The Relationship time-out - Take a break to save your relationship

Why temporary apart?

A relationship time-out is an emergency measure. It's this or finally break up. The initiative usually comes from  a partner who is emotionally and/or physically breaking down because of a high tensed situation. Physical distance between the two spouses is required.

Relationship Burn-out & Relationship Time-out

The tense situation has often lasted too long. People in this situation often experience phenomena that are comparable to those of overwork and burnout. It is therefore not so crazy to take similar measures. When you are having a burnout it is quite logical to avoid going to work because that is where the tensions are from. The same applies to tensions in the relationship area. Being temporary apart can provide the release of tension. This can have a positive effect on how the relationship will evolve. Chances increase when you have a plan! In my webshop you can find an English version of a basic plan and agreements which you can use to shape your relationship time-out.

relationship time-out - basic plan and agreements
This PDF contains the basic rules and plans you can use to shape your own time-out. It can be used  by couple counselors as a guideline  Price €3,95 (Paypal)

Balanced decision

A major advantage of temporarily split up is that you don't throw the towel in the ring permanently. By being apart for a while tension can be lowered. This will help you to think clearer. You give yourself and your partner the opportunity to look at the relationship from a distance. In this kind of situation the timeout can lead to a more balanced decision. Therefore, it is important that you shape the relationship timeout as good as possible for both partners. How it is structured  is a personal matter. Below are some examples. You can see that the timeout does not always have to be a long period of time. It also can be something you do at home with "rest days" where you're just not together.


Emotional support for yourself 

Often spending time alone is not enough to regain yourself. Usually in the period before the time-out you have exhaust yourself to the limit. As a result you first have to gain power before you can get a clearer view of the situation. When some rest is established it is recommended to analyse what has gone wrong and what your personal contribution is in the problems. In the future you don't want to end up in a similar situation so it is important that you acknowledge your own share in the problems. Sometimes the emotions are too high to get a clear picture. Outside help then is recommended.

Maybe you will  find out that it is impossible for you to go on with the relationship. Often this will be a very difficult decision and it will not be easy to inform your partner about it. In that case it can help to make a plan of things you want to say to your partner with the support  of a counsellor.

Change in the relationship is needed!

Perhaps you find out during the relationship timeout that you do not yet have done everything to improve the relationship. It may also happen that you miss your partner.  When you decided to continue with the relationship, in all cases it is essential to work at the relationship! If nothing changes you will probably get the same problems again. Couples therapy can make a difference here. It can help you to get a clearer view and help you to improve your relationship.

An effective relationship time out

time out in mariage

The effectiveness of a timeout depends on several factors such as the mental condition of both partners and the condition of the relationship at that time. The effectiveness of a timeout will increase when partners work active at their selves and at the relationship of course at appropriate times. If you do nothing, nothing will happen. Continuation of the relationship is more likely when during the period of reflection, essential things have changed in feelings for each other and communication. To achieve this counselling can help. The relationship counsellor can work with both partners to look at how these problems have arisen, and what impact they have had on feelings and communication. Sometimes it will become clear it's better to end the relationship. Also these sessions will give both partners insights into how they behave so that they can make positive adjustments in the future.

During the relationship time out it sometimes can become clear  that there are still feelings for each other. When both partners in that situation take responsibility for their own part of the problems, then the continuation of the relationship is still certainly a possibility.

Temporary apart? I don't think so!

seperated temporarily

Often only one of the spouse is receptive for a relationship time-out. Sadly, taking no action then usually  will result in a breakup.  When you are in this kind of situation it can be useful to talk with an outsider such as a coach or counsellor.  They can help you by talking through the opportunities  and  perhaps suggest less dramatic  actions that can be taken.

Advantages and disadvantages of a relationship timeout

Temporarily split up may be a time of recovery. You can get back your strength and you can build up social contacts or tighten them. On the other hand, not living together can also work negatively, especially when there is no occasionally work done in the relationship and / or at yourself. Lack of communication can then cause you to grow further apart.

It is important therefore to have some kind of time-out plan. Under the heading "Examples" you can find some examples of plans that  I have guided as relationship counsellor.

take some distance in mariage

How long should you break up?

A time-out may have different time lengths and are usually interrupted by moments with partner and / or family (see examples). When you want the time-out to be most effective it's advisable to have relationship counselling or coaching together with your spouse on a regular basis.
Often people choose a kind of format in which the relationship time-out is styled such as the by-the-week timeout. During the talks with the relationship counsellor, it will be examined if the time-out must be continued.

advantage relationship timeoutAgreements and rules for a temporarily split up

It's okay to make certain agreements together, of what is and is not desirable during the timeout. A golden rule is that there will be no intimate relationships with other people. In addition, there are practical issues, such as dealing with finances, contact with children and with each other, which should be regulated. In the pdf-book "relationship-time-out-basic-plan-agreements"  which is available in my shop (link) you can find a sample agreement-form. This form has been used many times by my cliënts. A temporary break up does work the best, when it is clear what is expected from both partners.

A timeout and children

timeout and children

When you have children and there are relationship problems, this usually gives additional pressure on both partners. You are after all responsible for your family, and you cannot simply get out. On the other hand a time-out can provide both spouses the rest which is necessary to gain some energy in order to work on the relationship. During this period of rest, it is good to examine and work on the relationship if only because you'll always will be parents. You must be able to communicate with each other when you are together but also when you go on without each other.  In order to make the impact on children as little as possible you can use  the weekday's- time-out that is widely used in households with children.

Various examples of relationship time-outs

time out rules

Here are 4 examples of how you can use a time-out relationship as a tool:

Example 1 - the weekday's time-out
This timeout is used regularly by people with families to catch breath, and has the least impact on daily life in the family..

  1. One of the partners resides by-the-week somewhere else but come home on weekends
  2. On weekend there will be attention en done fun things with the children
  3. During the week come together with your spouse to work on the relationship
  4. If necessary make use of individual counselling or coaching
  5. Together with the relationship counsellor you will examine the week and the problems you run into in order to improve the situation

Example 2 - short break
This time out is recommended when the contact between the two partners is so tense that it only consumes energy

  1. Determine how long you want to be apart; 7, 14, 21 or 28 days
  2. Make an appointment when you will meet each other at the counsellors office
  3. Usually it is recommended to have individual counselling because of the lack of energy and the great tensions
  4. Have an agreement about the interval and kind of contact. It is recommended to leave each alone other as much as possible because it is a short break up.

Example 3 - the long time-out or pilot separation
When you emotionally almost know that separation is the best option but still want more assurance if this is the right decision. This time-out is recommended to those who want to know whether they are going to miss their partner or not.

  1. Start with a consult with each other where you make clear what exactly the purpose is of this time-out / trial separation
  2. Determine how long you want to be apart; 1, 2 or 3 months or even longer
  3. Make an appointment in the month where you and evaluates the "trial separation"
  4. If necessary seek individual help
  5. Have an agreement about the interval and kind of contact. It is recommended to leave each alone other as much as possible
  6. At every appointment it will be evaluated whether the relationship will continue or not

Example 4 - holiday time-out
A time-out using your free time, what makes it quite simple to arrange. Alone so without a partner on move in finding yourself.

  1. Choose a holiday off, preferably the next
  2. Make an appointment before the holiday to obtain insight into the relationship problems and possible solutions
  3. Make if necessary and possible use of individual assistance in this period
  4. Discuss at the end of the period, how you move forward