Why You Should Call a Timeout In Your Marriage

timeout in marriage - woman sitting by herselfYou may need to call timeout more often in your marriage.


Because a timeout can save your marriage from escalating arguments, having your friendship grow apart, and loss of intimacy.

Timeouts can be powerful tools when used well.


So what is a timeout?

A timeout is something you say or do to stop an argument from escalating if things get heated.

You can also call them to stop an argument from starting at a wrong time.

It can be used to help you acknowledge that you are starting to escalate so that you can calm down and continue more calmly.

Other times if emotions are getting high, you can call the timeout and then take a break from the conversation (for at least 20 minutes) before coming back together to discuss the issue.


You can call a timeout by saying something like:

“We are getting a little upset, let’s take a pause.”

“Time-out. I’m getting a little frustrated. Let’s take a break for a few and come back and talk about this.”

“Time-out. This is not a good time. I’m really stressed right now. Let’s talk about it later.” (and then make sure you do).

“Timeout. This is not the time to have this conversation. Let’s do it later”.

You can use any word or phrase or action

Fighting For Your Marriage Book CoverIn fact, Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Blumberg in their book Fighting For Your Marriage say that you can even have certain phrases are words to say to each other as a sign that things are starting to escalate.

They gave an example of someone saying “hamburger”, which often made them laugh, cool down, and then be able to talk about the issue.

Dr. John Gottman in the 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work gave an example of a couple who would stick their tongues out when things started getting heated. They would laugh, calm down, then continue with the conversation.

Whatever you choose, find a phrase or action that you both agree on to call timeouts with.


Now when should you call a timeout?

1. When the argument starts to escalate

According to Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg in Fighting For Your Marriage:

Escalation occurs when partners respond back and forth negatively to each other, continually upping the ante so that conditions get worse and worse.”

An escalating argument spirals out of control with each person get more negative and often even nastier.

Often the participants stop focusing on solving an issue and move toward hurting each other. 

Often the participants stop focusing on solving an issue and move toward hurting each other. 

This is damaging.

When arguments escalate, things are often said that can’t be taken back.

Relationships are hurt and marriages are damaged. If the trend continues, it can lead to separation, divorce, or distant partners living in the same house.

Stop arguments from escalating before it happens. When you see the argument starting to escalate or emotions getting high, quickly call a timeout.

Don’t just say “timeout” and leave, but use one of the phrases mentioned earlier, or something similar.

Stopping arguments from escalating leads to a better discussion of issues and problems and makes couples feel safer talking to each other about issues.

2. When one of you is hungry, irritated, stressed, tired, or when it’s just not a good time

man sitting head in hand stressedAnytime is not a good time to have a problem discussion. If you see that your spouse is irritated, stressed, frustrated, or upset, that would probably not be a good time to bring something up.

When someone just gets home from work or right before bedtime is also usually not a good time.

But what happens if someone brings something up anyway?

Call a timeout.

Don’t let the argument start.

Say something like,

“Timeout. I’m really stressed right now. Let’s talk about this issue later.”


“Pause. It’s almost bedtime. Let’s discuss this tomorrow.”

Side note: One good practice when bringing up an issue is to always ask “Is this a good time to talk about something (or X issue)?” first. Having a set time (or a couple’s meeting) where you discuss issues can also be helpful.

woman on mans back, both laughing3. When you are talking as friends or having fun

One great way to destroy your friendship with your spouse is to bring up issues and problems during friendship time.

If everytime you try to have fun or talk as friends you start arguing with one another, you are going to stop wanting to talk with each other or do things with each other.

Protect that time.

Don’t allow issue talk during friendship and fun time. If you something comes up, call a timeout.

“Timeout. Let’s talk about this later and just have fun with each other right now.”

4. When you are supporting one another

couple holding hands, tree in middle, cant see people just arms and hands

It’s important for all of us to have someone that we know is there to talk to when we are having a hard time.

Bringing up issues, criticizing, or giving advice or judgments is a great way to destroy that feeling.

Don’t let that happen.

When your spouse needs support, just be there for him or her. Just listen. Don’t give advice or judgments or criticize or bring up issues.

Just be a support.

If something comes up, call a timeout. If you need support, you can say something like:

 “I really just need some support right now. Can we call a pause on that issue and talk about it later?”

If you find that you are bringing up issues when someone needs support, you can say something like:

“Time out. I’m sorry, I’m not being very supportive. Let’s talk about that later. I’m listening now.”

5. When you are being intimate

If you want to kill your intimate time, bring up an issue.

During sensual times of romance or lovemaking, don’t bring up issues.

If something comes up, quickly call a timeout.

Otherwise, that moment might be gone, and it may hurt future moments as well.

couple kissing in the sunset


Calling a timeout at the right time can save your marriage.

Escalating arguments and trying to discuss issues or problems at the wrong time can drive a wedge in your relationship.

Remember to call a timeout when things start getting heated in an argument.

And, if an argument starts or an issue is brought up that causes arguments during friendship, fun, support, or intimate time, make sure to call a timeout on that argument or issue and save it for later.

Next step:

 Talk with your spouse about what word or phrase (or sign) you will use for timeouts. Make sure you both agree on it and are willing to respect each other’s need for a timeout when they call it.

Now to you:

What do you do to help stop an argument from escalting?

If you would, share this article with others who could use it.





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