10 Effective Time-Out Strategies for Managing Your Anger

Couple not talking after a dispute on the sofaRelationships can be challenging at times. There will always be periods when we get upset, when we feel that our needs and wants are not being met. Intimate relationships are particularly tricky territory emotionally, especially in regards to dealing with anger.

For some people, rage may boil up at a moment’s notice, while for others their fuse may take a little longer to ignite. Sometimes the situation dictates how quickly we become irritated. When our trust has been broken and we feel betrayed, we may become angrier much quicker than if we experienced, say, a minor altercation with a partner regarding finances.

Although it’s generally understood that we should take a little time to cool down before our anger gets out of control, many people struggle with developing an effective “time-out” procedure. The following are some strategies that can be implemented in order to manage your anger before it gets out of hand:

  1. Become aware of the warning signs of anger. Look for the physical cues in your body that indicate that you are becoming angry. Are your palms sweating? Are you pacing back and forth? Is your tension rising? Try to focus on tuning in to your body and your inner indicators of anger.
  2. Figure out your red flags. In addition to physical signs, be on the lookout for issues that tend to trigger you and your emotional state when someone brings them up. For example, do you get angry with your partner every time he or she treats you with suspicion or blame?
  3. Rate your anger. On a scale of one to 10, how angry are you in the given situation? Try to determine at what point you would need to take a time-out in order to cool off before being able to discuss the issue rationally.
  4. Discuss the time-out strategy with your partner when you are both calm. In order to develop an effective strategy that both parties can agree on, it’s necessary to do so when both of you are in a peaceful state.
  5. Determine the duration for the time-out. Everyone is different when it comes to managing anger. Some people tend to remain angry for longer periods of time than others; however, you can generally figure out approximately how long it usually takes for you to calm down. Many people are able to calm down sufficiently after about 30 minutes to an hour. Before you need to take a time-out, sit down with your partner and agree upon the length of time you want to implement for time-outs. If after this time you are still very angry, you can always extend the time-out.
  6. Signal your intention of taking a time-out. When you start arguing with your partner and you feel that you may be on the verge of losing control, indicate that you need to take a time-out. Both partners need to respect the right of the other to take this time and allow sufficient space to do so without continuing to badger the person.
  7. Decide what you will do during your time-out. The main purpose of the time-out is to give you an opportunity to calm down, so choose an activity that will help you do so. This could be listening to music, going for a walk, working out, or journaling, for example. Be sure to communicate your intentions to your partner when you establish a time-out plan, so that he or she doesn’t feel as though you’re leaving for an undetermined amount of time.
  8. Identify any underlying feelings you may have. During your time-out, take some time to try to figure out any deeper feelings you may have underneath the anger. For example, do you feel sad? Anxious? Unsupported? Anger tends to hide other emotions that can be better dealt with when they are seen, acknowledged, and expressed.
  9. Become aware of any negative self-talk. Our inner dialogues can make situations much worse than they actually are, especially when we are very negative. Try to challenge negative thinking when you notice it and change your thoughts to more positive ones. Also, try to look at the situation from your partner’s point of view in order to gain a different perspective.
  10. Discuss the issue again after your time-out. We don’t want to ignore issues that have led to arguments, so after taking time to cool down, meet with your partner to talk about your feelings. Rather than blaming the other, share with him or her the underlying emotions that you became aware of and try to forgive one another and/or reach some sort of compromise.

Anger can lead to impulsive actions that can have extremely negative effects on our relationships. Learning to keep our anger under control and manage it more effectively is important for our emotional well-being. Following the steps above to create and implement an efficient time-out strategy can help to improve your relationships and avoid having your anger get the better of you or your partner.

If anger is a serious, ongoing problem in your relationship, you may want to consider meeting with a psychotherapist in order to obtain additional help. For those in physically abusive situations, professional help can be especially important in breaking the cycle of violence. Check online for the agencies and shelters available in your area to help couples struggling with issues of domestic violence.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bud

    May 5th, 2015 at 2:17 PM

    I am always the one who has to walk away for a minute because I know that if I don’t then I am going to say things that I never mean and end up regretting. I think that my wife would prefer if we could continue the conversation right there in the moment but seriously it works out better in the end when she gives me a little more time to process what we are talking about. I think that when we take the time to do that then both of us are happier in the long term with the end result or decision.

  • Reese

    May 6th, 2015 at 3:40 AM

    One of the best things that you can do is to learn what those things are that could set you off and either try to avoid those things or walk away before they make you explode.
    I used to think that this would be equivalent to walking away from the problem but I have learned that this is actually doing more to solve the problem.
    It lets me have some time to put things into perspective, and sometimes a different point of view is all you need.

  • Barry

    May 6th, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    You would hope that by the time we are all adults we wouldn’t have to make these kinds of decisions about holding or managing our anger. I would have hope that we have already learned to do this somewhere along the way and that it would come a little more naturally.

  • Leisl

    May 9th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    So my intention to take a time out is not good enough just by walking out of the room and leaving the conversation? lol

  • zoe

    May 11th, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    It’s always bets for your spouse to have a good idea of what works for you in helping control your anger and how you are going to best be able to process the conversation. If they have a good grasp on this, and you do the same for them. then I think that it can be easier to manage some of these situations when they get a little dicier.

  • Wendy

    Wendy

    May 11th, 2015 at 1:41 PM

    Hi Zoe,
    You’re definitely right when it comes to talking about what works for you with your partner or spouse before any kind of conflict or issue arises in your relationship. Letting the other know how you are able to manage your anger and discussing potential time-out strategies is the most effective way to maintaining a healthy relationship and avoid losing control when anger arises.

  • Ranjan Patel, Psy. D., MFT

    Ranjan Patel, Psy. D., MFT

    May 11th, 2015 at 2:30 PM

    Thank-you for a beautiful article! It’s practical, with solid theory as context. It’s likely to help many dealing with anger. I appreciate you’re talking about a “time out” not as “walking away” as is often interpreted. But more as a way of self-soothing, which you address with honing in on “negative self-talk.” I also talk to my clients about different ways they can soothe themselves and get such from their partners–on a physical level. Physical comfort can be part of a larger strategy agreed on by both partners when they are calm and before an incident of anger come up.
    Again, thank-you for your contribution :-)

  • Diana

    August 1st, 2016 at 11:18 AM

    My husband refuses to take a time out when I give the signal. He continues to yell and criticize me. If anything, the time out signal makes his anger worse. We are in marriage counseling. This is the second counselor we’ve seen. Both counselors were aware of this problem, but neither confronted my husband on it. They both insisted I keep using time out signals. What do you do when your spouse doesn’t respect the signal? Due to my physical disability, I am unable to leave the house on my own. Our church refuses to get involved in domestic issues.

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