Can’t stop hurting each other: Time to put the brakes on, draw a line on hostilities and reconnect

Are Conflicts a sign of a bad relationship?

Relationships are an important part of our lives and can bring us joy, fulfilment, and support. However, relationships can also be challenging at times. While it’s normal to have differences, it’s important to maintain respect, kindness, and open communication for frustrations, disappointments and resentments for a healthy, growing and positive relationship.

Conflict that is listened to, reflected on and explored to gain the meaning and understanding of your partner will inevitably deepen your love and commitment for each other.

Angry conflicts, especially those stuck ones that are so familiar and unique to each couple, are often opportunities to delve into understanding the values and vulnerabilities that underpin them. Understandably your other half is not going to reveal their insecurities to you if you are emotionally battering them and understandably you will not want to walk in their shoes if they are hurling blame and fault at you with veiled or real threats to leave.

Think back to your own childhood family. Did they shout it out or was it a withdrawal into angry silence. Whether we experienced hot or cold anger the consequences are seriously disruptive and relationally rupturing.

Criticisms, defensiveness, contempt and blocking the other are all threatening and cause intense fear that the relationship is breaking into pieces. As the threats escalate the brain becomes flooded with cortisol and adrenaline disabling normal self-regulation and more primeval desires of fight, flight freeze take over leading each to do and say things that they don’t mean in a bid for self-preservation.

If you weren’t shown or taught how to talk up and talk out differences then you run the risk of losing control, derailing your relationship and so pushing your partner out the relationship door.
When you feel emotionally overwhelmed and heated where your argument has escalated into a fight and to the verge of verbal or physical abuse, now is the time to take a step back and put the brakes on.

Stop! Time for a loving Time Out

This means setting aside time to cool off and calm down before continuing the conversation. It’s important to communicate to your partner that you need a break and to establish a time frame for when you will come back to the discussion.

To do this couples need to intentionally discuss and agree their protocol so that it can be signalled and understood in the heat of the moment.

Examples from couples I’ve worked with are by using a verbal statement of intent like, “I’m flipping, time-out” or just “Time-out” or sometimes even something playful: I had a couple that used “ Pink Wall” as their time-out signal as this reminded them of a past argument that hurt them both.

Non-verbal hand signals may include the T sign, Peace sign or heart sign. Others have agreed to signal a self-hug sign.

Whether verbal or non-verbal it’s important that when one half signals their proverbial white flag that the other mirrors with the same pre-agreed time-out signal.

Each party needs to know that anger that is stuck and escalating is important, and so to think of the break as a space to slow down and give themselves a chance to reconnect with themselves and to think more about what’s going on. The agreement of each to do this is a sign that the relationship really matters to them, that they are important to each other and so the relationship is ok. This all helps the couple be motivated to action and comply with the time-out.

One hour is a useful marker for a time-out as it gives time to become aware to your level of calmness and how your thoughts are helping or hindering.

What you do and think about matters in your Time-out and determines a safer reconnection.

If you are harbouring thoughts of “How dare you!” or That’s not fair!” and using your time-out to re-load your gun with evidence from the past to hurt your partner so that they feel as hurt as you do.

Or maybe you find yourself so hurt you’re unable to let go of how they have hurt you and are brooding thoughts of “I can’t forget or forgive unless you admit you were in the wrong”.

These thoughts will sabotage any chance of a reconnection. Instead remember that the hurt: hurt fight means the relationship is important to each of you and from this mind-set consider the following to develop a calmer frame of mind:

“I’m upset and my relationship is ok. Notice your breathing.”

“Something is going on that is hard for me to understand and we can figure this out”

During the time out, it’s important to practice self-care and do activities that help you relax and calm down. This can include things like going for a walk, listening to music, or engaging in a hobby. 

As you notice yourself feeling calmer, it’s often helpful to send a text letting your partner know you’re ok and that you’ll be back with them at the time agreed.

This helps your partner know that you have them in mind and that you matter to them.

On returning it’s important to give a warm welcome to each other with familiar loving rituals that mean “You’re loved and special to me”. Give yourselves time to settle with each other and then agree to talk within some limits and boundaries.

Setting Limits on Hostilities

This means setting boundaries and establishing ground rules for how you and your partner will communicate and interact with each other.

 It’s useful to take some time for each to reflect on their own limits by completing the exercise below and discussing it together. Remember limits include what is helpful and acceptable as well as what’s below the belt and unacceptable.

Try completing this individually and swapping with your partner to discuss and get a consensus.

  • For me, it is acceptable to do/say the following during a fight/disagreement/conflict:

  • For me, it is not acceptable to do/say the following:

  • For you, it is acceptable to do /say the following during a fight/disagreement/conflict:

  • For you, it is not acceptable to do/say the following:

Some examples of limits on hostilities might include:

  • No name-calling or personal attacks

  • No yelling or shouting

  • No physical aggression or violence

  • No chasing or leaving

  • No bad mouthing to other people

  • No blocking or stonewalling

It’s important to communicate these limits to your partner and to hold each other accountable for respecting them. If one partner violates these limits, it’s important to communicate this and to take a time out to calm down before continuing the discussion.


Despite agreeing to a time-out and limits of hostilities you find that when needed one of you could not or would not action or comply with your agreed time-out protocols and hostilities broke out again.

To gain confidence and trust in this tool couples have to practice it. Inevitably when learning a new skill, they will fail at some point. Re-grouping and starting the practice again will in time break old hostile habits and grow new safer constructive relational habits that enable fairer interactions in fights/disagreements and conflicts.

 Seeking help

 Often when couples are able to establish safer non-toxic conflicts, they may need additional support to learn new skills to effectively communicate and resolve conflicts. Seeking the help of a therapist or counsellor can be a helpful way to learn new skills and to work through underlying issues that may be contributing to conflicts in the relationship.

 These underlying issues can include past traumas, communication patterns, or relationship dynamics. Working through these with the help of a therapist can be a helpful way to improve communication and resolve conflicts in a healthy and respectful way. By addressing the root causes of conflicts, you can create a more positive and healthier dynamic in your relationship.

If you want to explore couple therapy with me then call me on 07880 668651 or email at he***@si**************.uk