Positive Disengagement is one of the paradoxical concepts that psychologists—and therapists—are so fond of. It’s the practice of caring—but not getting lost in that caring. Disengagement can refer to a form of letting a relationship die, so take note that positive disengagement is a way to keep things alive. It’s a way to stay loving without investing your energy in futile conflict and needless drama.
We all tend to have moments when we are not entirely rational. Some days we might feel quarrelsome. We all have times when we feel grouchy and negative. The same goes for loved ones, friends, acquaintances. Disengagement is the process by which we put distance between ourselves and the negativity of others without losing the relationship itself.
Two forms of disengagement exist. The first is physical disengagement. If a discussion slides into an argument, we need to leave the room. Leave the house. Take a walk. Some people take even minor physical disengagement as a reason to escalate the argument. Disengage anyway. Even for those folks, time away from the argument often lets it die a natural death. Sometimes a 10 minute walk can be enough. A few hours might be necessary.
Physical distance from a person having a bad patch can work wonders, as long as that person knows you’re not going away forever. People who are insecure often pick fights. If the other person disengages, they feel even more threatened. It’s best to make a reassurance that you’re absenting yourself from the conflict—not the relationship.
The second disengagement is emotional. Take your feelings out of the fight. Cease to fight. Do not throw any bombs. Disengagement is not positive when we say, “I’m not going to discuss this until you can do it calmly and rationally”. That statement might seem to be ok, but it’s not. It points out you think the person is being irrational and is upset. Even if that’s true, throwing it into the person’s face is not going to help. Instead saying, “let’s step back and think about this and see how we can work together” is far more helpful. Emphasizing that you and your loved one are a team is the best way to make disengagement work.