Couples Communication: Tips on How to Take a Time Out, Calm a Heated Argument, and Increase Sexual Intimacy Later!

Relationships are not easy all the time. When you live with a person every day emotions can run hot. When we’re in such a hot emotional state and in an argument with our partner, it’s not so much fun. It’s hard to have a reasonable, calm, understanding, productive discussion under these emotional conditions. You will not be at your best, are not likely to receive what you want, and the things both of you may say or do in an escalating conflict can damage the trust and goodwill in your relationship. Why persist in an argument under such adverse conditions? Take a time out! It’s not a punishment; but rather a mature choice to protect the relationship by pausing emotionally to get out of the extra angry emotional state. It’s not just for kids!
Escalating Fight
Agree to these BEFOREHAND
Agree that the purpose of a time out is to protect the relationship by taking necessary time to calm one’s self down, preventing further damage to your partner or the relationship. Secondly, agree to set a time to calm down away from one another, usually fifteen minutes to an hour, or a day or two. Third, agree to a time to re-engage and discuss.


1)Recognize Your Cues. Are you angry?
PHYSICAL Cues: Sweating? Flushed face? Heart beating fast?
BEHAVIORAL Cues: Pacing? Crossed arms? Punching walls or cussing?
THOUGHT Cues: Do you find yourself thinking “I’m gonna LOSE it!” or “Are you kidding me? You’re making it all up?”
EMOTIONAL Cues: Do you feel disrespected, embarrassed, or lonely? These cues can work differently for different couples. Knowing what your cues are is most important for the purposes of taking a timeout.


If some one calls “time out”, both parties stop the argument immediately and without debate. This is not easy, and I encourage you to practice with small time outs in the beginning to get used to stopping. The person requesting time out does so in a non-manipulative or aggressive way, stating that they need time to calm down in order to be able to listen and respond better. (“I’m sorry, I need some time to calm down enough so that I can listen and have a more reasonable conversation with you”. Try not to say things such as “Forget it, I’m so done with you; I’m outta here!”) Not helpful…
The other person remembers the agreement to stop fighting, and despite feeling frustrated, STOPS FIGHTING ! (This means resist the urge to continue fighting, or begin to debate the reasonableness or “fairness” of stopping the conversation, or making a final “jab” or provoking statement).
Tip: Remind yourself that you will have a chance to discuss this all pretty soon. Remember that the conversation will likely go better if you stop now. Consider that your partner had the good sense to end the conversation before it got to some verbally attacking stage.

3) Person Who Calls Time Out Must Set a Time!
The person requesting time out MUST initiate rescheduling the discussion for another time within fifteen minutes to 2 days (people and fights are all so different!) from the time you call the time out. You cannot bag out on this! When you end an important discussion, you owe it to your partner to be the one to restart the conversation. Time out is not a means to escape or avoid a conflict. That would be a manipulation of its use. It’s meant to be a tool to improve how you have the conversation.

What to Do During the Time Out
Spend your time calming down. Calming down means taking some quiet time for the fight or flight response to fade, and to let the angry thoughts and emotions subside. Once you feel less “hot”, you will be able to think more clearly. Think about what YOU can do differently when it’s time to talk again. What apologies might you make about how you handled the conflict? How can you express your views in a less critical way? How can you be a better listener? What did your partner say that might be reasonable? Taking these steps will help you make a better contribution to the relationship when you resume the discussion.

The length of the timeout should be negotiated and strictly adhered to during the process. Fifteen minutes to an hour is generally recommended, though I’ve worked with couples who love to take a whole day. The most important thing is to agree to the length and then stick to it. Of course, the timing can be adjusted if it is too long or too short. Be flexible with this and work on not taking advantage of your partner’s time.
Getting some physical activity is a good way to calm down, and going for a walk is about the best way to do that. Hitting walls instead of pillows, firing up equipment, cleaning a firearm, or thinking about divorce lawyers are examples of how not to take a timeout. Driving is also to be avoided, as a lot of things can go wrong when you drive angry. Some people say that driving calms them down; if that works for you, do it if it is agreed upon.
Reviewing what happened is important to do during the timeout. When you’re fragmented (hopeless or negative about everything), practice getting out of that state of disintegration. Pass on substances, going online, or shopping. They are escapes from the difficult feelings, and the challenge of this new approach is to ground yourself in your body while you face the thoughts and feelings. Think about what was going on for you in the argument, get ready to use “I” statements, and take responsibility for your part. Try to see things from your partner’s point of view. Remember how effective reflective listening can be as you prepare to talk.
Prepare to Reengage. These last few minutes in the timeout can be used to summarize what you’ve come up with. You can also give yourself some positive messages such as “I love myself, and I can do this calmly,” or “I love my partner and we are going to work this out.” Sounds minor, but remember: we can hear the things that we say out loud better.

4) Check Back In: Re-engage
Resume the discussion with whatever apologies you want to make for your behavior that escalated the prior discussion. Think “win-win”, and this will not be as hard to do as you think. You might start with “I’m checking back in, good to talk now?” Summarize what you understand about your partner’s point of view and feelings. Offer to use reflective listening. Offer apologies and understanding, which contributes to relationship repair and healing. Once you each have offered some understanding to the other and you both feel heard, then consider problem solving or negotiating a solution that meets both of your needs and concerns. Win-lose has to be a thing of the past.

With your original agreement, AVOID these:
Refusing to stop the fight.
Stopping your partner from leaving after time out is called
Loud yelling or physically touching in anger, slamming doors, name calling or threatening.
Leaving as a manipulative tactic to abandon, distress, or control your partner.

Taking a time out can be a very effective communication tool, to increase intimacy later, when emotions run high in the moment. For some, it may feel uncomfortable to separate for awhile, but then again, an ugly fight is damaging, and not worth it. Try taking a break to calm down and understand what’s going on the next time emotions escalate between you and your partner. Re-engage and discuss later, when you both are calm. This gives the new conversation a greater chance of being a source of understanding, healing, and consideration for you both, plus a start at options or solutions. You each may need a different amount of time to reintegrate, to be ready later to “come together”, instead of escalating a fight and acting out on hurt, angry feelings in the moment. Call a time-out and stop the hurtful yelling. Timeouts help prevent “auto-pilot” actions and “rageful” words that could end or severely damage the good relationship you usually have. They can increase communication and conflict resolution. They lead to more productive conversations that reduce stress and increase sexual intimacy in a relationship.

Recognize the Anger, Take a Time Out, Leave for a bit, and Check Back In.

Your partner, and your relationship, will thank you.

calling a time out can lead to increased sexual intimacy later

Jim Bowen MA LPC has been assisting individuals and couples since 1992, with offices in Boulder and Denver. Contact Jim with email or call him at 303-534-8717. Why not call for a free consultation?