A Better Time-Out

A recent study of domestic violence treatment programs show how teaching a technique can sometimes backfire. A team of researchers finds that the venerable “time-out”, which teaches abusers to recognize when their anger is escalating and to deliberately leave for a cooling-off period, can actually become part of a continuing cycle of tension and abuse. Sometimes, the time-out can even end up as another weapon in the abuser’s arsenal. The study has made researchers curious how to better teach “time-out”.

Because many states require individual, instead of couples, counseling/treatment, many therapists teach time-out only to the abuser. As a result, during arguments, the men would suddenly call a time-out and walk away. Sometimes they would even leave the house for awhile. “Women felt rejected and abandoned”, said one of the researchers. “Many of the women did not understand why he was leaving, and when they did understand, many felt the man was misusing it.” Abusers frequently used the time-out as a means of control, not over their own escalating anger, but over their partners. Often, when an abuser returned home, calmed down, he would find that now his partner was aggravated about the original problem, and also aggravated that he left.

An article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy describes a modified approach to teaching time-outs that may be more effective. The seven-step program helps couples to structure the terms of the time-out together.

The process begins with awareness-both people learn the internal cues that tell them anger is escalating. Then they learn the parameters of their own and their partner’s safety zones, so that either person can decide when to call a time-out. Together, they develop a clear time-out signal, such as a phrase or hand signal. The other person has to immediately acknowledge the signal that it’s time for a time-out. The couple then discusses where they’ll go during the time out, how long the separation will be, and whether they’ll have to make plans to take care of the children during the time-out. They discuss cooling-off activities they can do during the time-out and how, or whether, they’ll resume the discussion when they return.

adapted from:  Psychotherapy Networker

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Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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