Fear of the Unknown / Time-Outs are Hell

Photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash

When you get into an argument with your significant other, it can sometimes be useful to take a time-out. You take a step back, go to separate rooms, and cool off before revisiting the discussion.

The time-out is my hell. I’ve had so many full-blown hyperventilating panic attacks during the time-out.

My parents got separated multiple times when I was younger. I think that’s part of the cause for my time-out hell. I would hear them fighting in the middle of the night, I’d hear the front door slam and my dad’s truck drive away, and I wouldn’t know when I’d see him again.

A recurring event in my relationships is a complete inability to let the other person walk away during an argument. I’m sure you can imagine that doesn’t usually end well.

The second the person says they have to walk away, my heart drops. The world goes fuzzy. I get this feeling – almost like a tingling electric feeling – all over. I think that could be fight or flight kicking in.

I get an overwhelming need to keep the person there. Every fiber of my being says no matter what, I have to keep them talking. Even though I logically know if they step away and calm down the argument will be much more productive, I desperately need them to stay and talk to me until everything is straightened out.

If they give in to my begging and pleading, the argument often gets worse. Sometimes they leave anyway because I can be pretty damn infuriating.

If they successfully walk away, however… while they’re taking their time to cool down, I’m in Anxiety Hell. I think of every possible terrible outcome and Anxiety tells me it’s reality.

One of the first thoughts is always that they’ve left and they’re never coming back. Why would they stay with me, anyway – I’m a crazy person. I’m hardy worth the trouble. So throughout the time-out, I’m overanalyzing every aspect of the argument and finding reasons for the person to hate me forever.

This is usually where the hyperventilating comes in. Have you ever hyperventilated? It’s not fun. It’s usually followed by vomiting.

Have I mentioned that I’m a disaster of a human being?

By the time the person comes back, they’ve calmed down. I, however, am mid-breakdown, completely not thinking clearly, and nothing that comes out of my mouth at that point can be helpful. My stress and anxiety are often so high that I have to go to sleep. My brain can no longer deal with reality, it has to check out for a bit.

When I regain consciousness and can function like a normal person, we typically revisit the argument and quickly resolve it. But damn, it’s a hell of a roller coaster to get to that point.

My ex and I tried marriage counseling before the split, and the therapist suggested we set a time frame for time-outs. If I know when the person I’m arguing with is going to come back, that takes the edge off of the fear of the unknown. Yes, I’ll probably still panic, but not quite to such extremes. I can focus my energy on holding myself together for the set time, and it’s not quite the catastrophic event.

The set time can be anywhere from half an hour to two hours, depending on the emotions and stress level of the person who needs the time-out. Any more than that and the panic comes anyway, and hyperventilation ensues.

The unfortunate thing, as I learned very recently, is that Anxiety Brain doesn’t think to tell people of this handy dandy trick. So, when an argument happens and they try to take a step back, I nuke it from orbit. Lessons were learned and hopefully this trick helps in the future.

The one time my ex gave me a specific time for a time-out, it worked wonders. He even came back before the agreed-upon time and the argument was settled quickly and painlessly. Of course every time we argued after that, he refused to give me that time. The relationship ended soon after.

So take my advice, ladies and gentlemen - compromise works wonders. Use it. Love it.  If you need a time-out during an argument, let the person know when you’ll be back so they don’t go crazy and start hyperventilating.


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