Improving Couple’s Communication – Using Time-Out


Using a “time-out”, just as a sports coach would – signalling a “T” with their hands and taking time out of the game to re-think and re-structure a game plan – can be an effective communication strategy to manage couple’s escalating communications.

The 6 steps to taking a “time-out”

1. Recognise that you are experiencing an internal build-up of intense emotion (i.e., anger). Pay attention to the physical indicators your body is sending you.

2. Say to the person you are dealing with “I am beginning to feel………………….” and “I need to take some time-out. I’ll be back to talk about this when I have calmed down”. If you find your level of anger is beyond being able to communicate this message effectively, simply signal time-out with your hands by making a “T”.

3. Walk away from the situation completely.

4. Do something you know helps you to feel calm (go for a walk, call a friend, draw, garden, read, breath, etc.).

5. Stay away until you are calm. You might like to think about how you are going to “respond” to your partner, rather than “react” to your partner. What is it that you are feeling and thinking about the issue at hand?

6. Return to your partner and come up with ideas about what you want or need and how things can be different. If still emotional, nominate when you will talk again.



You will need to discuss the “time-out” strategy with your partner before it is used. The purpose of a “time-out” is to help you to calm down (not avoid discussing difficult issues) and to sort out a response (as opposed to a reaction) that will best get your message across.

* Always come back to your partner – this will make it easier for your partner to give you the space you need the next time you call a ‘time out’.

* It is important that the person who is left behind respects the person’s need for time-out by NOT following their partner. Be assured your partner is making a positive choice to control escalating anger and is protecting the relationship by doing so. It may even be of benefit for you to take time-out and re-think your thoughts, feelings, and reactions.

Written by Raylene Chen – clinical psychologist and relationship counsellor at CBT Professionals Psychology clinic. CBT Professionals are a team of clinical psychologists on the Gold Coast with offices in Coomera and Nerang. Gold Coast CBT psychologists offer services to adults, children, and couples.

Source: Markman, H.J., Stanley S.M., & Blumberg, S.L. (2001). Fighting for your marriage. CA: John Wiley.

Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.

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