"Safety first” is a good concept.
Many men find the idea of ‘time out’ useful as the most effective and immediate way of ensuring safety. Time out creates a safe zone for everyone and gives you time to sort out what is going on for you. As you get better at identifying the feelings, beliefs and attitudes that drive your behaviour, you will find you don’t need to rely on this strategy as much. In the meantime though, time out is very important.
Taking a ‘time out’ is not the same as staging a ‘walk out.’ Many men stage a ‘walk out’ during an argument or fight, leaving the other person unsure about when and if they will come back and what sort of mood they will be in when they return. This is unfair and disrespectful to the people involved. While a ‘walk out’ may be used with the partial intention of creating safety, it shows confused motives. The man may also be hoping to punish his partner for disagreeing by leaving her in a state of fear and uncertainty. In effect, a ‘walk out’ is saying, “I refuse to listen to you”, and is therefore a dangerous tactic that fails to convey a clear message that your aim is to create safety.
A walk out is a cop out!
Time out, in contrast, is not a cop out. It has the clear purpose of creating safety and an opportunity to cool down and think more clearly.
Time out is not an excuse to go and see some mates, go back to work, or go for a quick drink…
It is the serious task of relaxing and dealing with the uncomfortable feelings or thoughts that fuel abusive behaviour. Time out needs to be planned ahead of time so that everyone knows what is going on. We suggest you practise time outs before you need to use them. If you are going for a walk, try out your route, check how long it takes, and where the phone boxes are.
Time out guidelines
Do… Do the following
Don’t… Do the following
Some men find it useful to print a copy of these guidelines and put them on their fridge with a couple of magnets so that they can grab them on the way out the door. Others write them on a card that they keep in their wallets. Think for a moment about what would work for you...
Download your copy of 'Time out guidelines' below...
For a number of reasons some men find time out a difficult strategy to put in place. Firstly, men have been taught not to walk away from a fight. This is closely tied to the need to win. There are no winners when it comes to abusive behaviour. Another benefit of time out is that it helps us begin the process of negotiating with others, a very useful survival skill. It also signals to others that we are prepared to be responsible for our feelings and actions. If you handle it well, then others will see the benefits.
Try the following exercise...
Considering the following questions could highlight your own difficulties in taking time out.
Compare your list of ideas with the following list that men from one of my groups came up with.
What I will say to convince myself to stay?
This list came from a group of men who had been abusive in all ways imaginable - from physical assault to emotional put-downs. Notice that many of the ideas are about winning and losing, and the need to be in control of the situation.
What others might say to stop me from going
When relationships are damaged, others may well be skeptical of you for leaving yet again. But the bottom line is... if you can’t stay in the situation and guarantee safety, then you have to leave.
Some men make the choice to leave home and go into a flat until they feel they are safe to be around.
Bernie found taking time out really useful. It made a profound difference to his relationship. He would ignore his partner until she was highly agitated. He would refuse to talk about issues; treating everything with an ‘it’s not such a big deal’ attitude. As Bernie states...
"I could see that over the years it has caused a lot of damage to my relationship and my decision now would be to say stop… let’s sort it out if we can… if we are in a frame of mind to. If not, let’s take a break and come back to it. Time out was the biggest thing for me."
Questions to ponder...
Ken McMaster (MSW Hons, CQSW, MANZASW) has a thirty year history working at the cutting edge of intervention work with men who are violent and who sexually abuse.
Suzi Hall (M.A. Psych) has a background of working in child protection and forensic interviewing of children with Child Youth and Family Services.
Matt Williams (BTcLn, NCALNE) has a 15 year history working within the social service and criminal justice sectors as a trainer and program developer.