Biding for time saves us from knee-jerk reactions and enables us to go from the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex.
Biding for time is a very useful tool in relationships. When used wisely, biding for time contributes to good communication. It is a conscious strategy that you employ intentionally. Biding for time is not procrastination, which is usually unconscious, and rarely employed wisely. Neither is it avoidance. Nor is it “turning away” as described by the Gottman’s in response to “bids for connection with your partner.”
Lets set the scene:
You are in conversation with your partner.
Then your partner expresses an unexpectedly strong opinion, or makes a demand, or launches into what you take as an argument, or threat or challenge or accusation or ultimatum.
You’ve been there, you know what this feels like.
You are completely at a loss. You’ve been taken by surprise. Your back is against the wall. You are stumped. Worse still, you have no comeback. Your mind is a blank. You are speechless, with no clever retort on your lips. No retort at all, actually, let alone a clever one. And a knee-jerk response is not going to cut it in any case.
At the moment, your feelings are in such turmoil that you just don’t trust yourself to open your mouth.
Your outrage is about to boil over and burn everything – and everyone – in sight.
Are these scenarios familiar?
You need time to gather yourself and consider. From past experience you know you are in a stress response, and your window of tolerance has been exceeded. You are in fight, flight or freeze – probably freeze. Or about to become fight!
What usually happens next? Probably something not too pretty, with regrets. Do you feel compelled to respond in the (heat of the) moment? Perhaps your partner hurled a final remark at you, “You are just so passive.” But this does not help you out one bit.
By biding time you can increase your window of tolerance and de-escalate a fight.
Biding for time means that the current moment is not the ideal time.
Biding for time is a life-saver, and is related to increasing your window of tolerance. Increasing your window of tolerance takes time – and a bit of practice.
If you go to a dictionary you will discover that biding for time, or biding your time means that you are waiting patiently, waiting for further developments, or delaying some action until an ideal moment or situation reveals itself. Biding for time also means that you understand that the current moment is not the ideal time.
In any of the above scenarios, what you need is a space to take stock, a space to discover what you actually do feel, time to consider your reaction or position, and time to reflect on what you actually do believe. Even more importantly, you need time to soothe your overblown or hurt feelings. You also need to disengage from being over-reactive to your partner.
You can create the space you need. Your partner probably needs the pause as much as you do! You can bide for time. You can find ways to bide for time that you can rely on in times of stress. Remember that you are aiming to self-soothe, and self-regulate. You are also are mindful of not pushing your partner past their window of tolerance.
Here are some statements to enable biding for time:
“I’ll need to think about that! I’ve no idea how to respond right now, but I’ll come back to you when I’ve considered.” Then propose a time-frame. Some reasonable time-frame. An hour. You’ll sleep on it. But you do need to come back to it.
“That’s interesting! I’ve never thought of that! Tell me more about it?” While your partner is giving you more depth you have time to reach your own position in a more considered way. Your first response might not be the best response! Remember that you are listening in order to understand, not to retort.
“I can hear how important that is to you. I’d like to understand why. Some background. The journey it took you to get to there.” This is useful when you are offended. Rather than arc up, you might have some compassion if you do indeed understand more. While you are listening to your partner, you also have time to settle your breathing and relax your shoulders.
“I’m too stirred-up/tired/distressed/unwell to bring my best self to this discussion/meeting/problem. You deserve my best attention, but I can’t give it right now. Give me time to tend to myself and then I’ll come back to you.” This reminds me of the airline announcement: “in case of emergency when the oxygen masks drop down, before assisting others, make sure you own mask is properly attached.” You get the point.
“This is not my priority right now. But I can see how important it is to you. Can we plan a time to discuss it/do it when I don’t have so much on my plate?”
“You’ve asked me to do x, y and z. I can do x today, y tomorrow, but we’ll have to renegotiate z completely.”
“Look, I know I promised to do x, y and z. Now I realize that this was completely unrealistic. I need a lot more time, like weeks more time. And I need to be more careful in what I promise to do with my time and energy. Can we renegotiate this?”
Ask your partner, “Do you need a break?” “Do you need some time?”
Biding for time, when done intentionally, keeps both partners from over-reacting.
Here are some actions biding for time.
If the fight is too intense, move away from the situation entirely. Go to the bathroom. Walk the dog. Grab that shopping list and head for the supermarket. Tell your partner you need to cool off, and that you will be back!
Distract yourself – read, listen to a podcast, watch TV – anything that moves your thinking to an entirely different mode. “House”, in the long-running TV series, distracts himself with any number of trivial activities so that his mind was free to pick up genius diagnosis; he had to get out of his own way. (No that he always did!) Do you need to get out of your own way?
Do something extremely physically vigorous.
“I just don’t know what to say? Can I have a hug? Can we just snuggle on the sofa for a while?” As you learned in “Hugs and kisses, the oxytocin connection”, physical contact with your partner can renew your connection and calm you both right down. You might not feel like doing this straight away. Perhaps you are just so mad! But try it anyway.
At another time, when you and your partner are both in a calm and happy space, bring up the idea of biding for time. See if you can come up with a mutual strategy that will enable both of you to create an agreed pause.