A marriage timeout is different from the timeouts moms use in parenting. A timeout in marriage is more like a timeout in sports—a way to regroup, cool off, and think about how to move forward. “Take a timeout” is good marriage advice when you’re stuck in the cycle of arguing about the same thing over and over again.
So, no, you cannot put your husband in timeout when he upsets you. A timeout in marriage helps de-escalate conflict before an argument turns destructive. It lets you take a break if an argument isn’t going anywhere and you and your husband are getting frustrated. But to get the most out of a timeout, you have to know these four things.
1. When to call a timeout
It’s late at night after a long day. You’re tired, your husband is tired. Your discussion quickly turns into an argument and you both know nothing will be solved until you get some rest. That’s a great time to call a timeout. “Honey, I am exhausted. Can we just call a timeout on this until tomorrow?”
You also can call a timeout when you’re going in circles and realize you need some outside marriage help to get to a resolution. Another prime timeout spot? When you are very, very angry at each other and your points or criticisms start to get personal. (In case you need them, here are 10 ways to fight fair in your marriage.)
Be sure you and your husband are clear about when you will try again. Come to an agreement on this before you start your timeout. Your break can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as a day. The key is to commit to addressing the matter after you’ve had enough time to cool off.
2. When not to call a timeout
Don’t call a timeout when your husband is in the middle of making a point. Even if you don’t want to hear what he has to say, let him finish his point and then say “timeout.” Avoid using a timeout to one-up your husband. For example, he says something you don’t like. Instead of trying to respond, you turn away, throw up your hands, and yell, “Timeout!” A timeout must be mutually agreed upon for it to work.
3. What a timeout is not
A timeout is not a way to avoid talking about things you’d rather ignore. It’s also not a tool to control the situation. A timeout is a mutual move. A timeout shouldn’t be used to give your husband the cold shoulder. While you’re in a timeout, whether it’s for 20 minutes or 24 hours, you still can treat each other respectfully and with kindness.
4. What to do during a timeout
Use the timeout to think calmly about what upset you. Have a prior agreement with your husband that you will readdress the matter together, with open minds and possible solutions. Pray and ask for wisdom on how to proceed. Remind yourself of the things you love about your husband and the life you share. Realize that you and he may have to compromise to reach a decision.
Have you ever used a timeout during arguments with your husband? How did it work?