Pineapple! How to protect your relationship from verbal violence with ‘Time Out.’ 

How often do you let rip, hurl your righteous indignation at your partner, yell and spit, and carry on, & feel momentarily, cheaply gratified, only to be left with a hang over of self reproach, corroded self respect & maybe even a dose of toxic shame. Not to mention something else to apologise for. 

We are all vulnerable to this, it’s all too human, but it sucks. It’s a personal vulnerability, one I’m not proud of, and one I had to put work into, to put to a firm stop, before it seriously harmed my relationship. When I’m sleep deprived, under hormonal siege, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or sitting on unaddressed resentment, I can be a demon. 

I first came across the ‘Time Out’ principle via the wonderful work of Relationship Therapist Terry Real. He talks of time out as protection, a boundary – a boundary that you are in charge of to protect yourself, your beloved, your relationship and of course your children if you have any, from the harm that can fly out of us unbridled. 

It’s dang hard to do at first, particularly because your primal ‘fight’ brain is fired up & desperate to shoot. It takes a mother load of self restraint. But when you manage it, when you’re back on line, the relief is sweet, but more importantly your self respect is in tact & you refrained from causing harm. 

This is a form of liberation. Here’s how you do it: 

1: Mutually agree to a ‘Time Out’ Relational Treaty

Have the ‘Time Out’ discussion together. Contract it into your relationship.  Name to one another when you imagine you might need to take a ‘Time Out’, if future interactions start to go haywire. 

‘When, if things start to go haywire in future discussions, we, I, agree to stop any interaction we may have, becoming psychologically violent & un-constructive. ‘ 

2: The Circuit Breaker 

Agree to a signal. It could be just saying, ‘ Time Out,’ doing the ‘ T’ sign or as simple as saying Pineapple ;). 

3: See ‘Time Out’ as a shorthand way of saying: 

‘Calling for a Time Out means I don’t like how I’m communicating & I am worried I could say something that could hurt you, myself and us. I’m taking time out, to regain my composure so I can say what I need to say respectfully. I’ll be back, when I’m back in control.’ 

4: Be integral with your ‘Time Out ‘ 

Time Out is a form of withdrawal, and as we all know, withdrawal can be done harmfully or responsibly. 

A ‘responsible withdrawal’ is done from the spirit of not wanting to do harm, and a promise of return. 

An ‘irresponsible withdrawal’ is reactive, done without thought for your partner, can be emotionally punishing & has no overt intention to return & repair. 

4: Time Outs are non negotiable 

If your partner has decided they need to time out, don’t stop them or try to negotiate. Remember your agreement & see it as a gesture of care to the relationship. 

5: The Reframe 

Some of us can experience an awful sense of abandonment if our partners suddenly pull the plug on a difficult conversation or interaction. It’s important to learn to work with this, & reframe it as an act of care, a ‘ responsible withdrawal.’ Obviously this is in context of having done your ‘time out’ agreement. Remind yourself of your agreement. 

6: Check in at prescribed intervals 

Since time out is not to punish, but to regain composure, check in with each other from time to time. You can do this in person or via text depending on the situation. 

7: When are you ready to reconnect? 

When you are ready to see both sides, when you have faith you are in a space to say what you need to say respectfully. When you are prepared to Listen, to try to Understand, and not be ‘Right.’ Revisit the topic with a strong intention to use Relational Active Listening Principles. 

9: Know when you need to get professional help 

With all the ‘Time Outs’ under the sun, sometimes it’s just too hard to do some conversations without the protection of a third party. If you are finding you repeatedly end up in an awful place, seek help, take it as a signal that you need mediation or a relationship counsellor. 

Thank you for reading this, if your relationship can suffer from verbal harm, please put this into practice immediately. If you have children, do it for them. This is an invaluable skill to model to kids and teaches them the importance of respect and self control. Sadly it’s too common for us to manage self control in our professional or in public spaces, but some how give our selves a kind of bizarre permission to let out our worst in our precious family or relationship space. Instead, make a strong commitment to be the best you can muster in any given moment. 

May you and your relationships be free from harm.  Some aspects adapted from Terry Real’s ‘ Time Out ’ version. 

Tondi Gilfillan is relationship therapist working from Thrive Clinic Mullumbimby.  You can contact Tondi through her website or directly at