How to Keep From Going in the Hole with Your Partner
Using the Time Out Agreement
This is probably not new to you. You’ve used it with your kids. But what about your relationship?
If you are like me, you need all the tools you can get! Here is an essential tool that Ken and I use in our relationship: the Time Out Agreement.
Unlike sending a child to her room to chill out (it was a punishment when I was a kid), this is about honoring your relationship. When we get activated with our partner and escalate above a 5 (on a scale of 1-10) we are in emotional hijack territory.
What happens in emotional hijack territory?
You probably know all too well. For me, my voice tone gets louder and the pitch rises. My heart starts to race and I feel a slew of strong defensive emotions. I am not in the feed and breed zone, but rather the in the fight flight freeze zone. Not so good for a happy couple kingdom.
If it continues, nasty things might be said on both sides that we regret later. And after all that heated discussion, the problem is still not solved.
Dan Seigel, one of my nervous system gurus, says that the neurons that fire together wire together. That means when I’m upset I am building my “upset” circuitry (same principle is true for the happy moments). And it’s not the end of the world when the unpleasant circuitry gets reinforced. But, I’d like to do something different.
The Time Out Agreement gives Ken and I an option to do something different. It keeps us out of the hole that we dig with our upset and it set us on a new path.
Each time we interrupt a brewing argument, agreeing to come back to the issue later, we are creating a more sane and happy way to interact with each other.
This is how it works
Anyone can call a Time Out and both have to stop. This is agreed upon beforehand via the Time Out Agreement. It is an overall operating agreement that you have in place for the health of your relationship.
Typically, the one who is less activated is in the best position to call a time out. That’s because the person who is more activated is most likely already hijacked (remember the activation scale of 5 or more).
When we are hijacked all we want to do is to get our point across and be heard (thus the loud voice… the better you can hear me, my dear).
If you are hijacked it is hard to stop. But you must. You can come back to the issue later.
When to come back to the issue
How much later? At least 45 minutes. But sometimes more. Sometimes you need a day or more before you can talk about the issue again. It depends on the sensitivity of the issue. The 45 minute minimum is necessary to give time for the cortisol and adrenalin to settle out of your system.
Using the agreement
The Time Out Agreement gives you guidelines on how to work with it. Print it out and both of you sign it. This mini print and sign ritual is important. It makes the agreement more concrete.
But the most important thing is your commitment as a couple to use the agreement. When you use it, you will learn how to argue better, in a way that is productive and honoring of each other.
But even more than that, you are building safety and trust in your relationship…. and rewiring your nervous system to be more calm.
A safe kingdom
Ken and I have been using the Time Out Agreement for a number of years. At first we used it a lot. Now we barely ever have to use it. We have made our kingdom safe for each other. You can too.