Working with kids during the early part of my career I learned the “time-out” technique. Whenever a child did something that was unacceptable, against the rules, or threw some sort of tantrum, I would use the time-out intervention. I would remove the child from the larger group, have him/her sit out for a few minutes, and then I would discuss the issue with the child. Ordinarily an apology from the child would follow and all of us would continue on with our day.
Once I became a therapist I began to re-think this technique. It seemed so overly used. It was the trendy thing to do when a child misbehaved. But, was it really the right thing to do? I began to recall my days as a teacher and realized the time-out was inevitably for my own sanity. The children quickly learned all that was needed to return to the larger group was a smile, an apology, and an “I will never do it again,” statement. Did the children ever really learn anything from the time-out lessons? My guess is no, but it kept me from pulling every last hair out of my head.
When I began to work with couples I again began to re-think this simple technique. Can a time-out work within a relationship? Can two people who care about one another take time-outs in order to re-group, re-focus, and see the other person’s perspective? Absolutely! What didn’t work so well as learning experiences for children (in my opinion) does seem to work really well as learning experiences for adults. Next time you are about to battle with that important person in your life, remember the time-out technique. Walk away for a few moments. Gather your thoughts. Remind yourself that your relationship is not about winning; it is about caring, compassion, and intimacy. Everyone disagrees and before things get really heated take a time-out. If the kids can do it so can you, and you might learn something about yourself and your partner in the process.