “we” or “I”.
  • Do or say something to calm yourself down. Take a walk or take deep breaths. Replace hot negative thoughts with soothing ones. Examples: “She’s had a bad day. We both might be a little wrong here. We’ll get through this. This isn’t about me.”
  • Identify what’s behind the anger. Are you feeling put down, ignored, disrespected, rejected, accused, unappreciated, devalued, guilty, powerless, uncared for, or unloved?
  • Remember VIEW: You are Valuable, Important, Equal and Worthy.
  • Come back and talk. Wait at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 24 hours. Remember it takes 30 minutes to calm down and return to your “thinking” smart brain. You need to come back and talk about the issue within 24 hours so each of you know you aren’t blowing it off. You may need to use the speaker/listener technique to help you talk through it (I’ll share this in my next article).

Timeouts are not about sweeping things under the rug. They are about taking control and dealing with things when you can handle them the best and that is when you’ve returned to your calmer, more rationale, thinking brain.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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